Of Ice Disks and Statistics

Winter made a brief appearance this past weekend. When I got up, it was minus 6 Celsius, aka 21 Fahrenheit. (For a few months now, I’ve had a desktop widget that tells me the temperature in Celsius. I can now tell from a Celsius number whether it’s frigid, cold, cool, warm, hot, or unbearable. I can’t do conversions in my head, but I can do them with a calculator. This is progress.)

I was ready. There was water in Travvy’s outside water dish. It froze. Here’s what it looked like the morning of November 16:

20141116 close up20141116 disk one

By early afternoon the temp had been in the mid-40s (F; around 7 C) long enough that the disk had turned into a puddle under the chair. Sic semper gloria mundi, etc., etc.

Almost everyone around me was bitching about the cold, as though they didn’t live in New England and it wasn’t mid-November. Maybe the ice disk season was starting early this year?

Since I had a complete record for last year, I could look it up. Somewhat to my surprise, the first ice disk of the 2013/14 cold season appeared on November 20, 2013. I didn’t get going on ice-diskery till January of that year, so I can’t tell you about November 2012.

Four days earlier is four days earlier. Hardly enough to hang grand generalizations about the weather on. Yes, I could Google back a few years and ascertain the official November temperatures for Martha’s Vineyard, but (1) that wouldn’t give me the temperature for my deck, or tell me the water in an outside water dish would have frozen hard enough to make a disk, and (2) I’ve already made my point.

And my point is . . . ?

That facts come in handy. String enough numerical facts together and you’ve got statistics. Yes, I’ve grown up with the phrase “lies, damn lies, and statistics.” I’ve heard it attributed to Twain, Disraeli, and W. H. Auden, among others. Does it matter who said it first? I think not. Most of us know that statistics can be manipulated every which way, and that if what they sometimes do isn’t exactly lying, still it’s a far cry from the whole truth.

But statistics can keep us grounded in the day-to-day world, especially if we know what they mean — especially if we collect them ourselves. Our memories are creative. On one hand, that’s the wonderful thing about memory. On the other — well, we’re always saying things like “This has to be the coldest (hottest/wettest/driest) winter (summer/spring/fall) on record.” And it hardly ever is.

I know a few people on Martha’s Vineyard who’ve been keeping detailed records for years, decades even, about the weather, about particular ponds, about the produce of their gardens, and all sorts of other interesting things.  When controversy gets heated about one of those subjects — like the Mill Pond in my town of West Tisbury — the records become important.

So do the record keepers. The record keepers are often the ones who’ve been paying the closest attention, through all the years that for most people the subject was ho-hum and nothing to get excited about.

I can’t tell you much about Vineyard weather, never mind about climate change, but I can say with confidence that for eight consecutive days last February, the temperature on my deck didn’t get high enough to melt ice disks. And I’ve got a photo to prove it.

20140213 eight and co.

If I’d realized the string of sub-freezing days was going to go on so long, I wouldn’t have lined the disks up on the short side of the deck. Taken February 13, 2014.






About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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