Most of us rely on the astronomical definition of seasons that aligns with the movement of the sun marked by solstices and equinoxes.
Others prefer the meteorological definition of seasons that begin on the first day of the months of the sun’s milestones — winter begins on Dec. 1, for example.
Maybe the Hindus have it right with six seasons — spring, summer, monsoon, autumn, prewinter and winter.
Then there is Wisconsin, where we celebrate with vigor all four of our seasons, sometimes within a few days or even a few hours.
It was certainly a prewinter taste that we received Oct. 14 when heavy flakes of snow fell across western Wisconsin. I felt bile rise in my throat as I looked out the window, although it could also have been from watching too many political ads. I didn’t realize that white was part of Mother Nature’s peak fall color palette.
OK, maybe it was also quite beautiful but it was a harsh reminder of the bleakness to come. And it wasn’t a record. The earliest measurable snowfall in La Crosse, according to the National Weather Service, was on Sept. 26, 1942, when 0.2 inches fell.
That was a bit before my time but I do remember the earliest inch of snowfall that fell on Oct. 18, 1991. I was on my way to my night shift reporting job at the time and remember stopping to take a photo. For some reason that black and white photo does not show up in my online digital photo archives, however.
The average first trace of snow is Oct. 25 and the average earliest measurable snowfall date is Nov. 11. The average first “I’m sick of winter already” date comes Nov. 12.
Speaking of winter, the professional prognosticators at the National Weather Service have released their winter forecast and it’s about as clear as the instructions that come with a multi-drawer furniture in the box unit with three bags of hardware.
Officially the winter forecast for southeast Minnesota, northeast Iowa and western Wisconsin is for equal chances of wetter-, near, and drier-than-normal. I’d say the bases are covered with that forecast. In other words it could snow a lot, some or not much.
Now, in defense of our weather experts, the wishy-washy forecast is because this will be another weak El Niño winter, with warmer-than-normal temperatures that impacts precipitation forecasting.
What does a former steakhouse franchise have to do with our weather, you may ask? No, it’s not Nino’s but El Niño. It’s one phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation cycle, the term that describes the fluctuations in temperature between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific.
El Niño (mean the little boy in Spanish) and its counterpart La Niña (little girl) represent the warm and cold phases of these ocean cycles. When we’re in a warm El Niño cycle, we get warmer-than-average temperatures over the northern U.S.
During the last 12 weak El Niño seasons, there have been six snow seasons with below-normal snowfall and six with above-normal snow, the National Weather Service says. Now you can understand the forecast that I would simply call “eh.”
We will get snow, according to the forecast. “Snow storms will likely occur at times this winter. However, the frequency, number and intensity of these events cannot be predicted on a seasonal timescale.”
Snow fooling, you say.
A fungal appearance
In one of my last lawn mowings of the season I spotted a bunch of mushrooms that had popped up in our front yard. Fall fungal hunters can enjoy a bounty of edible mushrooms in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
I took a couple of photos before the fungi were minced by my mower blade. But subsequent research courtesy of information from the Wisconsin Mycological Society showed that these were probably Coprinus comatus, an edible mushroom also known as the Shaggy Mane.
They are a common fall mushroom that come up shortly after a rain and quickly liquefy to a stem and a black mess.
Sort of like all of those political ads that pop up this time of year. But those are impossible to digest.