This past week, the Bell Island ferry out of Newfoundland's provincial capital of Saint John's was trapped by unusually late pack ice, requiring the ice-breaking assistance of Canadian Coast Guard vessel Earl Grey.
The heavy ice around Newfoundland is actually a product of global warming. Record-breaking thaws this past winter along the west coast of Greenland–including a first-ever hurricane that drenched Greenland in January–disrupted normal patterns of ice circulation on the surface of the North Atlantic.
Greenland's fast-melting glaciers spit out icebergs four months early this year, which have clogged shipping lanes. Ocean currents and winds usually break up Newfoundland's pack ice early each spring, but the unusual flow from Greenland has kept this past winter's ice trapped in harbors and coastal waters.
Snow fell on Alabama the other day, and bitter cold settled in. Same thing happened there back in about 1989, when Forest Lake in Tuscaloosa froze up thick enough to run around and slide on, and our three eldest posed for a picture on the ice.
From the bottom: Ted, John, Joe. Note the complete absence of gloves or mittens, and the general inadequacy of winter apparel. In his hat and jacket, Ted appeared to have a chance of staying warm, but the other two just had to tough it out. There is no evidence in this picture of the socks-on-the-hands and/or plastic-bags-in-the-shoes that we recall improvising for wintry moments in Alabama; nonetheless, they all somehow survived.
On the afternoon of March 7, 2009, the ice went out on the White River in South Royalton, Vermont. For hours, the river roared and groaned, as its thick cover of winter ice was ground to bits by rampaging ice chunks from miles upstream. By the next morning, the river ran free, except along the banks, where rocks and logs had snagged some of the frozen slabs and beached them on dry land. Over the next few weeks, the jumble of beached ice melted very slowly, and then it was really spring.
Above, wildebeest cross the Mara River during their annual migration northward from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya. An estimated two million animals, mostly wildebeest but also including hundreds of thousands of Thompson's gazelle, zebra, and eland, make this long trek every year during the dry season, as they seek greener pastures; their navigation techniques are not fully understood, but one strategy they seem to follow is to head toward thunder and lightning.
This photo, by Nicole Cambre, took first place in the "Nature" category of National Geographic's 2014 photo competition, which attracted more than 10,000 entrants from 150 different countries.
Below, ice on a window in Tabasalu, Estonia, propagates in a crystal form that the photographer, Maie Kinmann, calls "Dragon." This photo won honorable mention in the "Nature" category.
On August 13, Hank and about a dozen other climbers summited Yanaphaqcha, an 18,000-foot peak in the Cordillera Blanca range of the Peruvian Andes. As they neared the top of the mountain, they were engulfed in thick clouds spitting snow. "What you see around me in the picture," Hank says, "that was the view from the top."
On a cold night in January, more than two hundred firefighters from all over Chicago battled a huge blaze in the Harris Marcus warehouse in the city's Bridgeport district. The job was complicated by extreme cold, as hydrants froze and ladders iced up; the water department was called in to de-ice the ladders with steamers.
The next day, embers in the smouldering ruin reignited, and firetrucks had to go back there and spray even more water.
They say we could hit 100 today, or if not today then tomorrow. Which of course brings to mind the proverbial cold day in . . . Alabama, back in approximately 1989, when Forest Lake froze over solid and young Ted put on a scarf and a red hat and went out for an adventure on ice. You may be able to make out a dark blob just behind his left shoulder; that was a log we put out to set a limit on the adventure; beyond that point, we weren't sure how thin the ice might be, and Alabama kids didn't know from thin ice.
The thing about a cold day in Alabama is: if it's cold enough to freeze a lake, it's certainly cold enough to freeze everybody's plumbing, which is not insulated well enough to function in serious winter. We had an ax that we used to chop holes in that ice so we could get buckets of water to keep the toilet flushing.
But I say that's much too low a standard for 2012. Next year should be way, way, way better than an icy plunge, and way, way, way better than 2011, and just plain awesome. I lift my glass to good times all through 2012: love, warmth, health, wit, serendipity, hope against hope, and great kindness. Cheers.