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Warm weather brings benefits and challenges
Godzilla El Nino strikes
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“It feels like spring” has been uttered more than once throughout Crawford County as November and December temperatures have soared to nearly 60 degrees at times.

Those who work outdoors have been feeling rather blessed working in a single layer and sweatshirt. Though workers are not the only ones who are benefitting from this sunshine.

This unusually warm weather is thought to be brought on by what some are referring to as a ‘Godzilla El Nino.’  El Nino, a warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean, took its hold in March and has been steadily strengthening. It caused a busy hurricane season in the Pacific and not much of one in the Atlantic. 

Since the Oceanic Nino Index began registering the strength of El Nino in 1950, six previous El Nino events, which were considered ‘strong,’ have occurred. Prior to what we seem to be experiencing now, the last recorded one was in the winter of 1997-98. During that year there was only 39.6 inches of snow in Milwaukee where it was being recorded, compared to an average snowfall in Milwaukee of 46.9 inches.  So far, in the Crawford County area we’ve seen one, rather weak snowfall for the year and a few frosty days. There is no true ground frost being reported, aside from a few patchy areas.

Heavy rains along with the unseasonably warm weather have added another interesting element to this December. Approximately five inches of rain soaked the area over the weekend causing some minor flooding, or what they would have called in the older days “a nice ankle washer.” This type of high water is typically reserved for the spring, when it follows the warm weather, which melts the snow.

The National Weather Service issued a flood warning for the Kickapoo River at Soldiers Grove Monday, which is expected to last the better part of the week. The river was predicted to crest in Gays Mills on Tuesday at 14.3 feet, which would result in Robb Park to be a pretty soggy mess. In Soldiers Grove water was seen over the road with ‘high water’ signs placed. The park and camping area as well as the horse arena in Readstown was also under water Tuesday morning.  

To calculate the ratio of rain to snow-when the temperature is around 30 degrees, one inch of liquid precipitation would fall as 10 inches of snow.

Looking back through the years, the weather has been quite different. On December 19, 1901 there is a small report in the Kickapoo Chief of August Gossel who was driving his team of horses home from Prairie du Chien to his home in Eastman, only to have his hands severely frozen and requiring attention for his frozen members.

We humans are not the only ones who are enjoying the warm December weather. DNR Wildlife Biologist Dave Matheys notes that the county’s wildlife seems to be thrilled with the warner weather.

“I think they’re happy,” Matheys said. “They’re influenced by the weather and it’s nice for them to have a reprieve.”  

With warm temperatures, animals have a better rate of survival, Matheys pointed out. He explained that the decreased struggle for food and warm temperatures led to healthier animals for the spring reproductive season. A sudden dramatic change may have a bit of a negative effect on the wildlife, but it is thought that currently “the stage is set for good survival,” Matheys noted enthusiastically. Because of the lack of struggle and strife for the creatures, their back fat reserves are also high, which should carry them even if the snow falls.

 Animals are finding themselves much more out in the open as well.

“As I’ve been driving around, I’ve been seeing a lot of turkeys out in the open and looking fat and sassy,” Matheys said.

This mild weather has also led to somewhat of a boom in the area squirrel population, as Matheys noted the small creatures seem to be thriving this year.

Farmers seem to be experiencing some ups and downs with the warm weather as well. Crawford County Ag Agent Vance Haugen calls this weather a “mixed blessing.”

Because of all the warmth, coupled with precipitation, it is causing some winter plants, such as winter wheat and winter rye to thrive, but not all are happy about that.

“Moisture is a double-edged sword,” Haugen said. “The mold and fungus can become a real problem.”

Haugen also noted that the fungus problems and lack of freezing temperatures can stall pruning efforts on trees and grapes.

Another challenge with the lack of frozen ground has been the mud.

“It’s physically hard to move around in,” Haugen noted. “Everyone is out there sliding around, tractors and skid steers are getting stuck and tearing up the ground,” Haugen said.

Those who keep animals though will probably be the most happy to see a little frozen ground to end their battle with the mud, as Haugen pointed out, “livestock friends and neighbors will probably be bald by spring from pulling their hair out going crazy over all of this mud.”

All is not lost however, because the lower temperatures at night are helping to keep things “evened out,” Haugen said. 

Of all the pluses and minuses that come along with weather, from a farmer’s perspective it’s one small thing that can really make all the difference, according to the ag agent. “There are a lot of pressures and problems, but one thing we can appreciate and enjoy is running around without gloves on, that’s something to be thankful for!” Haugen concluded.

Warm winters are also a blessing and a curse when it comes to your health. Although close contact from being cooped up and snowed in has not been to blame for passing infectious diseases this winter, old wives tales calling for serious cold snaps to kill off major illnesses may have some validity, according to Crawford County Director of Public Health Gloria Wall.

“Although we haven’t seen the horrible flu this year, we are seeing a lot of people with coughs and colds,” explained Wall “and people not practicing good manners.”

By good manners, Wall means the ‘Routine Cold Etiquette’ of staying home when you are sick, or keeping your children home when they’re sick.

“So many people don’t even think about it, when they’re out in the stores and coughing and that poor cashier is stuck there behind the counter surrounded by it all,” said Wall.

Some suggestions Wall has for keeping your illness at bay from others is frequent hand washing, staying at home when you’re sick or your family is sick, and when you are in the community keeping an arms length away from others, as well as wearing masks.   

The warm weather is adding up to some pretty serious savings for the Crawford County Highway Department, reported Crawford County Highway Commissioner Dennis Pellock.

“We’re all ready for winter with stockpiles of sand and salt and sand mix, but with the weather holding out its adding up to a pretty good savings for the taxpayer with the stockpile,” Pellock explained.

In addition to not having to spread salt or sand, the road crews are able to get extra work that they would normally be doing in spring and summer done.

“We’re catching up on a lot of stuff,” Pellock said.

The extensive rains have caused some road closures and other issues, including an accident on Highway 35, near Rush Creek Road. A large bolder came crashing down from the bluff and a large truck struck it, and the driver lost control of the vehicle and drove through approximately 150 feet of guardrail.

“He was very lucky that the guardrail held him and he didn’t go over the embankment,” Pellock said.

Don’t keep your shovels or snow blower tucked away, next week there is a slight chance we might a bit of the white stuff if we’re lucky, just in time to provide a smooth ride for Old Saint Nick.