LOCAL VIEW —AN OBESE CHINOOK—

The weather has been through another flip flop, as the Chinook attempted to come east.

The word “Chinook” means “Snow eater,” but by the time they get this far east they tend to waddle, as they have over eaten. They have evaporated huge amounts of snow over the prairies,  and the air is far moister. Also it gets cooled, crossing so much snow.

When I first spot a Chinook spilling over the Rocky Mountains I can’t help but have hopes New England will be balmy, but it seldom happens. As the air comes east you can see it cool on maps, and soon you are merely keeping your fingers crossed in hopes of a slight thaw.

As this last Chinook came east temperatures rose from -6.2 to 27.0 the first day, only dropped to 23 the following night, and nearly broke freezing, reaching 31.3 the second day, and then the mildness of the Chinook passed as the warm sector of a weak storm that exploded into a gale once it touched the warm water south of Cape Cod, and back-side winds behind that storm ahve dragged down arctic air, dropping temperatures back to 3.2 in a roaring wind, this morning. So much for the warm spell.

The passing storm caused all sorts or worry and warnings, but in the end we only got two inches of fluff, though Maine is now getting a blizzard. If I get time later today I’ll fill in the details, but below are the maps showing the passage of a Chinook which became obese.

(Click maps, or open to a new tab, to clarify and enlarge.)

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LOCAL VIEW —Particular Law—

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(Cartoon Credit: John Caldwell; New Yorker)

Three dawns ago the cold spread out possessively over the land, and spread its arms with a greed so vast that it lay flat with its breast to the ground, which in less poetic terms is called “an inversion”. It was 8° at 6000 feet atop Mount Washington, and fourteen degrees colder on my back porch at -6.2°. It was forty degrees warmer in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota, where it was thawing at 34°as a Chinook arrived, but that meant nothing to the people shivering in our twilight, and starting fires in every other house in town, whether they had wood stoves as their primary heat, or only as a sort of quaint object included with other interior decorations for atmosphere.

From every other chimney puffed smoke, and the smoke didn’t rise far before spreading out as flat shelves in the calm. Likely a few wealthy people looked out picture windows from over-heated living rooms, and tisk-tisked about what I heard one call “particular pollution”, meaning tiny bits of soot in the air, and not that they themselves are too particular. They are always in the mood to ban wood stoves, and when you point out many poor people can’t afford Arab oil, and would rather burn local trees, they dismiss the poor as white trash who have no understanding of environmentalism.

I dismiss the unenlightened rich as fools who have no idea of the radiance of a home fire, nor of the environment of a loving household.  (The chill of certain wealthy households is not measured by thermometers, but by divorce rates, and even by tragic statistics such as the suicide rate of children under twelve.)

Fortunately we do not get too many inversions in New England, and they seldom last past mid-morning even when they do occur. Also the people who heat with wood tend to be very aware that smoke is basically un-burned fire, and a smokey fire is an inefficient fire. There is lore going back to the Indians involving how to build a smoke-free fire, for once upon a time a smokey fire could give away your location to enemies. Basically you construct the fire in such a way that the blazing part serves as an afterburner for the smoldering part. Benjamin Franklin took this afterburner-idea one step further, and had the smoke rising up a chimney from a downstairs fire go through a bed of coals set on screen in the chimney upstairs, turning all the smoke to flame, so that nothing left the chimney but steam.

As I drive the kids from our Childcare to kindergarten we dip down into the Soughegan Valley and cross the river by one of the oldest working mills in the nation, which was built around 1800 and has, among other things, woven fabrics for the Union Army in the Civil War, and for a vehicle that bounce-landed on Mars.

The old mill recently updated their heating system to a huge, external wood stove, (reducing the risk of fire in the mill itself), and the heating system is a gleaming structure of shiny metal pressed against a steep cliff right beside the road. It’s huge hopper is fed wood-chips on a regular basis by sixteen-wheeled trucks, from the road at the top, and the chips are fed into a furnace that burns the wood so efficiently that nothing departs the fire but steam, which escapes the system via the only other sign which is obvious from the road: A gleaming, over-sized stovepipe, which billows steam.

