Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No eggs-cuse for bad balance

Doug's trick gets scrambled, but don't blame the equinox

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The snow was falling gently when my wife arrived Sunday night to pick me up outside St. Charles Country Club.

As I hopped in the car, I was toting a bulky cardboard box.

"What's that?" she asked as I placed the box at my feet.

"It's bacon," I replied.

"Bacon?" she asked, visibly puzzled.

"Yes," I sniffed, "Eleven pounds of bacon."

"Eleven pounds of bacon?" she repeated in the tone you'd use if you were speaking to a houseplant.

There was an excellent reason why I was bearing so much bacon. I had spent the night hosting the 20th annual Share our Strength Chefs' Dinner, a fundraising event in support of the fight against childhood hunger.

Just before the main course, the generous folks from Sysco Food Services of Winnipeg, amused by a recent column wherein I professed my love for all things bacon, presented me with a suitcase-sized carton of my favourite food, which I stored under my chair until my wife arrived.

When we got home with our precious cargo, as I sat on the couch, my wife spent the next few hours dividing the mountain of bacon into smaller mounds and searching for freezer space.

But I don't want to talk about bacon today. I want to talk about eggs. Specifically, I want to talk about the popular legend stating the vernal equinox, the first day of spring, which just happens to be today, is the ONLY day on which it is possible to perfectly balance a raw egg on its end.

Go ahead and Google this if you think I'm making it up. The theory, at least the parts I understood, states that because the Earth's axis is perpendicular to the sun today, causing day and night to be of equal length, the sun is equidistant between the poles of the Earth, meaning special gravitational forces apply and blah blah blah, if you catch our general scientific drift.

I spent several minutes Tuesday researching this phenomenon by watching a YouTube video ("How to stand an egg on end") wherein U.S. astronomer Dr. Phil Plait explains the first-day-of-spring legend is totally bogus in the sense the only things you need to balance a raw egg on end are (a) an egg, (b) a flat surface, and (c) the patience of a (bad word) saint.

On your behalf, I spent several (another bad word) hours trying to stand an egg on end, the result being we no longer have any eggs in our house due to the fact they fell to their deaths after rolling off our dining room table.

To find out what I was doing wrong, I called my buddy Dale Marciski at Environment Canada, who patiently explained that, the first day of spring notwithstanding, he didn't know a lot about the science of balancing eggs.

"The equinox is an astronomical event, not a climatological event," Dale told me. "It's about the position of the sun in the sky and the rotation of the Earth. Mother Nature doesn't follow that necessarily.

"If we left the eggs out too long today, they'd freeze. Maybe that would be the time to try it."

And that's the thing, Winnipeg. If you accidentally left your raw eggs out last year, they would have been "easy over" because it was the warmest March on record. This year, not so much. Today's forecast high is -11 C, compared with the balmy 13.6 C we enjoyed on March 20, 2012.

Who's to blame for the Winter That Wouldn't Die? According to Dale, it's Mother Nature. "We've had an arctic vortex, a big low-pressure system in the upper atmosphere over Hudson Bay and Nunavut north of Winnipeg," he noted. "It just sort of sits there and pulls the cold air down over us onto the Prairies and further south."

The truth is, despite our constant griping, it only seems bad this year because we remember last year's freakishly early spring. "Last year was the unusual year," Dale said. "This year we have more snow than normal and it's been a bit colder than normal, but not THAT much colder. We're not setting records for cold."

On the upside, there's a glimmer of hope because "spring" temperatures should start edging up toward the zero mark over the next five days, compared with the normal high of 1 C at this time of year.

On the downside, while spring has officially sprung, don't expect a heat wave in the near future. "There's nothing to suggest there's any super-warm weather coming through the end of March," Dale conceded.

"We have so much snow on the ground, the sun's energy goes into melting the snow as opposed to heating the air up to any great degree. The air temperatures don't get much above freezing until most of the snow is gone."

Which is a little depressing, but don't let it get you down, Winnipeg. You just need a little patience and a lot of eggs. Because it's better they crack up than you do.

Spring by the numbers

Today is the vernal equinox, the first day of spring, and this morning's low temperature is forecast to be -18 C. In the last 10 years, we've had several low temperatures on March 20 as cold as that, including:

March 20, 2007, with a daily low of -18 C;

March 20, 2006, with a daily low of -19 C;

March 20, 2005, with a daily low of -21 C;

The record low for the date is -36.1 C in 1899;

The record high for the first day of spring is 13.9 C in 1878, a mark we almost reached in 2012 when the mercury hit 13.6 C;

Winnipeg has recorded 159 centimetres of snow this winter, including 35 cm in March, almost double the 80 cm we had all of last season;

In a typical winter (October-April) we get 110 cm of snow. The most we ever received was 253 cm in the winter of 1955-56.


-- Environment Canada

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 20, 2013 A2

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