2018-01-31 / Columns

Cold Weather

IN THE WILD
by Dan Stiles Wildlife Biologist

I have to be careful about exaggerating how cold this last month (January 2018) has been, but most people would agree the temperature has been uncommon. My proof is that our electric bill was way beyond anything it ever has been in the past six years, because we have one heat pump that heats the upstairs and another for downstairs, and the darn things very rarely shut off! And, our wood burning stove within our cabin in Morgan County has a seemingly insatiable appetite.

I visited our cabin on January 4, 2018, planning to stay a couple of days. The afternoon I arrived, the outside thermometer was 12 degrees Fahrenheit, and the inside thermometer read 14 degrees. Our wood stove is made of half inch steel, and to the touch, it was incredibly cold. Some people will nod in agreement, because they have experienced this. A wooden match intended to ignite the carefully laid kindling, refused to provide a flame. It just smoked! After several tries, I got the fire going, and the radiant heat it generated was absolutely marvelous!

They say (whoever “they” are) that older people are more sensitive to cold weather than younger folks. I believe it is true. I can’t remember being uncomfortably cold when I was a kid, even when the temperature was way below zero. I do remember that it was a common practice to remove the car’s battery and keep it warm in our home overnight to be reasonably sure the car would start the next morning. And, a few older readers remember that it was a common practice to “bank” homes with leaves (my Dad and I raked last fall’s leaves all around the outside base of our home to provide extra insulation).

Being particularly sensitive to the cold, I am amazed at how wild animals endure the cold weather, especially on a snowy, windy night. I guess I ought not worry, because wild animals and birds and reptiles and insects, and all the other critters have survived extreme temperatures for thousands of years. Whitetailed deer have hollow air-filled hairs that provide excellent insulation in the wintertime, but in the warmer months they shed these winter hairs for a summer (brownish) coat of solid hairs, that are not so insulating. Birds “puff up” their feathers to provide themselves additional insulation, and they (somehow) increase their metabolism to produce more heat.

Wind is the enemy of insulation. A car battery exposed to the wind is just as cold as another one protected from the wind, but wind or not, the battery does not produce warmth. It’s warmth-generating birds and animals (including people) that heighten their metabolism or wear additional layers of clothing, because the wind sweeps the ordinarily additional warmth away! And yes, open waters tend to freeze sooner whenever wind whisks prevailing warmer temperatures away.

Truth is, I’ve witnessed several days in January when the temperature was unusually warm. There were earthworms crawling on our driveway, an easy meal for the robins that decided not to migrate. I’m looking forward to spring like never before. Tomato plants in our garden and spotted fawns suddenly appearing to examine them. And, bluebirds and hummingbirds and wild turkeys gobbling. Hurrah for spring!

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Our youthfulness also

Our youthfulness also includes more body mass in form of young muscles and higher levels of energy . we played hard worked hard had more breath and less need to take rest breaks . . our advancing years find us with thinner flesh not counting the added fatty tissue that collected about the midsection on myself . it offers little benefit of insulation. . our metabolic rate slows with age so does our ability to generate internal warmth. . the cold has a chance to creep in and since our bodies thermostat is not as responsive we feel it more. the reverse is true for hot weather... we can't throw off the heat of hot miserable summer scorcher and can easily over heat even die from it.