You can tell the steam is clean because even during an inversion the white cloud swiftly dissipates into clear air, leaving no smudge of “particular matter” behind. Not that there are not a few wealthy people who frown at the sight, on general principles. One sad attribute of such people is that, for all their protests that they care deeply for both the poor and for the environment, what they care most about is their own wallet and remaining rich, and able to assume the position of someone who can sit about disapproving. (Not that many poor people actually care what such snobs think, but snobs like the illusion that they matter, fostering this illusion by cozying up to those with political power.)

Many of the unenlightened rich have dug deep into their wallets to invest in getting the political payback called a “subsidy,” which can be gained by investing in amazingly unprofitable concepts such as wind turbines, and solar panels in northern lands where the sun barely rises in the winter. The sanity of burning wood in an area with a surplus of trees irks these people, because it threatens the insanity of “clean energy” and the subsidies they lust for. Therefore they are itching for some excuse to ban burning wood, and the local mill’s ability to burn wood cleanly infuriates them.

I try not to think about this subject too deeply, as I drive the kids to kindergarten, because my job is to pay attention to the road.

The drive involves a decent down a short, steep hill into town, which lies on a flat shoulder above a more gradual decent to the river, which lies in a granite canyon crossed by an amazing field-stone structure,  called “High Bridge.” Perhaps the Inca built taller bridges of stone without cement, but I know of few other such bridges north of Panama.

There are only about five mornings a year when any sort of serious smog forms in the valley due to wood fires. I fail to be properly horrified by the smog, for I know that which kills the elderly, and is worst for their frail lungs, is not “particular pollution,” but rather being forced to live in a home with the heat turned down to fifty, because they can’t afford the inflated heating bills created by the government’s insane “green energy policy.”  To be honest, the smog actually looks rather beautiful, in the light of a rosy sun just cresting piney hills.

The smog is worst at daybreak, for few have the time, in the rush of arising, to properly lay a fire, and start a blaze in the smoke-free manner one would do if smoke could reveal their location to their enemies. To start such a smoke-free fire you would light the driest tinder of birch-bark, and slowly add the smallest dry twigs of hemlock, only slowly increasing the size of the kindling, and keeping the orange flames high and lively at all times.

In a modern household few have the time to squat by the fire and tend it with such care. Rather people are gulping cups of ambition while attempting to motivate recalcitrant children to dress, eat and get out the door. They tend to dump tinder, kindling, and firewood in stoves all at once, and even if the fires swiftly become a bright blaze, it passes through a period where it smolders and produces a lot of smoke.

As I head to work on calm mornings I see a lot of chimney’s producing this first-smoke in the dusk, with the smoke only rising a little before flattening into shelves and flat veils. By the time I head to kindergarten ninety minutes later some of this smoke has dissipated into a low haze, and only the chimneys of late risers are producing the first-smoke. The others produce no smoke, but only wavers of heat, for the fires have burned down to beds of coals, and often the home is in the process of being deserted and becoming just an empty box,  until humanity returns in the evening.

Usually the stirring of the air with the daylight disturbs the calm, and the valley is washed clean of smoke an hour after dawn, but as I decended into the valley last Wednesday the smoke was a remarkably beautiful series of shelves and smudges. I feel sorry for the people who can’t see the beauty of the sight, or of the self-reliance it symbolizes, and instead insist upon the political correctness of working themselves into a tizzy.

I tried to pay attention to the road, but found my mind marveling over the structure of the atmosphere revealed by the smoke. There wasn’t a single inversion, but rather several, and I could see the calm atmosphere had layered itself like a deck of cards, and interestingly each card had a slow drift in a different direction. Generally the drift was from south to north, hinting that the high pressure was cresting and a warm-up was coming, but one layer was sliding ever so slowly from the north, obstinately indicating some back-flow in a layer perhaps only ten feet thick. (I can’t imagine trying to program all these variances into a weather computer, yet each microcosm is the wing of a butterfly that can create a swirl that effects the larger chaos.)

Down by the mill the air was so cold that the steam pouring from the mill’s wood-furnace didn’t dissipate swiftly, but formed a snow-white stream of steam the flattened and undulated down the river. I thought at first that the south wind might be right down at the river, but then thought that the bitter cold air might be draining downstream just as the water did. (The Soughegan is a rare north-flowing river, in out town.)  Also interesting was to look down the river and see the undulating ribbon of flat steam reached a point where it lifted up above the dewpoint, and vanished, but then dipped down to air below the dewpoint, and reappeared, as the ribbon tapered out to a series of dashes.

