09 January 2013

Retaining a sense of perspective

The graph above is attached to the side of our refrigerator with magnets.  It shows the historical average daytime high and low temperatures for our city (in degrees Fahrenheit) at weekly intervals from October through March.  The apparent shading is just a fold in the paper casting a shadow below; above that is the line indicating freezing (32 degrees).  The little arrows (made from the sticky end of Post-It notes) get moved along the graph each week.*

Those who live in more temperate or tropical climates probably can't understand why we put up with such bitterly cold weather.  Partly, of course, there are the stark economic realities of jobs and homes and families, but beyond that there's a certain quiet satisfaction that comes from living through cycles of four distinct seasons.  The first week in March crocuses will emerge right through residual snowdrifts (we've planted a hundred of them just because of that harbinger phenomenon).  A couple weeks later buds will appear on the trees and the lilacs will bloom, and suddenly the signs of new life are everywhere.

It doesn't surprise me that the earliest humans recorded winter solstices, that they monitored the sun's positions, that religious festivals were created to celebrate rebirth from apparent death.   There's an immense satisfaction in telling oneself that one has made it through the  most difficult time, and that things are now going to get better.

Those early peoples tracked these cycles by standing immense stones on end in open fields and on hilltops; we do it with yellow arrows made from Post-It notes on a refrigerator.  But the intention is the same, and we share their wonder at the phenomenon.

*It's interesting that the coldest week doesn't correspond to the darkest week of the winter solstice.  I believe I read somewhere that the discrepancy occurs because of the "thermal sink" properties of the earth and Great Lakes - just as the hottest days develop a couple weeks after the longest days.

(Reposted from 2011)


  1. I love this idea, and I intend to copy it for my fridge and my area!

    The cold temps of winter don't bother me as much as the DARKNESS. The winter solstice is the best day of the year. :)

  2. We went to the zoo today, 69F in San Jose, CA. My wife complained it was chilly when we left and wanted to put on a sweater.

    I'm sure that the spring flowers are great, but life is too short to spend waiting for it to come...

    1. But you end up not really appreciating good weather. Thus the complaining about 69F; whereas us northerners would be absolutely ecstatic and in great spirits with weather like that :)

    2. Having lived in New England for my first 18 years, then skipped the next few winters, and now being back in Philadelphia: Yes, you appreciate good weather more if it's sometimes bad. But if the bad lasts for more than about a month it's not worth it. I learned this by visiting the winter for various short periods.

      And I love x-c skiing, squash soup, snow caves, and peppermint-schnapps cocoa. It's just the constant effort of staying warm that is briefly invigorating but ultimately exhausting. Also the short days.

    3. Maia, I agree re the short days. But the counterpart is the extremely long days of midsummer, when northern Minnesota gets a full 16 hours of daylight + twilight. Wonderful summers.

    4. My short comment is 'I love to ride my motorcycle. In California, I could do that 365 days a year. Having a bike in Texas is almost not worth it. Sure, the rides I do get in are amazing - but they do not compensate for the other 200 days out of the year.'

      ~and the verbose version...
      Having wasted quite a number of years elsewhere and sadly now ~ not having the financial means to go back, I have to admit that a good portion of my life has and is being wasted because I no longer live in Southern California. When the climate is so oppressive that you cannot go outside and enjoy life... do days like that really count as living?
      A comedian once put it as, 'Hey, California doesn't have four seasons -> true, but they only threw out the ones that suck' :-)
      Seriously though, almost any free day of the year, within a few hours of my home in Los Angeles, I could do every thing from play in sun warmed sands (beach or desert) to hiking in the wilderness to fly fishing to desert racing to surfing to gambling to pier walking to kite flying to vineyard hopping to spelunking to sport shooting and on and on.
      Yes, four seasons are nice but we only have 52 weekends a year and you know you have to give up at least half of those doing things you do not want to do... so for the <26 a year that are yours, why risk having to cancel and stay home? Heaven forbid you took a week off of work to celebrate spring or fall only to have a freeze spoil that, too. How many springs do you have left? I hate that so many of my weekends are cancelled due to bad weather here.
      It does not make the 'good' outside weekends more fun. It only reduces the actual time available to get outside and celebrate living.

    5. Your evaluation implies that being outdoors is necessary to have fun. So you're telling me that hiking mountain trails or beachcombing for treasures is more fun than huddling in a basement next to a space heater typing in a blog??

      Hmmm... let me think about that...

  3. This is great! I plan on creating a Chicago version to hang on my refrigerator, but I'm going to add another layer to include sunrise/sunset. I find it super depressing to get off work at 5pm and find the sun has already set.

  4. Where did you find your original data? I'm having trouble finding weekly historic averages. I've love to make one of these to help cheer up the wife as we head into spring.

    1. I don't remember where I found mine. Try Googling Connecticut + climatology + weekly. I found this graph for Stratford -


      - at weather underground. On the right of that page is a "date selector" that will give you precise data for each day of the year.

  5. I think the heatsink effect is due almost exclusively to water--Great Lakes in your case, but mostly ocean. This pretty graph shows that Kansas exhibits almost no lag:


    and Honolulu has one of several months:


    Those graphs may be useful for EBCornell.

  6. Nice!
    We don't get much cold weather here in So. Cal, but we still complain about what we get.

  7. The key to living in Wisconsin is to find something you love to do outside between November and May or you will go stark raving bonkers. I live here because I love to snowshoe, love a brisk walk when the snow is falling, love sitting at my loom on a snowy day, warming up by a fire with chili on the stove. Yes, there are definite drawbacks - March lasts about two weeks too long, and one can get pretty damn sick of polar fleece, but the cardiovascular benefits of shoveling twenty inches of snow off a deck should not be underestimated.

  8. A question: Should it be 'Retaining' or 'Maintaining'? Grammarians?


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