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They don’t make winter like they used to

I have not yet pulled out our snow thrower. I am counting on the natural snow fence at the western side of the county to save me from enriching Exxon.

I learned about snow fences as a kid. Farmers would stretch what looked like rows of slatted window blinds turned sideways across their roadside fields. Wind-driven snow would hit them and rise up, to be dropped on the other side well before it reached the road.

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The resulting snowdrift quickly became its own wall, sometimes taller than a farm tractor, with wind-blown overhang looking like a sculpture in a California surfer’s dream.

A few miles west of my home in Adams County, Pa., the Appalachian Mountains – portions of which include such names as The South Mountains, Allegheny Mountains, Allegheny Front and Great Smoky Mountains – have a similar effect. For the past 480 million years or so, that line of mountains thought to have once been as tall as the Rocky Mountains or the Alps has been helping keep winters from piling too much snow in Gettysburg.

Although some people may remember a storm in 1993 that drifted the white stuff over rooftops.

Winters do not happen that way much anymore. Television newscasters who used to talk about how many feet of snow would fall now, in their effort to make their reporting sound more, uh, newsworthy, talk about how many million people will be “affected.” It sounds more apocalyptic to say 40 million people will be “affected” than to say 18 inches of snow will likely blanket five states.

Three seasons have passed during which the total gasoline I’ve burned in the snow thrower would not equal a whole tank; one season I did not burn any, other than what was required to start the machine and be satisfied it would do its job is forced into action. The TV weather prognosticators are warning of another Snowmageddon, like the three-day blast in 2010 that took several days and numerous municipal front loaders to push out of the way.

Snow is useful, as many places are noticing. In California, for instance, the winter snowpack becomes a source of spring and summer water as the deep snow gradually melts. Resulting water races down mountainsides to fill lakes and reservoirs. Along the way, it picks up soil and minerals from the mountains and deposits it on farm fields in the lowlands. When I was young, old-timers called it “poor man’s fertilizer.”

Winter remains my favorite season, not counting the other three. I love snow. Snow is a great insulator, keeping the ground from freezing to depths that freeze water mains – although I am glad to avoid shoveling those multi-tandem two- and three-footers of my youth.

Weather has been weird in recent years. We have been warned repeatedly, but people who only live about 80 years have difficulty imaging changes that take centuries. Many senior citizens who remember when “first frost” occurred in November and now is some time in December – if not later – cannot imagine a six-foot sea level rise predicted to occur after their grandchildren have passed from the planet.

And it is hard to imagine how far inland a six-foot sea level rise would reach, especially when one’s house is at 500 feet above sea level.

There are some people who think engineering technology will solve our problems. Maybe we will invent a water fence.

john messeder

John Messeder is a freelance reporter and photographer who resides in Cumberland Township. He may be contacted at

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