NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

January 8, 2013

Why we'd prefer a miserable New England winter

This is the usual time of year when we New Englanders gripe about the weather, hunker down during the short days and long nights, and hope for a kinder and warmer winter.

Interesting though, we got that kind of winter last year, and we paid dearly for it last spring and summer.

Everything is a balance in nature, and so we prefer something that might not be very popular. We hope that things will return to those kinds of winters that we locals love to grumble about, if only so that it makes the spring and summer a little more pleasant and New England-like.

Last year was a record-breaker in terms of unseasonably warm weather and scant snow. Winter hardly visited us. Snowfall was well less than a foot, and the temperatures were mild throughout the entire season. It was more like a typical winter in Virginia or North Carolina.

But within weeks of the end of the “winter,” the oddball nature stories started rolling out. In some areas, fruit trees bloomed too early and then got socked by a light frost. Mosquitoes emerged weeks earlier than normal, making for an unusually long mosquito season – and the worst year for mosquito-borne West Nile virus.

Bugs of all types that normally don’t overwinter very well, survived the winter of 2011-12 quite well, and so there was an unusually fierce infestation of certain types of insects. They plagued those of us who carefully tend our lawns and gardens.

Several veterinarians in the area have also reported that 2012 was a banner year for fleas. Again, the theory was that a mild winter allowed insects to survive the winter in stronger numbers.

More alarming to us, given the growth of Lyme disease, was the impact the mild winter had on the tick population. The disease is spread by deer ticks, but recent research has shown that mice and small mammals play a much more important role in the spread of the disease than deer. The perfect storm of mice, weather and ticks occurred last winter, causing a notable spike in Lyme disease.

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