Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Winter has arrived! the nine nines...

Winter has finally arrived along with the solstice.  Though it has seemed to me that the days are very short in terms of sunlight already, today is the shortest day of the year.  It doesn't get light until well after 8 a.m. now and is dark around 5:20 p.m.  I've already begun wearing long underwear (albeit light weight ones) for several weeks, as well as my wool sweaters.  This is a change from last year, when I thought my apartment was too warm, the wool sweaters too hot, and long johns uncalled for most of the time.  Is it true our bodies acclimate to the climate we live in?  If this is any indication, I'm going to be needing all that heavy long underwear I've kept!

In Mongolia the winter is one of the harshest.  This landlocked country, bounded on the south by the Himalayas and west the Siberian High, affects the winter weather and contributes to Mongolia having the highest atmospheric pressure during the winter.

Siberian High, also known as Russo-Siberian High/Anticyclone is a massive collection of cold and/or very cold dry air that accumulates and reaches it's greatest size and strength during winter.  The center of this high pressure cell or anticyclone is often lower than -40C (which is also equal to -40F).  This Siberian High is responsible for the severe winter cold, as well as the dryness (very little snow) in Mongolia.

The temperatures are pretty extreme, with winter weather below freezing for most of the country, from as early as mid October to as late as mid May.  Usually the months of October and April are hovering around the freezing mark.

Stats list that more than half of this country is covered by permafrost; soil temperature which is at or below the freezing point of water (0C 32F) for two or more years!  This permafrost can make building roads, construction and other infrastructure projects extremely difficult.  Wow...

Mongolians talk about the nine 9's of winter.  This measure of winter was originated hundreds of years ago when herders did not have modern methods of telling dates and is based on the lunar calendar.  It is said winter starts at the solstice (shortest day of sunlight annually) and is measured as 81 days total, 9 groups of 9 days, aka the 9 9's.  Back in the day herders could monitor the days by the following, very practical,  forms of measurement:

1st 9:    milk vodka congeals and freezes
2nd 9:   vodka congeals and freezes
3rd 9:    tail of a 3 year old ox freezes
4th 9:    horns of a 4 year old ox freezes
5th 9:    boiled rice no longer congeals
6th 9:    roads become visible
7th 9:    hilltops appear
8th 9:    ground becomes damp
9th 9:    warmer days set in

The 3rd and 4th 9's are said to be the coldest, so this is just the beginning.  I do recall being told last year that after Tsgan Tsar (the Lunar or White Moon celebration) the weather breaks and it's not as cold.  I found that to be true.  I have heard that Tsgan Tsar this year will start on the 24th of February.  The celebration runs for 3 days, ending on February 26th, which happens to be the last day of the 9 9's.

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