It is hard to pay attention to the road, sometimes.

Also distracting me from the road, and distracting me from the Eureka of discovering some great meteorological truth through astute observation, was the simple fact the van held six children, all asking questions in a somewhat demanding way. They (like me) cannot commute without filling the time with worthwhile activity. Occasionally they even unsnap their seat-belts, which I strongly discourage. I encouraged story-telling, which created tremendous debates about whose “turn” it was. (I may have encouraged debating skills more than story-telling skills.) In fact the noise became so loud I decided to encourage music appreciation, and introduced them to classical music. (For some reason they called it “circus” music.) I hoped they might become quiet and listen, but it led inevitably to the questions about whether we could listen to “other” music, and also the question as Beethoven finished, “Why is that person (the PBS announcer) talking so funny?” (I had no answer, but informed the child, “They are sitting on their hairbrush.”) (The child sagely nodded, understanding what that is like.)

Another little girl wanted to listen to country music, so I switched to a country station, and was embarrassed because the very first song was by a man singing about heading off to a bar on Friday night to get sloshed and pick up a babe. I feared I’d corrupt a child, but the girl knew every word, and sang along with the gruff baritone in a sweet, piping soprano.

By the time I drop the children off at the kindergarten I tend to be a bit haggard, and like the peace and quiet of the drive back to the Childcare. Nearly every day I have to stop, as a school-bus coming the other way picks up a girl going to grade school. A little stop sign swings out from the side of the bus, lights at the top of the bus flash, the little girl trots across the street, and climbs stairs into the bus.You can see, through the windshield,  the girl walk down the aisle and take her seat, and then the little stop sign swings back and the light stops flashing, and then you are allowed to proceed past the bus.

As I approached the bus this morning I could see the entire process occurring, even before I was near the bus, and made an incorrect forecast. I assumed the little sign would swing in and the lights would stop flashing, and only slowed. For some reason the driver was extra careful, and didn’t start the bus up as I expected.

The reason the driver was so careful was because there was a police car right behind the bus, and the officer saw me proceed past the bus before the little stop sign swung in. I had flagrantly broken a law which is in place to protect small children, and he rightly nailed me for it. I explained my forecast, and why it had failed, and he was sympathetic, but the letter of the law is the letter of the law, though he did give me the minimum fine of a hundred dollars.

The real drag is that we have only just got our insurance back after we lost it because my wife broke the letter of the law. A State inspector visited the Childcare, and asked for some tedious paperwork the state thinks is more important to do than to actually watch children, and my wife stepped through a doorway to get the file from a shelf, stepped back in with the scrupulously kept paperwork, and found she had committed the crime of “leaving children unattended.”

So we are a couple of criminals. The average American commits five felonies a day, because the letter of the law now is six stacks of paper each seven feet tall.

I don’t wonder that some disrespect the law, but I still try to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, (though it may well be a raspberry.)

At times I wonder over the fact anyone can pay attention to the road at all.

However at least the wind did turn south and it swiftly warmed to a high of 27°, and the smog was gone by morning coffee break.

LOCAL VIEW —Looking ahead lurking ahead—(Updated)

I am up with insomnia at three in the morning, grabbing the chance to type a brief post about all the local excitement about the chance of more snow.

The map shows a double barreled storm sliding east, with an Alberta Clipper center to the north and a sort of Rocky Mountain low center to its south.  The southern low holds some milder air.  Ordinarily it isn’t usually warmer in Minnesota than New Hampshire,  in January, however currently it is 34° (+1.1° Celsius) in Hutchinson (just west of Minneapolis) and -3.5° ( -19.7° Celsius) here. Tuesday’s blizzard, now weakening just north of Nova Scotia, has brought down some arctic air, and over fresh snow temperatures are plummitting lower than expected.

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Ordinarily I would hope this mildness might make it east, and we might even get rain.(In the winter of 1978 the first blizzard was followed by a warm, windy rain as the second blizzard moved north over the Great Lakes, and then a third blizzard hit the east coast.) However last night it seemed the cold air would be slow to be budged from over us,  and we might get an inch. Everyone was looking ahead to a following storm coming north from Texas on Sunday, and talking about a possible foot of snow then.

