"How About the Weather?"

I have this self-imposed rule when writing a column… Never write about the weather. Why? We have about a 10 day delay between the drafting of the column and its arrival in your mailbox. Inevitably, if it’s cold and nasty when written, by the time it is delivered to your mailbox, it is sunny and 75°. In other words, writing about the weather provides me the opportunity to raise my ignoramus status.

However, I am going to break my own rule.

There have been piles of snow everywhere. The snow started early and was industrial sized, designed to last. According to the National Weather Service, nearly 68 inches of snow had fallen as of February 18 in Chicago, the fifth snowiest winter on record (so far).  Piles of snow have been a rare landscape feature in recent years. Last year, 30.1 inches of snow fell and 19.8 inches of white stuff fell in 2011- 12 winter according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data.

Snow has been a daily headline feature on every television and radio newscast in our area throughout the winter.  Temperatures have been news as well… it has been darn cold out there.  With an average temperature of 18.2°, January in Illinois was the eighth coldest on record going back to 1895. I would advise kids not too lick the water pump but then I’d have to explain what a water pump is and why…kids today are so sheltered!

And speaking of sheltered, I know it is been snowing and cold this winter but I am old enough to remember THE winter … the winter of 1978 - 1979. That was back in the “good ole days” when it used to snow and be cold during winter as a matter of practice and tradition.  Nearly 90 inches of snow fell. I was in high school on the farm where we had a love-hate relationship with winter that year. It is a true pain and torture to raise livestock in the winter in Illinois, especially “free range” hogs. I remember the temperature gauge hitting “ -28° “ and my dad reminding me that the hogs didn’t have the luxury of curling up on the couch in a warm house.

The climate controlled buildings made me envious...and made the hogs out on pasture envious as well! Just getting to the hog houses, providing drinking water and feed, and maintaining comfortable bedding was a miserable job for a spoiled teenager farmer. What a battle it was the winter of 1979 to care for the hogs.

I vividly remember my father bundled up on the cab-less, gasoline powered endloader moving snow into huge piles so that we could move farm equipment to get to the livestock and so we could get out of the driveway with a car/truck. Then, getting the diesel tractors and equipment to function in the cold was the next major obstacle. Breaking up ice in water troughs, getting water to flow for the animals, grinding corn him providing feed, and lugging bales of straw for bedding challenged my enthusiasm.

Dad made piles of snow everywhere using the

 loader tractor…as the winter dragged on, the

piles grew taller and wider.

On the flipside, those gigantic snow piles made by Dad’s endloader to clear paths turned into amazing playground systems for me and my siblings.  School was canceled for a number of days following huge snows and the winds piling huge snowdrifts making it impossible for school buses to negotiate.  As a result,, we had ample time to entertain ourselves.  We constructed an amazing series of tunnels and rooms hollowed out from these piles! Our Snow complex featured a dining room, living room (room for 3-4), study, bathroom (just kidding) with tunnels interconnecting each with the front door and, of course, the secret exit!

The front door entrance of our 1979 snow complex …

construction and the use that followed provided

many hours of entertainment that winter.

Those “no school” days also gave us wonderful opportunities for sledding (I would’ve loved to do the skeleton run on a bobsled hill) and to use my grandma’s old wooden skis (I was no Bode Miller). We held our own version of the winter Olympics that usually concluded with numb fingers, frozen toes, and hot chocolate as our medals!

My brother John, age 11, gives a bit of perspective

 following a snow in 1979 (waist deep).  Note in the

 background some of the hog houses on the farm

used for “free range” hogs.  The difficulties to provide

 water, food, bedding as well as the mortality rate

makes climate controlled hog houses very appealing

 for farmer and livestock alike.

I hope the kids of today will reflect upon the winter of 2013 – 14 in the years to come. Perhaps, they have constructed memories that go beyond playing video games on the “no school” days these past few months.

Farmers still have a love/hate relationship with winter. Most are not fans of the cold and snow and those farmers that do have livestock face additional struggles in the winter to protect and maintain comfort. However, farmers are big fans of having quality moisture levels in the soil/subsoil for the upcoming crop production season. This past winter provided great opportunity to the re- charge soil moisture with snowmelt. Further, the colder the winter, the more nature takes care of many pesky insect pests… How did you like those January negative temperatures, Bugs?