Chris Hardie for AgriView

I’m generally an optimistic guy who sees the H2O in the ship half full most days. But as the fall days get colder, I tend to be more like my great-grandfather when it comes to my outlook. Even on the hottest days of summer, he noticed that the days were getting shorter.

“And before you know it,” Grandpa was saying, wiping the sweat from his brow, “winter will be here.”

My cynicism this year is based on two recent developments – long-range weather forecasts predicting heavier snow and the return of the polar vortex in February. In addition, energy prices are exorbitant.

Although I haven’t taken my annual measurement of the black bands on the woolly bear caterpillar — and I certainly haven’t measured the expanding circumference of my waistline — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says this will be our third consecutive winter being influenced by La Niña. Colder water in the eastern Pacific Ocean means a greater chance that we will have a wetter, colder winter in the upper Midwest.

AccuWeather’s Long Range Winter Forecast predicts periods of snowfall later in the winter, as well as colder weather in January and February, including the return of the polar vortex in February.

Added to this good news is an estimate from the National Energy Assistance Directors Association that we should expect a 17.2% increase in our heating bills from the previous winter, which were already 18% higher. more than the previous winter.

So be prepared to shiver a little more, shovel a little more, and dig deeper into wallets. The energy association says the total cost of home heating this winter will rise from $127.9 billion to nearly $150 billion.

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A spike in natural gas prices – thanks to the Russian invasion of Ukraine – which impacted supply is responsible for much of the increase. But the overall cost of heating regardless of fuel has gone up like everything else.

Even those who burn firewood for their heat source are not immune to rising prices. Firewood prices soared last year and remain inflated. A website I looked at that sells firewood in northern Wisconsin quoted $410 for a full cord of mixed hardwoods – picked up. Delivery charges are extra.

Although it seems expensive, it is not a record. During the Revolutionary War and the British Siege of Boston, the price per cord rose to as high as $20, or nearly $681 in current dollars. A cord is the standard measurement for a 128 cubic foot pile of wood – 4 feet high, 4 feet wide, and 8 feet long.

Locally, I’ve found prices ranging from $160 for two-sided cords—two-thirds of a cord—to $450 for three full cords. We still burn wood for heating and may be burning more this winter as propane prices have also increased, even though prices have been locked in advance. Several winters ago, I estimated that we needed 41 cords to get through the entire heating season. It was then that we were heating two houses and the dairy in the barn. Buying that much wood at $410 a cord would cost almost $17,000.

Although I always have the option of cutting my own wood to save costs, some still depend on wood and cannot cut their own. About 2% of Americans use wood burning for their heating. More than 11 million homes use wood as their primary or secondary source of heating. In some counties, the percentage of homes that depend on wood is much higher.

There are energy assistance programs for low-income Americans who use fuel or electricity, and now there is an initiative to increase that assistance for those who burn wood. The bipartisan infrastructure law passed this year includes funds to expand firewood banks. Like food banks, firewood banks provide a local source of heat to people in need. The US Department of Agriculture Forest Service partners with Alliance for Green Heat to provide small grants of $5,000 to $15,000 to support firewood banks. More than $8 million in funding for firewood banks is contained in the Infrastructure Act.

There are about 100 firewood banks across the country, but only one in Wisconsin and one in Minnesota. The Heat a Home Interfaith Caregivers is located in Burnett County, Wisconsin, and the Woodcutters Program-Knights of Columbus Council 478 is in Alexandria, Minnesota. The banks are usually run by volunteers who split, stack and store the wood, or also deliver to people in need. Providing a local, renewable source of heat seems like a sensible way to keep people in need warm this winter.

Maybe I could start my own firewood bank – if I could ever have enough capital to deposit before I burned it all down.

This is an original article written for Agri-View, an agricultural publication of Lee Enterprises based in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit AgriView.com for more information.

Chris Hardie and his wife, Sherry, raise animals and crops on his great-grandparents’ Jackson County farm. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2001, he is a former member of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and past president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Email [email protected] with comments.