Now I check our local forecast, and see this first storm is suppose to give us 4-6 inches. I can hardly wait to hear the snow gossip this morning. It is likely to be an uproar.

I will try to update this post later, with details of the uproar, but I have to attend a meeting today that involves delicate diplomacy, which is something I am not very good at. I’m much better at uproars. So I fear my mind will be occupied until the evening.

UPDATE

As if I didn’t have enough to do, there was a coincidental miss-match of sick employees and over-booked family members, and I was the only one with time even remotely “free”, and I had to do nothing for five hours. Or, well, watching a one-year-old granddaughter isn’t exactly nothing, but you can get nothing done. I had various papers laid out on a table, upstairs at the Childcare, but couldn’t focus on that sort of work for five seconds. If I tried the toddler would go wobbling off at amazing speed towards some life-threatening curiosity. There are so many interesting things to investigate when you are first up and about: Electrical sockets and cords, the area under the sink full of caustic cleansers, the burning hot side of a wood stove, steep back staircases.  I was reduced to trailing her constantly, like some sort of hawk up above, trailing a stampede of small elephants.

It’s amazing what you can do when you have to, but I’m getting too old for this nonsense. For the life of me I don’t see how young mothers manage, especially when they have not one, but two or three. How can they find time to feed anyone? If I was a Mom the family would starve.

I did have the weather radio clicked on in the background, and listened as various watches and warnings bleeped into existence. It was completely confusing to the general public, as they needed around four forecasts for the general vicinity. A storm looks likely to blow up as it moves off the coast, so areas not far to our northeast could get a foot, while areas to our south and west get an inch or two.

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The radar shows snow over us, but it isn’t reaching the ground yet. As the storm brews up over the Atlantic it looks likely to howl and whatever snow we do have will be whipped about. The say it will become bitterly colder, but for the moment it is calm and just below freezing, which seems mild to my winterized metabolism.

At the meeting (which went better than I expected) every person had a different idea of what the weather was going to be. That is what you get when the weather bureau issues four different forecasts for a distance you can cross in an hour-long-commute. And, considering the long-range forecast had everyone in a tizzy to to begin with, the storm-gossip gets completely out-of-hand when gets going four ways at once. I’ll deal with it in the morning.

LOCAL VIEW —POST BLIZZARD POST—

I couldn’t post last night as I had to go outside and clean up the snow, and it took over four hours. It is interesting how different the experience of snow is when you go out into it.

Not that I don’t get a lot from simply sitting in front of a computer and looking at maps. The sequence below shows the gale center occluding, and a small low I call the “zipper” forming where the warm front joins the cold front.

The occluded front represents an upper air pipeline pumping moisture to the center of the gale. A lot depends on how quickly this pipeline is squeezed shut. I’ve seen cases where it persists, and huge amounts of tropical air are injected into the gale. (For example, during the “Perfect Storm” in 1991, Hurricane Grace to the southeast sent pulses of moisture in.) I’ve also seen cases where the low is cut off quickly, and the “zipper” has rocketed off across the Atlantic, arriving off the coast of Ireland in only 24 hours even as the parental gale slowly dwindles back between Greenland and Labrador.

This sort of stalled low is much more common in the North Atlantic, and people in Europe probably wonder why we make such a big deal when they stall this far south. The difference is we see fewer of them, and also Europeans don’t have the frigid tundra of Canada pouring so much cold air in, and often see rain where we see snow. (To the west of Europe, that is. To the east they have Siberia, which is no laughing matter.)

This particular gale formed a little further east and north of the position which hammers New York City. The Blizzard of 1888 formed south of Long Island, and New York  City got feet of snow while Boston, on the warm side, only got a couple inches of slush. This storm gave Boston feet, as New York City largely escaped. (Click maps, or open them to a new tab, to enlarge and clarify.)

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The radar was fascinating to watch, as waves of snow came west from the storm, and then took a sharp left turn and headed south once they ran into the land. You can see an outer band of snow fade away over Vermont, even as a new band comes inland over New Hampshire, giving us our final inch here, before it too faded away.

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Driving over to the farm wasn’t too bad. The snow was cold and squeaky, and that sort of snow is less slippery. It is almost like driving on sand. Also I had snow tires. It may enter weather lore that, “A sure sign a big snow is coming is when a stingy, old Yankee buys snow tires for the first time in fifteen years.”

