Adapting to the Loss of Winter

Written by Community Solutions Board Member, Kirk L. Rowe, Ph.D, ABPP, Clinical Neuropsychologist

I had the pleasure of being stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in 2010 with
its beautiful, white sandy beaches.  Sadly, this was also when the oil spill
in the Gulf of Mexico occurred.   I recall traveling to the beach to try and
swim one more time before the oil made it to shore.  Unfortunately, we
arrived too late.  In talking to people who arrived before us, the oil began
hitting the shore 30 minutes prior to our arrival.  I also recall standing
there in astonishment with all the other people on the beach that day.  We
were all looking at each other and were speechless.  How is it possible to
be on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and not be able to go
in the water and swim?  How is it possible to live and visit in the Florida
panhandle and not eat the catch of the day?  Swimming, laying on the beach,
eating seafood, and so much more is all integral to the culture of the Gulf
Coast.  Not participating in these activities was a significant loss for
those who grew up in the area and for those who depended on the ocean for
their livelihood.  We were at a loss of what to do.  So, instead of the
beach, we went bowling.

A similar loss of culture is currently happening with winter.  In the Miami
Valley, we all woke up on December 1st with no snow, gray skies, sprinkles
of rain, and temperatures 10-15 degrees above normal.   This is eerily
similar to last December when during that month we experienced temperatures
in the 50s during the day.  Temperatures at night, on a few occasions, were
only in the high 30s, which is very unusual.  The day I originally wrote
this article was January 3rd 2015 and it was 53 degrees.  People, in
general, seemed very content with the warmer weather and no snow but isn't
it a strange feeling walking by the snow shovel, ice skates, and sleds that
have yet to be touched during the 2 week break from school?   On New Year's
Day, I went bowling with my son.  We bowled 9 games, something I've never
done in my life.  The question for someone who grew up with winter is, what
was I doing bowling on New Year's Day in Dayton, Ohio?  I wasn't bowling to
get away from the cold weather, but actually the opposite.  I was bowling to
get away from the warm weather.  I was bowling because there was no place to
ski, in January.  I was bowling because the ice on the pond down the street
wasn't frozen, in January.  I was bowling because there was no snow for
sledding, in January.   I was bowling because I was at an absolute loss of
what to do in winter with warm weather and no snow.

People often don't give much thought to the weather unless it's going to
disrupt an activity, and often live with the belief that even though it's
not cold where they are, it's cold somewhere.  People think that the
northerners are probably skating, skiing and sledding in Michigan,
Wisconsin, and the other upper tier states but that's no longer always the
case like it was in the earlier part of the 20th century.  People from the
south and many of those in the military who have moved so many times in
their lives are at a distinct disadvantage in noticing what is being lost.
Just recently, I was talking to a retired military member who grew up in
California about hopefully skating this winter but was concerned because the
pond had evaporated over the summer.  This person's response was that I
could do it next year if it wasn't possible this year.  I suppose he meant
well but his answer was almost comical, because it's not really how seasons
work.  Winter traditions and the culture of winter are developed by doing
activities annually, just like the culture of summer that involves lying on
the beach, building sand castles, and surfing.   Can anyone imagine summer
only arriving every other year?  Or just in short spurts?

The lack of winter is becoming more obvious each year to those who are
looking but not many people are talking about it.   Of course as winter
gradually becomes shorter, the summers are becoming longer.  The Air Force
no longer talks about the 101 Critical Days of Summer because summer now
goes beyond 101 days.  There are leaders who are thinking about our changing
climate, such as the PACOM commander, Admiral Locklear who describes climate
change as the biggest threat to the Pacific region.  The Quadrennial Defense
Review 2010 notes that "climate change and energy are two key issues that
will play a significant role in shaping the future security environment."
These concerns are echoed in the QDR 2014 and our Commander-in-Chief has
talked about the impact of climate change for the last 7 years.  In
addition, the United States and China signed a climate change agreement in
Peru last year in an effort to curb our carbon emissions that are bringing
about the instability of our climate and the world leaders are meeting this
week in Paris.   It seems like it's time to look up for energy instead of
down and most importantly start using less energy everywhere, and in every
way possible.  Turn appliances off and unplug.  Before you use energy,
consider, do I need this on?  Taking care of winter and putting winter's
needs above our own seems counterintuitive because who really wants to be
cold?  However, given that we've created our daily lives within a stable
climate system that includes winter, we need to do our best to retain it in
the form that has created all the winter traditions and culture that many
enjoy.  Taking care of winter is really taking care of ourselves, instead of
turning our heads and going bowling.