Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Blowin' in the Wind?

The lack of wind adds to the oddity of this winter. Winter --- yes it began this year not in December but in mid November when the first snows fell, like giants clouds, large flakes drifting down aimlessly. When it was over, I measured a constant 18 inches in our field. Usually we’re snowed in by gigantic drifts but not this time. The ski resorts opened and recouped their losses from several years back, but the renewable energy folk (those who cover our hills with clusters of steel giants with whirling hands) gritted their teeth. And not for the first time. Last year their production was down by at least 10%. From January to March while we waited under the snow, the wind giants stood still as sentinels. If this is the new pattern for our weather in the coming years, it doesn’t bode well for renewable energy, or our plans to derive our future energy from wind farms.

Usually it’s the gales and hurricanes, roofs blowing off, or flattening whole fields of barley that make a good story. Where’s the story in still air? It’s always windy in the northeast; we often stagger from the car to the door, bent double, while our shopping bag sails down the driveway behind us. Trees bend this way and that, their branches in an epileptic frenzy. I curse the spring wind that shrivels the seedlings that I've set out. I usually plant with an eye on the wind forecast. But when in November or January, the windy months, the air is breathless and the trees stand stupidly like they don’t know what to do, when the land feels like a tame puppy rather than a wolf, I know that something is amiss.

The pundits at the UK Met Office say that a long-term blocking high over Greenland has separated us recently from our Atlantic depressions, those that usually blow over us every three days bringing soggy but mild weather and a lot of wind. Now we’re getting cold air from Siberia. Father Frost from Russia has crossed over to Scotland and is now stalking our hills. He’s surrounded by snow clouds, has a bright red nose and piercing blue eyes. His hoary breath freezes rivers and lakes. The last time he came over was 200 years ago. From 1805-1820 Europe had very severe winters. In 1816, cold temperatures and excessive rain caused widespread famine. Ah Father Frost. In 1812 he came out to meet Napoleon’s troops, marching in their short sleeve shirts toward Moscow.

The pie chart, developed by 19th century statistician Charles Minard, tells the story of the appalling military disaster. The beige chart shows the French advance on Moscow, the black chart is their retreat. Line thickness indicates the size of the army. The red curve is the air temperature during the retreat. You can just see how the French army froze during their retreat.

The first wave of snow has gone.We're looking out at our green hills, and the sheep cropping the grass. But the air is suspiciously still. We're expecting Father Frost's return in a few days. It's time I chopped some more firewood.

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