Chesapeake Bay frozen

The Chesapeake Bay, seen here from Love Point on Kent Island, MD, froze from shore to shore during February in past winter. For year, see question one in the quiz below.

It is something in the water… Winters are usually milder in the Southern Hemisphere than the Northern Hemisphere. The ocean absorbs and retains much of the sun’s radiation. Land absorbs less sunlight. The Southern Hemisphere has more ocean and less land, thus the milder temperatures.

…and it’s what’s not in the water: Water is often clearer in colder, drier winter because cold temperatures slow the growth and metabolism of plankton, which cloud the water.

Clear as night: Winter sunsets outshine those in other seasons. The sun’s colors are more vivid in dry, cold weather.

Poor man’s fertilizer: This term for snow recognizes that as snowflakes fall, they absorb nitrates present in the atmosphere. These nutrients enter the soil as the snow melts. Snow also serves as insulation for plants, slowing the release of warmth from the ground into the cold air.

Cooler heads: The Journal of Affective Disorder, in 2011, published research that found people born in winter are “less likely to have irritable temperaments.” Despite their “excessively positive temperaments,” those born in spring and summer are more prone to sudden mood shifts.

Beer for the road? Using salt to melt ice on roads is harmful to the local environment, so some eco-minded localities are trying substitutes: beet juice, pickle water, cheese brine and beer waste.

To the moon & back: Bird migration wasn’t fully understood until the 1800s. Explanations for where birds went in winter included hibernating at the bottom of the sea or flying to the moon.

Time to reset the sundials! In ancient Rome and Egypt, the length of an hour depended on the length of daylight, according to Smithsonian. Daylight and darkness were divided into 12 periods

apiece. As the amount of daylight and darkness changed, so did the length of the periods. In winter, when there is less daylight, each period was the equivalent of 45 minutes; in the summer, each period of daylight was 75 minutes.

Don’t dehydrate! Artificial dry heating. Swaddling in extra layers of clothes. You may not sweat, but water vapor escapes every time you breathe through your nose or mouth when it’s cold outside. Because colder weather dampens the sense of thirst, you have to make a conscious effort to drink more water to keep your body hydrated.

Bloody Point lighthouse in ice

Bloody Point Lighthouse, just off the southern tip of Kent Island, MD, stands encased in floating ice. 

Winter on the Chesapeake Bay has been brutal in the past. Consider yourself hot stuff if you can answer all of these questions. Answers are below.

1. There are records of the surface of the Bay freezing over at least seven times since 1780. When was the last time?

A. Winter 1942–43

B. Winter 1959–60

C. Winter 1976–77

D. Winter 1990–91

2. How did Bay communities react to the event in the previous question?

A. A four-day ice boat regatta

B. Pickup truck races on the ice

C. Dogsled races across the ice

D. A & B

Frozen laundry

Laundry on a clothesline stiffens in the cold. 

3. Surprise! How many inches of snow did a nor’easter dump on the Delmarva Peninsula on April 3, 1915?

A. 10

B. 15

C. 20

D. 25

4. In 1912, a growler was seen about 75 nautical miles east of the Bay. Growlers get their name from the noises they make. What is a growler?

A. An ice tornado of 46 mph or more

B. A disintegrating iceberg no larger than

2 meters wide and 1 meter out of the water

C. An ice floe with polar bears on it

D. A deserted wooden ship totally encased in ice

5. We’re all a bunch of winter wimps. Ask any of the waterbirds who come in the fall and winter for the Chesapeake chow and what is for them a balmy Bay. Although there are exceptional visitors each year, how many species can you expect to see in a typical year?

A. 65

B. 76

C. 87

D. 98


1. C; 2. D; 3. B; 4. B; 5. C

Kathleen Gaskell is the Bay Journal's copy and layout editor and author of the Chesapeake Challenge. Contact Kathleen at

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