Arriving at the farm, I accelerated and piled through the wall of snow the plows erected in the entrance. This is an unwise thing to do when the snow is wet and heavy, as you can wind up stranded with your rear wheels off the ground and without traction, but when the snow is powder it just makes a wicked cool explosion of white, and you have to turn on your wipers after you stop, to see how far into the drive you made it. The experience is very gratifying to the little boy in me.

I never much like to start, because everything is so smooth and streamlined, and even to tramp footprints across the sweep of white seems a little disrespectful of art, and like a sort of sacrilege. However the desecration is necessary to conduct business, so, with the guilt of a tycoon operating a strip mine, I started up the snow-blower.

Then it was four straight hours of noise. The wind doesn’t seem to like the competition, and blows the snow right back at you. It doesn’t seem to matter which way you aim the chute. If you aim it down wind, the wind swings around and down wind becomes up wind. But that may just be the wind’s sense of humor. The wind does have a sense of humor, and I learned this long ago, when raking leaves.

The snow had nearly stopped, but the wind gusts more powerfully at the farm, due to fewer trees, and at times very little of the arching stream of snow shooting from the chute made it to the ground. The wind caught it and swirled it far away down wind as a billowing puff of inconsequential chaff,  unless it decided to wash my face with it, in which case it did seem consequential, to me at least.

I had go slow, in  lowest gear, the snow was so deep. Then I broke two sheer pins when I scooped up a rock, and with only four of six blades scooping, I had to go slower. (There was no way I was going to put new sheer pins in in that  wind.)

Night fell, and I worked in the floodlights. The world swirled as a kalidascope of black and white. The swirls stood out against the black background, and I noted how may dust-devil-like dancers their were, and how seldom the wind blew straight. I tried to get all scientific about micro-weather in a microcosm, but my mind began drifting in my weariness, and I preferred to think I was walking among a bunch of snowy white dancers defying the darkness. (No, I don’t think it was hypothermia setting in.) (Maritime air had mixed into the storm’s bitter chill, and temperatures were slow to fall from the day’s high of 20.1°)

There is no satisfaction quite like a job being done, and driving home to a waiting dinner, and then sleeping the sleep of well-earned weariness, still watching the white angels dancing in the dark.

Now it’s a new day. They have cancelled school again, but our Childcare is open for business, and roughly half the children will be coming, as roughly half the parents are getting back to work.  I can see a few stars midst the clouds, and the temperature has dropped to 5°.  The first green of dawn dusk peeks through cracks between sliding silhouette clouds of black purple, to the east.

LOCAL VIEW —SNOWBOUND—

It was a wild and woolly morning, with heavy snow swirling in a strong breeze and the temperature at 9° (-13° Celsius), as my middle son hustled out the door to join my eldest son in his plow. Very soon the truck’s tracks were but fussy dents in the drive. (Among other contracts, my son has the contract for a pharmacy parking lot that needs to be plowed “every two inches” during a storm, because people will head out into bad weather for medicine.) They’ll be at it all day.

I wish I had bugged the cab of the truck with listening devises. It must be interesting when big brother orders younger brother out to do the hand work with a shovel, and then sits back in the heated cab to watch. Ah, the benefits of seniority!”  (Not that I myself see many.)

After that there just was peace, with only an occasional plow passing on the road, sounding muffled. The wind slacked off and the sky brightened a little and the snow became less thick, and all in all it actually seems a quite ordinary January storm, with about a foot of powder,  and a fair amount of drifting in the breeze. I expect I’ll start to clean up in the mid-afternoon, but for the moment I’m just enjoying the quiet.

Ordinarily people would be out and about already, but there was so much hoopla about this storm that everyone seems to be crouching indoors, expecting the start of World War Three. Fairly soon I expect they will start peeking out windows, and realize things aren’t all that back, and the peace and quiet will be disturbed. Until then, I’ll enjoy it.

The barometer is down at 29.55, (1000 mb) which isn’t all that low. The breeze looks to be around 15 to 20 mph, which isn’t all that high. A foot of snow isn’t all that deep. The temperature is up to 20.1° (-6.6° Celsius) which isn’t that cold. I really shouldn’t have closed the Childcare, and spoiled our record of never being closed. However I must admit it feels good to goof off, and now that I’ve set the precedent, I may do it more often.

