Here we are in just about the middle of the meteorological winter with less than 40 days until March.
What started out a little mild, eventually turned to record cold in terms of temperature and time. We were probably near a Winter Severity Index (WSI) disaster. Add that to some significant snow earlier in December, 31” by my tally, and things were looking very gloomy.
As I explained in previous blogs tagged “WSI,” such as “Winter Severity Index Report for 2015,” a Winter Severity Index (WSI) day is any day that the snow is more than 18” deep or the temperature is below zero. If both of those criteria are met in the same day, it is then a 2 WSI day.
A flock of turkeys that I saw regularly was getting decimated by the sub-zero nights and days, aided by strong winds. At first there were eight. Then a few days later there were five, and finally I saw only two.
The others *probably* froze to death while roosting. We’ll never know, as any carcasses are surely consumed by a host of predators and scavengers. That said, I have seen two flocks of more than a dozen birds during this thaw.
By my tally, we had 14 WSI days in the last week of December. (Again, that’s two for each day that the snow was more than 18” deep and the temperatures went below zero.)
January continued that trend for the next week with another six, 2-WSI days. As the temperature rose, it was only the snow that was adding to our WSI total.
With this wonderful and unprecedented thaw, everything has changed. We now stand at 31 WSI so far for the season. That is good, but far more than we have had in the previous five years. In 2016 (See https://wlags.wordpress.com/2016/02/20/the-matriarch-moose-of-j-e/) and 2017 for example, we had only 1 WSI for each of the last two months.
However, it all comes down to March and April. Those are the “make it or break it” months. We are in a good spot for now, with the deer and turkeys able to move about freely.
Today I ventured out to check snow depths in the woods. They ranged from bare ground in the large evergreen groves to 8” on the northeast-facing slopes. Four inches is a good average of what I saw.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Just 14 days ago, I sent an email to friends and family touting signs of spring. Well, that was like calling a no hitter in the 8th inning. Since then it has snowed seven out of those 14 days, and sometimes those flakes lingered into the next day.
We have had eight consecutive Winter Severity Index (WSI) days with no end in sight. As I explained in Winter Severity Index Report for 2015, a WSI day is any day that the snow is more than 18” deep or the temperature is below zero. If both of those criteria are met in the same day, it is then a 2 WSI day.
The average snow depth right now is 27” on the level. Here is a photo of our front picnic table with a yardstick protruding.
The birds—juncos, blue jays, and cardinals—are going in and out the end facing you as well as the tables on the deck and under the Lund to seek shelter from the snow and wind. We are now putting birdseed in those spots to help them out.
Here is a photo of our moose weathervane that is now sitting on 27” of snow. It still has another 29” protruding above the snow line. In the winter of 2015, it was completely covered by snow.
This winter has been tough since about the Super Bowl, but I have seen many worse winters. For example, the winter of 1968 – 1969 killed hundreds of thousands of deer in New England, especially in VT. It started snowing the night before opening day, and it seemingly never stopped until March. I shot an 8-pointer on the day after Thanksgiving that year, in the middle of a blizzard.
Then in 1993, we bought the camp in Antrim. When we passed papers in January, the ground was almost bare, but it was the worst March ever. We got snowfalls of over 2 feet on several occasions. We had to get help from neighbors to get into the driveway almost every Friday night, and we had to hire people to shovel the roof.
In 1999, when we bought our first place in Washington, we had to hire a frontend loader to get in the yard, as the snow banks were 8 feet tall and at least that wide.
So why has this winter been so bad? Because it has been like death from a thousand cuts. The most snow in any one storm was only 9”, but we have been getting 1” to 5”seemingly daily. Even on the days it doesn’t snow, it blows so much I have to use the snowblower anyway. I have used more gas in the snowblower in the last week than I did in the truck. Having said all that, I know if I want to live here, and I do, I have to accept it as a form of dues that I must pay.
The snow does have its upside. To the farmers of centuries past it was “poor man’s fertilizer” or “white gold” because of the nutrients that leeched into the soil for spring planting. From a fisherman’s view, it provides the necessary runoff to provide spawning conditions and suitable fishing conditions for many species. That was never more evident than it was last April when Tony and I could not get into the setbacks to hunt pike because the water was so low.
