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Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 12/ 8/2009

What is winter, and how do we adapt?

By Ann Posegate

Wx and the City

* Flood Watch tonight: Full Forecast *
* Weekend snow, again? Snow Lover's Crystal Ball *

Snow falls over Christmas trees in NW D.C. last Saturday. By CWG photographer Ian Livingston.

It's no wonder that we eat so much on Thanksgiving. Biologically, we are stocking up for winter. I'm of the mindset that winter holidays add some feeling of abundance to the dark, cold, windy, season.

Regions that have true winter (average below 30 degrees Fahrenheit for at least three months each year) are scattered around northern latitudes of the globe. The mid-Atlantic region happens to fall just below this line. Though we experience a season very close to true winter, our winter weather can be swayed.

During the winter months, we are under a combat zone between cold Arctic air masses descending from Canada and warm, humid tropical air masses moving north from the Gulf of Mexico. This constant flux (and occasional clash) between such different air masses leads to a huge range of possible conditions, and necessitates being well-adapted and prepared for nearly any type of weather throughout the season.

A chipmunk in the snow. Courtesy National Biological Information Infrastructure.

Wildlife has various ways of adapting to winter: monarchs migrate, hedgehogs hibernate and wood frogs turn into tiny blobs of amphibian antifreeze. Those animals that inhabit our region and that have adapted to staying the course during winter have fascinating ways of living with both cold temperatures and weather fluctuations.

Take the groundhog, for example -- a year-round resident of the D.C. region (much to some property owners' dismay). Groundhogs are one of the few species that go through a true hibernation period in winter, including lowering their heart rate, respiration and body temperature to conserve energy in freezing temperatures. Chipmunks go through a process close to hibernation, but can awake and become active during warm streaks of winter.

Like it or not, humans are also animals, albeit complicated ones. How do we adapt? Coats, hats and mittens are one way. Spending longer periods of time indoors is another.

Ecologically, winter speaks of slowing down. American culture suggests that we speed up over the next month as we gear up for the winter holidays, during a time when other animals are beginning hibernation. When, if at all, do we slow down with winter tightening its grip? And how do we adapt? Have you noticed any interesting animal (including human) behaviors with the arrival of cold temperatures and our first snow?

By Ann Posegate  | December 8, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Posegate, Wx and the City  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Another Saturday snow possibility
Next: PM Update: Rain, and lots of it, through the night


not relevant to article, but how bad an idea to go from oakton va to germantown md at 4 then germantown to leesburg at 730

Posted by: mandarb77 | December 8, 2009 12:37 PM | Report abuse

running to the grocery store at the first warning of snow (stocking up on food)?

Posted by: madisondc | December 8, 2009 1:10 PM | Report abuse

This is why I've always thought January diets are doomed before they begin. It's a lot easier to avoid comfort (fattening) foods as spring arrives.

Posted by: LCFC | December 8, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Re: January diets

Yes, that's one reason they are doomed but also if you think about it most animals fatten up for warmth during the winter months. Though we have various methods to fight it, I do think we have a biological tug to do so.

The last reason is that it's just plain too cold to exercise. Some hard core people do it (especially if you exercise outdoors) but most people don't.

Posted by: kallieh | December 8, 2009 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Snow days are a good excuse not to do any work (except posting to CapweatherGang). Also, most of us slow down from doing yardwork in winter, although shoveling is a new chore for many.

Somewhat related to your article, I was just read a Potomac Appalachian article (page 2) that said although we think of robins as a sign of spring, we actually have them year round. We get robins migrating from NY and PA for the winter, while our robins go to the Carolinas.

Posted by: spgass1 | December 8, 2009 10:17 PM | Report abuse

My two collies have put on much more coat this winter compared to previous winters.

They cna't predict snow amounts but they are predicting a colder than normal winter.

The 2009/2010 winter does it have an analogue in previous winters yet?

Posted by: omarthetentmaker | December 9, 2009 7:07 AM | Report abuse


See our winter outlook

Posted by: Jason-CapitalWeatherGang | December 9, 2009 9:04 AM | Report abuse

Winter of 87 had that January in it when we got the twin storms. the first one had thunder snow etc. OPM closed the govt at about 1000am. Bob Ryan and the others predicted maybe 2-4in. They missed it big time. My Metro Bus for Burke left the Pentagon a little before 11am. I got in my front door at 950pm. @#$*& incompetent Metro Bus drivers and other drivers. I walked the last 1.5 home. I had to stop and relieve myself. Yeah its was up to my eyeballs really. I learned how long I can hold it. Then we had another big storm a few days later. It was a great winter not my dad was dying from cancer. Snow and going to his doctor appointments just made it worse. Snowed in Feb with about 6in the day of his funeral.

Forget snow I take a nice cold winter like 72/73 or was it 73/74 with really cold temps ie 10 days of temps below 25 degrees and highs in the single digits but almsot no snow.

Kids and folks who don't have to shovel it or drive in it like snow. No snow for me.

Posted by: omarthetentmaker | December 9, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

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