BBC Future: How unseasonal winters affect our minds

Image: BBC/Javier Hirschfeld/Getty Images

When my family moved some 20 years ago from rainy London to the German countryside, I was thrilled to live in a place with what I considered a “proper winter”. In January or February, the snow would usually stay with us for a few weeks – sometimes knee-deep and liberating me from school. I’d go sledging, build igloo-like caves, or join my parents throwing snowballs for our dogs and – perhaps unfairly – laugh at their hopeless quests to retrieve them from mounds of snow. But over time, those spectacular winters turned into a mundane drizzle. In recent years, my parents – with whom I usually spend the winter – have rarely seen an inch of snow, and if they did, it quickly turned into slush.

I’m privileged to be distant from the most dramatic effects of climate change, like forest infernos or devastating hurricanes. Yet the silent transformation of winter’s character can also weigh on one’s psyche. To me, it’s more than just a reminder of the wrenching planetary change we’ve caused and the hopelessness and anger I associate with it. There is something unique to witnessing the deterioration of this season. Some Nordic countries have words that come close to this feeling, like the Finnish “lumiahdistus”, describing an anxiety related to desiring snow or not knowing whether it will come. In English, we might sum it up as “winter grief”.

Read my essay for BBC Future about how the loss of true winters is affecting our traditions, culture, and identity.