That in and of itself is almost funny. Ten months ago, we went to great lengths to catch a pike in New England, but seven months ago, we were for the most part very disappointed to hook one when were in Labrador. We were seeking more vaunted species, such as brookies, salmon, and lakers. Nevertheless, we appreciated the pike when the other species were not active. We enjoyed catching them on poppers and better yet when they provided us with a meal as our food supply got low.
Here we consider them at the top of our list of targets for good reason. Their size, their fight, and their slashing strikes. It’s all on your perspective at the time and place you are in at the time. I’m already looking forward to getting into those setbacks this spring.
It’s the same with the snow and winter in general. I have not been able to get out ice fishing or snowshoeing nearly as much as in years past, and that makes a difference. Despite the rigors of this winter, the ice fishing conditions have not been good in large part to a milder than usual January. So much so that there have been several fatalities of snowmobilers going through the ice just in the past 10 days or so, both here and in VT and Maine.
A couple nights ago, wardens rescued a Canadian man and his two dogs from Mount Lafayette near Mount Washington, at 1:00 in the morning. They said that all three would have perished in just another hour or two.
I’m sure that my game cameras are level with the snow and maybe even under the snow in places as I write this. If the weatherman is right, and we hit 40 on Sunday for the first time since January 21, I’ll try to reach them then.
The upside to all this is that whenever spring gets here, it will be thoroughly appreciated!
Each year the NH Fish and Game Department tracks the severity of our winters to evaluate its effect on wildlife. Of most importance to the sportsmen of the state is the effect on white tailed deer. The average adult doe goes into the winter with about a three-month supply of fat reserves. Theoretically every WSI day takes an additional day off those reserves.
A Winter Severity Index (WSI) day is any day that the snow is more than 18” deep or the temperature is below zero. If both of those criteria are met in the same day, it is then a 2 WSI day.
You can use WSI to classify a winter season this way:
30 to 50 WSI: moderate
50 to 80 WSI: moderately severe
80 to 100 WSI: severe
100+: extremely severe
I have the state WSI records from 1964 through 2009 and my own after that. The worst winter on record was 1969 to 1970 with 112 WSI state-wide average.
The best winters were 2005 and 2009 with just 13 WSI.
The statewide average is 47 due to the White Mountains and the area north of the Notches.
The mean average for our Wildlife Management Unit (WMU), I2, is 33 WSI.
For the WMU immediately south of us, H2, the average is 26 WSI.
I have tracked, by my measurements the number of WSI *so far* this winter. We have had 39 consecutive days of 18”+ of snow on the ground plus 14 days of subzero temperatures. So my WSI is at 53 right now; not good, not terrible.
I was out today taking a multitude of measurements, and it is tough to average, but I believe we have broken the prolonged negative streak. The snow depth ranged from 10” on steep south-facing slopes, to 22” in spots shaded or facing northeast. Most places it was between 14” and 18”, so I’m averaging it to be 16”.
Deer are built to deal with severe weather. Their metabolism will slow dramatically during severe weather, but for only so long. March is the killer month, and believe it or not April is too. The deer are at the end of their reserves, so late snows and prolonged cold snaps in those months are the worst. When the fat reserves are gone, their bodies then go after the marrow in their bones. Once that happens there is no going back. They may live on for days, even weeks, but in the end they are gone. It is a terrible thing to see.
The winter of 1969 in Vermont, which at the time had the densest deer population in the country, was a disaster. Vermont went into that winter with about 350,000 deer. That spring it was estimated that less than 150,000 survived. I saw 14 dead deer in an area smaller than my living room. That was a day that I will never forget.
The only good thing that came out of that was that the legislature returned control of the deer herd to the biologists of Fish and Game after Fish and Game officials took truckloads of dead deer to the state house in Montpelier. The state would never again see the deer population that they had in the 60’s, but they would never again see such carnage either.
POLITICS HAS NO PLACE IN WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT!
I’m off my soap box now. Every March I think of that day, and I worry about those animals like I do the family dog.
