Commentary by Ward Degler
The calendar says it’s supposed to work this way: Autumn starts Sept. 21, bringing falling leaves and frost. Winter marches in Dec. 21, bringing snow and freezing temperatures.
That’s supposed to hang around until March 21, the arrival of spring rains, flowers and warm weather. Summer is scheduled to show up June 21, with the splashing of swimming pools, the drone of lawnmowers, the Fourth of July and the smell of burgers on the grill.
I don’t remember it ever being that way. Let’s start with autumn. I spent two consecutive October weekends in a canoe on the St. Croix River in Wisconsin in 1975. I got sunburned because I didn’t use sunscreen. Why would I? It was autumn.
In September 1979 in Minnesota I mowed the lawn a final time wearing gloves and a parka. We had half a foot of snow on the ground the next morning.
Our last two summers in the Midwest have pretty much been an extended monsoon season. In July, it rained seven days out of 10. I saw insects and weeds that hadn’t shown up since the Jurassic period.
On July 4, 1941, we sat outside in Medford, Wis., watching fireworks while wrapped in heavy blankets. And then it snowed, and the low temperature that night remains unchallenged in the record books.
The winter of 1981 became known as Tropical Minnesota. January temperatures hit 80 and stayed there. A bank in Albert Lea grilled hotdogs in the parking lot to attract new customers.
One January day a few years ago in Lead, S.D., the temperature zoomed upward from below zero to the mid-80s. The humidity was so dense that people were in danger of drowning.
And now it’s March, with spring just around the corner. It has already been in the upper 50s and down to single digits. It has snowed and rained, and sunshine has unexpectedly brightened otherwise gloomy days.
Still, the entrance of spring has its own mystique – something to do with the high school basketball tournament. It is pretty much a given that no matter what the weather was earlier, the blizzard of the century will march in just before opening tipoff.
In 1967, busloads of South Dakota high schoolers began migrating from across the state to settle a highly contested basketball season. The day before the tournament, it started to snow. The wind picked up and the temperature plummeted. It was shortly after midnight when the wreckers hauled the last school buses out of the snowdrifts.
The games went off without a hitch, and on the return trip temperatures hit the 70s. The kids opened the school bus windows to welcome spring.