(Notice how the storm has sucked in cold air, and is now all snow (blue.) )
COULD I HAVE FORECAST THIS?
The quick answer is, “No way.” Not the way Joe Bastardi did, from days away.
Because he’d made me aware of the possibility, I kept my eyes to the sky, and watched my goats and the flight of passing crows, to see if there was anything an old-timer like myself could note, that would alert me if I didn’t have the internet and computer models and satellite views and Joe Bastardi.
I saw a few things that hinted the fair weather wouldn’t last, but nothing that suggested the next patch of bad weather wouldn’t just be another Alberta Clipper, with a mere dusting of snow.
One thing old-timers didn’t use was the contrails of jets. When they vanish a short distance behind the jet, weather will remain dry a while, but when they expand and become a broad band across the sky, air is more unstable aloft, and you can expect fair weather to end.
I also noted cirrocumulus clouds yesterday. While among my most favorite of clouds, (a high, often intricate “mackerel sky,”) they make me suspicious, for I’ve noted some very fancy displays of such clouds before some very memorable weather. However the cirrocumulus yesterday was brief and not all that fancy, and I hardly would have noticed it had I not been made nervous by the forecasts. (By yesterday everyone had jumped on board with Joe Bastardi.)
The press of arctic air behind the last Alberta Clipper is something that always puts me on guard, for such cold high pressure is like a lid on the Atlantic. The warm water wants to shoot clouds up, but the lid presses down, and when it is released a storm brews up fast. However over and over this winter such storms exploded into gale centers when they had moved too far out to sea, and moved harmlessly away. How could I have known this one was different?
The fact of the matter is that the process of “phasing” that captures the surface low before it moves out to sea, and explodes it at the “benchmark” by Nantucket, and sometimes even drills it right up into the upper atmosphere, turning the upper air trough into an upper air cut-off-low, (which can cause the surface low to “stall” and just bury us in snow, as the current storm is doing, is difficult to understand even using high tech charts and satellite images.
This is not to say a true shepherd couldn’t do it. Likely I’ve spent too much time looking at paper and too little time studying the sky, for the fact of the matter is I couldn’t do it.
It is difficult to see signs of an advancing storm, when the storm didn’t really even exist until this morning. It exploded, off the Carolina coast, and by then our sky was cloudy and there were no high clouds to see and study. (High clouds whisper about the upper winds, and the jet stream that steers the storms.) Without seeing the upper winds I couldn’t see the rapid distortion of the 500 mb chart. It was just a cloudy day, with some light snow at dawn, and a heavier flurry around ten.
The first true sign the storm was exploding was a speeding up of the low scud I could see, around ten-thirty. A fine light snow began to fall, making it harder to see that scud, but if you squinted you could see it was starting to move from east to west very fast, by noon.
Right about that time the pines began to sigh. It wasn’t the sigh of a lone gust, coming and going. It was steady, and slowly increasing, especially up on an east-facing bluff. The snow, still light, began to have a “driven” quality, and to fall in “sheets” you could see, and then the hills began to fade from view.
Only then, if I was an old Yankee, would I have scratched my chin, and knowledgably stated, “Aye-yup. Looks like were in for a bit of a blow.”
That did little good, if you were a fisherman out on the Grand Banks in the 1800’s, on a boat powered by sail. Those men were far more weather-wise than I am, but these “bombo-genesis” nor’easters could catch them all far from shore. All they could do was grit their teeth and strive to survive, and the Gloucester Memorial is a reminder how many didn’t.
Thanks to the alerts of modern weathermen, we were not caught off guard. At our Childcare our staff and all children were safe at home, except for a lone four-year-old boy whose father simply had to work until two o’clock. He had the attention of both my wife, and me, and didn’t seem to mind being stranded at all.
I have a big plastic sled with high sides, sort of like a bathtub pulled around by a rope, that I haven’t been able to haul wood with, because last week’s Warm Storm melted all the snow. Now we had two inches, and I headed out through the increasing snow with the sled to get a bunch of dead maple I’d cut up, before it got completely buried by snow. Our sort-of-yellow lab, (at least 50%) pranced ahead, as my wife and the boy followed.
Deep in the hemlocks there was no wind, but above was that sighing, and the snow came sifting down through the needles without sticking. I paused to soak it all in, and as my wife and the boy caught up I had the very great satisfaction of scratching my chin, and saying, “Aye-yup. Looks like we’re in for it.”
But compared to Joe Bastardi, I was very, very late.