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Are we in for a hard winter?

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The wild roses are producing tons of rose hips already. As I remarked while walking with Older Daughter the other day, we’ll never lack for Vitamin C in this corner of the world. (Rose hips are rich in Vitamin C.)

It was while glancing at these rose hips that I mentioned one of our old neighbors used such signs to predict a hard winter. People have used folk wisdom for centuries to predict what the winter would be like (some of these signs are fanciful, some may have justification). Whether these rose hips are an indication of future weather is anyone’s guess.

But this came to mind yesterday when a reader sent an article on how El Niño is anticipated to return for this winter season, and to prepare accordingly. While the article focused on the rain that could hit Western Washington, we can all translate that to the amount of snow that might fall on North Idaho.

Twenty years ago, we moved to North Idaho from the far more temperature southwest Oregon. We moved in June, which meant the weather was lovely. We had at about five months, perhaps more, to anticipate what lay in store for us over the cold months. And here’s the thing: depending on whom we talked to, the winters were either “not bad” or they were horrible. Which was it?

The house we moved into was a fixer-upper with poor heating systems (an inefficient wall-mount propane heater and an even more inefficient woodstove). We had no idea what lay in store for us that first winter. But with two small children (five and seven at the time), we knew we didn’t want to risk their health or safety by not being ready for what, conceivably, could be a hard winter.

So we made a decision: By October, we would be prepared to be snowed in for three months. This meant we would have enough people food, pet food, and livestock food so we wouldn’t have to go to the store for three months, and enough firewood to stay warm. Could we do it?

Yes we could, and we did. And boy, did it pay off.

North Idaho doesn’t get winters comparable to places like Maine or Minnesota, but here’s the thing: Facing that first winter in our new home, we didn’t know. We didn’t know how cold it might get, or how deep the snow might be, or how bad the (non-county-maintained) two-mile dirt road might get, or a host of other unknown factors.

As it turns out, that first winter wasn’t bad. We got snow, yes; but it wasn’t much and didn’t overwhelm us. Ditto with the second winter. We were being foolish and going overboard with this “three months” rule? As it turns out, no.

The harsh winters of 2005/6 and 2006/7 made all our winter preps worth it. While we weren’t snowed in for three months, we got close. Combined, those two brutal back-to-back winters left something of a psychic scar that made us never underestimate the power of winter.

Then we bought our current all-electric home in December of 2020. We knew we were vulnerable without a non-electric heat source (it was before the wood cookstove was installed), so we had to cobble together an indoor propane heater that only warmed about 400 sq. ft. It was a darned good thing we had it, since we learned power outages are far more common here. We had one four-day stretch that first winter that would have been truly alarming if we didn’t have some way to heat at least a portion of the house, however inefficiently.

In short, we don’t take winter for granted, ever. Whether El Niño slams us with heavy snow or not, we’ll have our basic needs met.

Something to consider for everyone…


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