Back when I moved to Vermont in the 80s, it took many cords of wood to stoke fires, and mittens and the occasional mail flyer often disappeared into the January snow banks, not to reappear until the snow melted in March – or even April. Pipes froze as well as rivers, and so did Lake Champlain - all the way across.
A friend nostalgically recalls growing up in a winter wonderland with "snow, snow, snow ... fairyland trees, frozen rivers, white the predominant color and ice storms that left crackling sounds of a slow melt in the trees ..."
But despite the latest snow totals, those kind of Vermont winters seem to be receding into memory. Last year snow totaled only 34 inches in Burlington. This January, just 16 inches of snow fell and in February, snowfall accumulated on only five days. Until just a few days ago, it looked like twenty seventeen was on its way to being another brown winter.
Seriously cold temperatures, too, seem to be vanishing. The last three years were the warmest ever worldwide. In northwestern Vermont, January set a national record at 11 degrees warmer than average and February registered eight degrees above normal. Over the next decade, according to a new study by UMass climate scientists, New England, as a whole, is expected to experience significantly more warming than the rest of the planet.
I remember that in the mid-80s, Burlington's average mean temperature hovered in the teens and low-20s – and the thermometer often dipped below zero. But the mean temperature this January was close to 30 and my house hasn't seen any minus temperatures yet this winter. On the contrary, Burlington set a record in late February with a high of 72 degrees.
Around the world, ice caps are receding, the poles are melting and large sections of the Great Barrier Reef are dying. And most people accept that these are all real effects of climate change. Here in Vermont it means our way of life is also shifting – with memories of growing up rosy-cheeked from the cold fast becoming only faded pictures of a nostalgic past.
Unless we can commit to change, change will overtake us and what was, what we so fondly remember, will never be again.