MAINE TALES. CAREENING TO EXTREMES. CARIBOU, MAINE. Circa 1994.
No sir! Sure-as-shootin’ it CAN snow at minus eighteen.
The old-timers were keen observers and prognosticators of the weather. They had to be. Sea-faring mariners took their lives into their own hands when they left safe harbors and set out to fish ocean waters. Before the days of satellites, internet, television, radios and telephones, for those who lived and worked on the land or sea, the need to understand the weather was critical and much more than pleasant chit chat for amiable conversation.
In 1900, 40% of the people in the United States lived on farms, and 60% lived in rural areas. Nowadays, we’re down to 1% of Amercians living on farms and about 20% who reside in rural America. To those who work outside in the elements, getting a handle on the weather often separates success from failure, and sometimes life from death.
An unexpected rain would spoil hay, a surprise frosty Fall night could ruin a Tomato crop and early snow might even prevent a Potato, Corn or Soybean field from getting harvested. And so, drawing upon a vast wealth of experience – their own and those who came before – and as keen observers and skilled distillers of patterns, the old-timers coined phrases which tersely summed up the weather at hand. “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” “As the days lengthen, the cold strengthens.” “It’s too cold to snow.”
With relentless cold from beginning to end, January 1994 was destined to become a monumental month for the record books. That month’s lowest temperature dipped to -32ºF on January 26, tying the sixth lowest temperature on record. But the truly big story was that days and nights remained cold during the entire month without relief. For the first time ever, since weather records began to be collected in Caribou in 1939, the average temperature for the entire month fell below zero, to -0.7ºF. To this day that prize for the coldest month ever remains intact.
We remember that January well, because for four consecutive weeks we were shut down and unable to ship our perishable, freezable Organic Seed Potatoes. Prior experience had taught us that our packages would either freeze before they got out of the State of Maine or they would freeze somewhere in transit. And so we sat. When that February arrived, the weather began to break. It took us that whole month to catch back up shipping out new orders plus the ones we couldn’t ship in January.
Our old-timer farmer-neighbor Doss Morse (born in Bridgewater in 1899) was fond of repeating a phrase he had learned from his father, “It’s too cold to snow.” This phrase utilizes the truism that Maine cold typically comes in association with clear and dry weather. Here, snowstorms warm things up and some of our best Winter weather will be a sunny day warmed up nice just ahead of a new snowstorm. In fact, from a Mainer’s vantage, the difference between North and South is that snow in the North means warming weather, whereas snow in the South means it’s turning cold.
We never took issue with Doss’ mantra of it being “too cold to snow.” That had been our experience as well. But as Cicero implied over two-thousand years ago, the “exception that proves the rule” will one day come. The exception happened to arrive in Maine during the month of January 1994. One cold evening, before bedtime the temperature had already dropped down to -18ºF. And it had commenced snowing ferociously.
It can’t hurt to look over your shoulder every so often to try and avoid getting smacked in the head by an unexpected exception.
Caleb, Megan & Jim