People living in a northern climate who struggle with shoveling winter snow, starting frozen vehicles, and driving in icy conditions may understandably wish that winter could be milder. However, that longed-for mild winter could come with quite a few disadvantages.
The damp cold of a mild winter makes bones ache, and colds and the flu become rampant because there is no freezing cold to kill off viruses and bacteria. Instead of crisp, dry snow, mild winters bring miserable, wet slush. Children remain caged indoors with their noses glued to the windows, watching endless streams of never-ending sleet or rain instead of getting healthy outdoor exercise, and adults are not inclined to go outside either.
In the after-Christmas retail slump, stores depend on sales of winter paraphernalia such as snow shovels, anti freeze, and snow tires to maintain their cash flow. With less snow on the ski slopes, there will be less demand for ski and snowboarding gear, and ski resort operators could go into the red.
One product which is particularly sensitive to mild winters is ice wine, a sweet dessert wine produced from the juice of grapes left to freeze on the vine. The Guardian reports that mild winters have been causing challenges for vineyards which produce ice wine because the timing of the frozen grape harvest is crucial. If the harvest is delayed, the quality of the grapes will deteriorate, and the resulting stress on the vines may adversely effect grape production in subsequent years.
Mild winters can also have harmful effects on other growing things. During a mild winter, the ground does not stay frozen, but is subjected to alternate bouts of freezing and thawing. According to The Earth Care Manual this alternation of freeze and thaw may cause perennial plants to heave up out of the ground, and result in damage to plant crowns. Some plants may be fooled into sending out spring shoots early, only to be frozen again by a subsequent frost. This damages young shoots and actually delays spring growth. Also, some fruit trees require a cold winter combined with a hot summer to produce a good crop of summer fruit.
Cold winters benefit horticulture by killing off insects and fungi which cause plant disease. The extension department of the University of Illinois reports that mild winters allow fungi, which cause over 80 percent of plant diseases, to thrive on decaying plants. Unseasonably warm temperatures also allow the spread of harmful insects. Overwintering insects produce enough larvae to compensate for the high mortality rate normally caused by freezing temperatures. For example, 80 percent of codling moth larvae die during a typical winter, so if the larvae are not killed by freezing winters, there will be 80 percent more of these pests the following summer.
Possible consequences of higher levels of plant disease and insect pests include increased use of pesticide and fungicide by farmers, produce shortages, and higher fruit and vegetable prices for the consumer.
So welcome cold winters. They are good for people, the economy, and the environment.