Thursday, 13 March 2008

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Strange things are happening in the winter wonderlands of Scandinavia and they aren’t good.

Having spent 18 years of my adult life in what I consider to be the most beautiful country in the world, Norway, I can’t help but feel saddened by the fact that the amazingly snow-filled winters appear to be fast disappearing. Not only in Norway, of course, but over the entire Scandinavian peninsula.

I experienced my first Norwegian winter during 1979/80 and fell totally and utterly in love. After the miserable, wet, grey winters I’d experienced in London, what faced me every morning out there was everything I’d imagined a winter paradise would be. Crisp, deep, pure white snow covered the ground, tree branches and roof tops and turned every other conceivable object into an object of beauty. Even the ugly old rusty wheelbarrow by our shed suddenly took on the kind of splendour that only a snowy winter could give it.

The days were cold but the air was dry and snow doesn’t soak you through in the way that rain does. Being outside in a snowfall was magical.

Kids would play outdoors all winter long. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing” is what Norwegians believe. Unlike in England, there’s was as much outdoor activity during winter as during summer; they just found different ways of enjoying being in the great outdoors, associating with and respecting Mother Nature.

But gradually things started to change. Winters starting to become milder, meaning the snow would melt during the day then freeze at night. You had to be careful; walking on a polished, sloped skating rink isn’t easy. Remember, the countries right up north are mountainous – few roads are flat.

Gritting vehicles worked overtime to keep the traffic moving but if you lived at the top of a steep hill, as we did for a while, getting home was rarely easy.

Children could no longer be sure that the skating rink they’d played on today would still be usable tomorrow, or even whether they’d get to use those new skis that Santa brought them. Skating, skiing, sledding and various other winter tournaments were often postponed or cancelled and it was probably only by sheer luck that the Lillehammer Olympics in 1994 went ahead. It was definitely touch and go for a while.

This year? Apparently there have been reports of record temperatures from all over Scandinavia, and I’m not talking record lows. In Norway, February this year is said to be the second warmest on record since 1900 and although I haven’t been able to find out for certain when the warmest was, I wouldn’t mind betting it was February 1989. That’s when DD2 was born, y’see. The evening after she'd made her entrance I sat out on the hospital balcony wearing nothing but my pyjamas and slippers. That, believe me, was something that just wasn’t done. Totally incomprehensible. Mothers are told not to take their babies out if the temperature falls below -10 but it never did, even though January and February are supposed to be the coldest months. In fact, in the Drammen area we had no snow until April. The wildlife dependent on local streams and rivers suffered that following summer. There just hadn’t been enough melt off.

If you think 108 years isn’t such a long time to be worrying about high temperatures, let me also tell you that Stockholm has had its warmest winter this year since 1756. That’s 252 years. I could be even longer but there are no earlier records.

Even the Baltic ferries have been operating without any pauses to clear ice and local fisherman around the Oslo Fjord are shaking their heads because the ice was just too thin to venture out on.

The glaciers have been melting at a record rate and if this continues, people will no longer be donning their skis but walking in what was once a winter wonderland.

So is all this just part of nature’s own cycle? Should we just accept that we’re still coming out of the last ice age and that there’s nothing we can do about it or are we humans to blame?

I’m not about to give up hope. We must be able to at least slow this down, even if we can’t stop it, so that maybe, if we slow it enough, somebody in the future will find a way of stopping it altogether and the planet will be able continue to sustain life as we know it.

Sharon J


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Camilla said...

hallo. i'm from Sweden and the goverment here are very worrying about this so thanks for making more awareness on it.

Sharon J said...

Hi Camilla.

I'm sure your government are concerned, as we all should be because ultimately this is going to have an effect on the whole planet.