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I’m a little late with my second blog this month, but I was waiting for the January Thaw. With only a few days left in the month, it doesn’t look like it’s going to get here. That raises the question just how real is it?

First of all, anyone who’s lived in the Northeast knows all about it. For a few days during the end of January, the temperatures rise, snow melts, ice thins, and everyone begins to think spring. It is a piece of weather lore firmly planted in the human imagination in this region. Proving it statistically or scientifically is far more elusive.

The American Meteorological Society defines it “as a period of mild weather, popularly supposed to recur each year in late January in New England and other parts of the northeastern United States.” So far so good. But there’s no statistical evidence to suggest that it exists. The AMS calls it a singularity – “a characteristic meteorological condition that tends to occur on or near a specific calendar date more frequently than chance would indicate.”

The problem arises whenever someone tries to define it. How much should the temperature rise? How long should it last ? When should it begin and when should it end? Those who’ve gone back and studied the weather records have found that there’s almost no consistent pattern, leading some to conclude it’s a “statistical phantom,” a figment of the collective imagination. Some have gone so far as to suggest that it arises from our need to find patterns whether or not there’s any underlying coherent cause.

Be that as it may, it’s 20 degrees out, snowing hard yet again, school has been canceled for the eighth day this school year, and I’m going out to do some snowshoeing before I start thinking about shoveling out. Monday is Groundhog Day, and I’ll see what he has to say, statisticians be damned.


The weather around here has been typical New England – a historic ice-storm followed by a major snowstorm, then a near-record thaw, followed by bone-chilling cold and more snow. Hassles aside, I’ve been able to get out on my X-C skis and snowshoes, including a ramble through the fields and woods behind my house.

Seeing the different animal tracks is like running into old friends, and even a new one now and then. This year an oppossum seems have taken up residence somewhere nearby. His tracks across the back of my yard gave him away.

The fox is still around. I walked along his meandering tracks at the edge of the field where he had done his night’s hunting. And then a bit of a puzzle. Suddenly the snow was all churned up. Two foxes frisking maybe? Then I noticed the tracks of a small rabbit, one of the cottontails that live in the heavy brush along an old stone wall. And then another old friend – the distinct impression of large wing feathers in the snow, most likely the Barred Owl that lives in the pine forest down below. Had the owl and fox fought over the rabbit? Had the rabbit slipped away in the confusion? I couldn’t quite tell. There was no blood or fur anywhere to be seen, though I looked closely. So either he did, or else the owl got him away cleanly.

Down closer to the pines, I came across a lot of deer tracks. At least half a dozen individuals. For many years there were only two or three in these woods, but now their numbers seem to be increasing. I find that heartening.

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RSS The Ecocryptic

  • Maine DEP update July 31, 2013
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    Ever since the controversy began over the construction of a new transmission line to bring power from Canada into New Hampshire slicing through some of that state’s most scenic landscape, the backers of the project have been quietly lobbying for eminent domain powers to force reluctant landowners along the proposed route to sell.The issue gets its first real […]
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RSS Martin Laine – Digital Journal

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