The winter severity index (WSI) days are over. Today the deepest snow was 22” and I averaged the rest at 14”. It’s been a long stretch. All we can do is hope that the deer had enough fat reserves and or they moved to lower ground.
Yesterday and today I went to Hanover and Claremont. The low lands had much less snow, under a foot in most places, with bare spots on the southern slopes.
My experiment with the cameras, putting them one on top of the other, proved worthwhile. It became obvious that the Bushnell took better quality videos, photos, and sound.
The usual suspects showed up–mostly the gray fox and the coyote.
The Moultree however, had a much longer and much wider range. So I’ll put the Moultree in open expanses and the Bushnell in tighter spots or where we need to get a better look at a rack. I did move the Bushnell much closer to where the bobcat has been traveling.
I’d love to get a good photo of him. I set it to photo.
Well it sure doesn’t look or feel much like spring.
I went out this morning and was discouraged by the snow depths. They ranged from a very low 2” to a very deep 28” after this week’s snow. I’m unfortunately, going to average it out to 18”, right at the WSI minimum. That is the 40th consecutive day and the 54th this season. The average for Washington over the last 50 years is 33. The last year over 40 was 2007 at 69. The last over that was 2002 at 95. Then you have to go back all the way to 1993 to find one over 40, and that was 55.
We need a break, and there is none in the forecast for the next six days. The only upside to this is that all this cold and snow will hopefully help alleviate the moose tick infestation. Something Tony and I have seen firsthand.
On a happier note, I told you I was mounting my two newest cameras one above the other to compare their performance. I set the Bushnell on photo and the Moultrie on video.
The results were mixed. The Bushnell was more sensitive up close and took higher resolution photos. The Moultrie’s only real plus came when it picked up the bobcat again and the Bushnell did not. It was in daylight, 5:45 p.m., and must have been still within the range of about 100’, and obviously not in the range of the Bushnell.
Again the quality of the video is not good, but better than the last one. This time the cat was coming from J.E. If you remember, last time he was headed in in the morning.
I’m definitely going to move a camera closer to that trail. I changed the Bushnell to video today. The other surprise was that I suddenly was inundated with snowshoe hares.
My friend Roy called this week and invited me to join him hare hunting up this way today. When I told him he would need snowshoes to hunt snowshoes, he changed his mind. He has much less snow at his house about 40 miles southeast of here. He told me he has been seeing deer almost daily. Usually small groups of 3 to 5.
This is the big sugaring weekend up here, with the sugar houses all open to the public. Here, and I’m sure north of here, there won’t be a lot of sap being boiled, unfortunately.
Here I am bemoaning that lack of spring when just a few minutes ago while standing on 30+ inches of snow in my garden, I look up and there flying directly over my head was a loon! And I thought I was crazy! He’s not landing anywhere around here with that landing gear.
He’s at least as anxious as me, I guess.
Just a little update on snow and winter severity index (WSI).
Monday I was able to walk back to the camera without snowshoes. Not because there was so little snow, but because of a few sunny days and very cold nights, the snow had a deep crust. The snow depths ranged from 6” to 29”, with most places coming in at 16” to 19”. Not good.
I had the usual suspects on the camera: fox and coyote mostly, with a daytime video of the fisher, all of whom were able to walk freely on the snow crust, which of course a deer cannot do.
The problem with the fisher video was that although it was sunny, he spent most of his time in the shade of an evergreen.
I went up there today in hopes that yesterday’s 50 degrees would have knocked the snow pack down. Not much, unfortunately. Today’s depths ranged from 5” to 26” with an average of about 16”. That’s better, but we have a storm starting right now that, depending on who you want to listen to, will bring us 3” to 12” of heavy, wet snow (the plow just went by).
I think we are at about 44 WSI days so far. Not good, but if it would go quickly in the next week to something less than 12”, we, the deer, would be OK.
Last year we were at 32 WSI days for the year, and 17 of them were in March, the most critical month. We are already at 12 WSI days this month, and worse yet, 30 consecutive days.
Our average in Washington is 33 WSI days over the last 40 years or so.
Keep your fingers crossed.