A few days ago a friend shared with me the weather predictions he has been finding for the upcoming winter months. Mind you, my last word on this subject was the Old Farmer’s Almanac which I recall predicting a milder than average winter — winter, to be sure, but above normal. They attributed this likelihood to to the expected arrival of a weak El Niño and “blah, blah, blah.” Cutting through all the technical rationale which I don’t understand anyway, the bottom line for that venerable publication is “mild.”
Not so, says my friend. According to his sources we could experience the coldest February in fifty years. “It’s literally terrifying,” he added in case I wasn’t grasping the gravity of the prospects.
When I probed further for details about what could be in our future he responded, “On the high side, temperatures 10 degrees F; on the low side -30, with precipitation up to 40 inches of snow.”
I can’t explain the disparity in the predictions. There is a big difference between “above normal” and “the coldest in fifty years.” I don’t know where my friend is getting his information, but he is a seasoned academic and no stranger to diligent, careful research. As much as I respect the Old Farmer’s Almanac, my friend is not given to wild theories and hyperbole. I’m inclined to listen to him.
As if to drive home the point, he adds for emphasis: “Not a single day above 15.”
We all have our own personal thermostats, of course, but I’m guessing most of us would likely adjudge that to be cold. It’s easy to imagine broken pipes, downed power lines, a scarcity of heating fuel, frostbite, and chapped lips. OK, the truth is that I will get chapped lips no matter what the weather is outside, but the rest of those prospects sound dire.
“What,” you wonder with concern, “about the chickens?” It’s a reasonable question. Everyone in our flock is a cold-hardy breed, but still. Even with their self-equipped down jackets, this kind of weather could be deadly. There isn’t auxiliary heat in their coops, though their huddled community generates an ordinarily sufficient amount of heat to fill the relatively few cubic feet of enclosed shelter. They can’t, however, spend both day and night all winter literally “cooped up.”
The coops in which we have invested are designed with a self-contained coop and run. The coop portion is that enclosed cabin in which the chickens sleep at night. The run is a wire-enclosed open space down the ramp where the feeder and heated waterer are maintained. It’s sort of a protected play area. The roof of the coop extends over the run, but the wire-wrapped sides are open to the elements. As I do every year, I had already stacked straw bales on the northwestern side of the runs to block out the worst of the wind and potential snow. Given my friend’s bleak forecast, however, I picked up additional bales today and finished the job on the opposite side. It’s part insulation, part weather break, and, in the meantime, part jungle gym. They are as protected as they are going to be.
As for us, we are feeling smug about our addition, last summer, of a whole house backup generator with a 250 gallon propane supply tank. We, I suppose, are as protected as we are going to be.
All that being said, lurking in the background is that contrarian Almanac. As if to emphasize the fact that this is weather we are talking about, my friend concluded his dystopian forecast with this parting observation: “Of course, the prediction could be wrong.”
Of course. Lucky for us we have alternate uses for the straw.