Idahoans have little cause to complain about the weather. Even this year. We’re blessed with a pleasant, four-season climate and virtually none of the floods, hurricanes and other weather disasters that plague some parts of the nation.
But it sure would be nice to see the ground again.
How long has it been since we’ve seen the ground without snow or ice on it?
Forty-six days and counting. Not a record, but we’re getting there. The record is 63 days, in 1986.
Except for time in the Navy and college, I’ve lived in Boise all my life and this winter has given me a new experience. Never before have I had to hoe my roof. (Every store in town was sold out of roof rakes, which must be some kind of a record.)
Snowmagadden wasn’t entirely without redeeming factors, however. Kids enjoyed the snow days (though they used them somewhat differently than those of previous generations. More on that presently.) And the mountains of snow and ice, followed by rains and partial melt-offs, brought neighbors together.
Hunkered over shovels, picks and hoes, the folks in our neighborhood shared a sort of gallows humor about the unusual winter weather. Neighbors who had never previously met introduced themselves and commiserated over icy streets and rivers of slush. We helped clear each others’ gutters, push each others’ stalled cars. A neighbor named Mike – didn’t catch his last name – patrolled the streets with a snowplow and became an instant hero.
How bad is the winter of ’17?
For decades, old timers have rhapsodized about the snowy winter of 1948-49. It assumed almost mythic proportions. To see how the two winters compared, I spoke with Meteorologist Jay Breidenbach of the National Weather Service.
“The unusual thing about this year is that this is some of the deepest snow we’ve ever had in the valley,” he said. “The amount of snow on the valley floor is much more normal.”
More than in the winter of ’48-49?
That depends on how you look at it. That winter, Breidenbach said, had more snowfall than we’ve had so far this year – including a two-day storm beginning on Valentine’s Day that brought 13 inches of snow. But the snows melted more quickly that year; the maximum snow depth in Boise was nine inches. So far this winter: 15 inches.
“We had two storms of seven inches a week apart, and it was never above freezing so it didn’t melt or compact much,” Breidenbach said. “That’s very unusual. We’ll be talking about the winter of ’17 for a long time.”
Hard winters aren’t without benefits, of course. Snow has insulating qualities. Our house seems to have stayed warmer, even during the below-zero temperatures. Skiers, snowboarders, and snowmobilers love the snow. And it tends to bring out the best in people. I had surgery on the day of the Big Melt, and I can’t tell you how many friends, neighbors and relatives came by and helped or offered to help keep the gutters and storm drains clear.
That brings us back to the kids. Kids have always enjoyed snow, always will. But they love it differently in the digital age. Most of them don’t spend as much time outdoors so they aren’t as inventive when it comes to outdoor activities. When I asked my granddaughter Chloe, who is 10, if she’d ever made a snow fort, she looked at me as if I had three heads.
Snow forts used to be common during hard winters in Boise. They were made with snowman-sized snowballs arranged in a circle with an opening for a “door.” Snow forts were great for hanging out, making plans, cementing friendships over cups of steaming cocoa on winter afternoons. Their primary purpose, however, was to wage snowball wars – glorified snowball fights with opposing sides occupying forts, stockpiling “ammo,” and letting fly. If a particularly deadly projectile hurtled your way, you could duck and the fort would protect you.
Kids don’t do that sort of thing much any more, which brings me to something our state legislators might want to consider when they aren’t debating the finer points of sexual favors.
Everywhere you go, people have been complaining about snow that has made just getting out of the driveway an achievement. The snow has closed schools, hurt businesses, caved in roofs. Even kids don’t love it the way they once did. The only ones who are truly passionate about it are winter sports enthusiasts.
Therefore, in the interest of the majority of us who could do without snow, I hereby propose a winter-recreation tax. The tax would be imposed on skis, snowboards, snowmobiles, snowshoes and anything else related to winter sports. The proceeds would be used to transport excess snow in cities to the mountains, where it belongs. There’d be plenty of snow up there, clear roads and streets down here. Everybody’s happy.
I’m kidding, of course.
But one way or another, it sure would be nice to see the ground again.
Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Statesman and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.