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The winter that wasn’t

High highs, high lows inspire a regional identity crisis

It’s official.

After weeks of growing evidence — of leaves sprouting in January, of pathetic and muddy ski trails, of washed-out backyard hockey rinks — the last few days have left us with little doubt. This will go down as The Year We Had No Winter.

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It’s a meteorological phenomenon certainly, but also a psychological test for many New Englanders, who pride themselves on surviving the bitter onslaught that is our calling card, our birthright.

Even as temperatures crept into the 80s Thursday, smashing a daily heat record for the fifth time this month, something about this balmy March doesn’t sit right.

The things that make us rock-ribbed Yankees have disappeared like a puny snowfall on unseasonably warm asphalt. We pride ourselves on the toughness to withstand frigid, blizzardy blasts. The Winter That Wasn’t took it all away.

No snow days, no squabbles over placeholders in South Boston. No skidding on the Fitchburg Turnpike, no scraping ice dams out of gutters. Last winter, we endured a Shaquille O’Neal-size snowfall. This winter, you couldn’t have filled a Shaq-size snow boot. Those massive mountains of snow that towered over parking lots? This year they were melting molehills.

Last winter, Cliff Henricksen of Framingham documented the rise and fall of a giant snow bank at the AMC Framingham Premium Cinema. This year, it was nowhere to be found.

“It certainly was a missing piece of our almost nonexistent winter,’’ Henricksen said.

After getting slammed by the snow last winter, Henricksen, like many of us, had his snow blower serviced over the summer and didn’t use it once. We bought shovels and parkas and North Face when we should have been preparing for South Beach.

“Normally we’re out ice skating and ice fishing and snowmobiles,’’ said Mark Paquette a meteorologist at AccuWeather and a native of Leicester. This year, he said, the ice-fishing derbies were canceled, as was the habitual carping about meteorological inclemency.

Paquette, incidentally, summarized the reasons for the warmest winter in memory: The high pressure system that weather watchers expected to develop over eastern Canada, Labrador, and Greenland never developed this year. And that’s a snow-killer, apparently.

“Airflow was west to east, meaning that that air originated over the Pacific and not over northern Canada, and we got a lot of rain,’’ he said. So now you know.

Some have argued that the Winter That Wasn’t is a harbinger of the apocalypse. Well, if you were a larval amphibian, the apocalypse would already be upon you.

The vernal pools where these creatures complete the metamorphosis process are drying much more quickly than in most years, and if that becomes a long-term pattern, it could affect the survival of those populations, according to Jonathan E. Twining, assistant professor of biology at Eastern Nazarene College.

David L Ryan/Globe Staff

Another sign of the mild winter: Those who chopped wood to help heat their homes found much of their labor unnecessary.

There you have it. That which beckons Bostonians to don flip-flops and roll out the Grill Master could spell doom for wood frog tadpoles and spotted salamanders.

While the warmer weather may not necessarily portend 40 years of darkness, earthquakes, and volcanoes, we could endure drought, forest fires, and an invasion of voracious, leaf-devouring tent caterpillars.

Of course, lots of people haven’t missed winter. Maybe something about dashing through the mud just doesn’t cut it, but we also avoided mud season. Does anyone really miss mud? Heating bills? Who needs a spring break in Fort Myers now that Massachusetts has become Key West without conchs?

Retailers are thrilled, said Mike Tesler, of Retail Concepts, a Norwell consulting firm. Stores are stocked with June collections, and people want them. They go to the mall, they buy stuff from other stores, they finish it off with an iced coffee at Panera Bread.

“A year like this, everybody’s happy,’’ Tesler said. “There’s a lot of euphoria.’’

So what of hardiness?

Our hardiness, explained Jere Daniell, a retired professor of history at Dartmouth and a lifelong New Englander, lies in our ability to adapt.

“One of the things that comes from New England is that you accept what happens,’’ Daniell said. “The regional culture is one in which you make do.’’

“Whinyness is not part of our culture,’’ he said.

And so we soldier on, snowless but unbent, with a stoic belief that things will return to normal - a sentiment that was captured by a notice on the website of Wachusett Mountain Ski Area:

We are closed. . . . unless we get some natural snow. . . . Next year will be better.’’

Or would that be worse? It’s hard to say.

Globe correspondent Colin A. Young contributed to this report. David Filipov can be reached at dfilipov@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davidfilipov.
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