The National Weather Service forecast was for “wintry mix”, which means there are some interesting things going on in the atmosphere. Plain old rain and snow are straightforward forms of precipitation, forming in the clouds and falling through air at temperatures that do not alter their form on the way down. When frozen precipitation falls through warmer air and hits cold air near the surface, it turns into sleet–which is rain that refreezes before hitting the ground; or freezing rain–which is rain that freezes to the cold surface of whatever it lands on.
It has been cold here–at least below freezing. So when a warm front slid over the mountains, freezing rain fell, coating every surface in ice. I went out into the garden to examine silvered twigs, dripping leaves and red viburnum berries encased in a frozen shell. This is a rare event here, and feels slightly ominous. My imagination ranges out to the forest where ice may build up on trees until some limbs reach a breaking point. If a wind follows, some top-heavy trees will snap and fall. Roads and trails will be scattered with tree remains, stuck and buried in snow. I think also of animals, especially deer and elk on their winter range. A thick crust on top of the snow will make it hard for them to dig down to forage below. After winters like this, it is not uncommon to find remains after snowmelt, stripped down to skin and bones.
Winter can be hard, which may be perceived as cruel and merciless. In flippant moments, I used to say that winter weeds out the wimps. But it also finds the stupid and unlucky. Wild creatures try to survive. Humans have a choice to travel in challenging conditions, but may find themselves in a survival situation whether they wanted to or not.
I respect winter. I imagine trying to make a living outside during the cold dark months and am beyond grateful for my little house and its comforts. I choose the days I go out, and don’t mind turning back if conditions turn for the worse. It is Day 13 of the government shutdown. I am furloughed but Cabin Fever has not set in yet. Freezing rain is an excellent reason to stay home and cook soup.
By the way, the folks at the National Weather Service deserve recognition for accomplishing their mission with reliability and professionalism. Listen to The Coming Storm by Michael Lewis https://www.amazon.com/The-Coming-Storm/dp/B07FHLQ2DD to learn how this agency is under threat under the current administration.
Be careful out there.