Microclimates in Winter
Just what is a microclimate? A microclimate is a spot where temperature, dampness, wind speed, or some other climate factor differs from the surrounding area. Microclimates can have a big effect on plants and animals.
Winter is a great time to study temperature microclimates. A surprising range of temperatures can be found in a small area, especially on a sunny day. Here are a few things to try. Make sure to shade the bulb of the thermometer each time you take a temperature reading.
Check the temperature at the base of the sunny side of a tree. Find the temperature of the shady side of the same tree. Is there a difference? If you were a small insect active in the winter, a stonefly for example, which side of the tree would you want to be on? From which side of the tree might the snow melt first? Watch to see if your prediction is right.
If you live in an area where there are some woodlots or forest land, watch to see where the snow stays longer-among the trees or on fields and lawns.
Take two frozen orange juice can tops and paint one white and the other black. Put them both on top of the snow in the sun. Check them every half hour or so. Is there any difference in how fast they sink into the snow? Try some other colors. Does this help you decide what color to wear when you are trying to keep warm?
Go out on a cold morning when there is snow on the ground. Take the temperature of the air just above the snow. Take the temperature under the snow. Is there a difference? Fill two water balloons with the same temperature water, luke warm (98.6 F) would be a good temperature. Take them outside. Put one on a sidewalk or some other place where it will not sink into the snow. Put the other one into a deep, soft, pile of snow. Wait fifteen minutes to half an hour. Take the temperature of both balloons. Is there a difference in the temperature of the two balloons? Ruffed grouse, woodland birds distantly related to chickens, fly into snow drifts to spend cold winter nights. Could this help them stay warm?
Sometimes a small air pocket with a thin cover of ice will form in snow. This happens when sunlight warms an object on the ground and it melts the snow from below. On a sunny day, slide a thermometer into one of these little air pockets. What is the air temperature inside?
If you can find a spring where water comes out of the ground, take the temperature of the water. Is it warmer than the air temperature? If you can't do this, take the temperature of cold tap water in the house after someone has run a bath or done laundry. Since water pipes are buried about three feet deep, the temperature of cold tap water is the temperature of the soil at a depth of three feet or more. Is this temperature warmer than the outdoor air temperature? If you were choosing a place to hibernate, would underground be a good choice? Why?