It looks to me like the storm moved further out to sea than they expected. The snow is slacking off, and I even saw the sun, dim and remote, through the grey overcast streaming swiftly overhead from the northeast. Now we wait to see if the storm dawdles east of Boston, and throws any backlash bands of snow our way.

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Well, at least I have the time to read the start of “Snow-bound”, by John Greenleaf Whittier, which seems surprisingly up to date, considering it is 150 years old, and especially considering it was deemed out of date by some even when it was written. The start goes:

The sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon.
Slow tracing down the thickening sky
Its mute and ominous prophecy,
A portent seeming less than threat,
It sank from sight before it set.
A chill no coat, however stout,
Of homespun stuff could quite shut out,
A hard, dull bitterness of cold,
That checked, mid-vein, the circling race
Of life-blood in the sharpened face,
The coming of the snow-storm told.
The wind blew east; we heard the roar
Of Ocean on his wintry shore,
And felt the strong pulse throbbing there
Beat with low rhythm our inland air.
Meanwhile we did our nightly chores,—
Brought in the wood from out of doors,
Littered the stalls, and from the mows
Raked down the herd’s-grass for the cows;
Heard the horse whinnying for his corn;
And, sharply clashing horn on horn,
Impatient down the stanchion rows
The cattle shake their walnut bows;
While, peering from his early perch
Upon the scaffold’s pole of birch,
The cock his crested helmet bent
And down his querulous challenge sent.
Unwarmed by any sunset light
The gray day darkened into night,
A night made hoary with the swarm
And whirl-dance of the blinding storm,
As zigzag, wavering to and fro,
Crossed and recrossed the wingëd snow:
And ere the early bedtime came
The white drift piled the window-frame,
And through the glass the clothes-line posts
Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts.

The rest will have to await some evening, when I have more time. The entire poem is a short book. It is one of those rare  poems that actually made money for the poet.

A quick glance out the window shows the noon’s grown darker, and the snow has picked up again.  Hmm. Maybe it isn’t slacking off, after all.

I’ll try to update later.

LOCAL VIEW —THE BLIZZARD BEGINS—

We’ve been through two solid days of blizzard hoop-la, which is in some ways a storm in and of itself. Not that I don’t believe in properly preparing for a snowstorm, but, after all, how much toilet paper can a man need? The supermarkets have been mobbed, and my wife has always had the good sense to avoid such mayhem. She holds the view that shopping is at its most peaceful, a day after a storm.

Sunday was my day of rest. I was fairly stiff and sore from all the work of the week before, and had a handy excuse in that it was the day of our dwindling church’s annual meeting. We had some practical details to attend to, considering there are practically more committees than there are people. All in all the mood was upbeat, as it seems the crash is over and we can get on with rebuilding. I pigged out during the pot luck, as I always do when there are twelve recipes to sample, and, cradling my distended abdomen in my arms, headed home to digest, and promptly fell asleep.

The arctic front had nudged past during the day, with flurries in the morning and then clearing skies, and by the time I did the chores at twilight at the farm it was sharply colder. Temperatures had been up in the twenties in the morning, with is mild for a January morning, but they were now falling through the teens. By Monday morning they were down to 2.3° (-16.5° Celsius). The departing “warm snow” had become a strong gale over Labrador, and had dragged down an arctic high pressure in its wake, and that high pressure was forming a nice “block” in the path of the advancing Alberta Clipper,  which was being shunted much further south than usual. (Click maps, or open to new tabs, to enlarge.)

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Looking at the above map and radar shot, there is no sign of a secondary storm off the coast of Georgia, beyond some clouds bubbling up southeast of the Carolinas, so I think credit is due to the meteorologists who were a bit frantic. (As I checked one site I noted a fellow who usually is rather nattily dressed was wonderfully disheveled and sloppy-looking.)

Not that I looked like Price Charming. I’d had my day of rest, and was busy loading the porches and woodboxes both at home and at the farm to the limit, as well as talking to parents at the Childcare (along with my wife) to make sure none would be left in the lurch if we closed down when the blizzard hit. Even the lone parent who works at a hospital is considered “non-essential” and is staying home, so, for the first time in its history, our Childcare will be closed due to weather. And for what? For a storm that didn’t yet exist…

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….until it did exist.

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Not that I had much time to look at maps. I snatched glances, as I rushed about trying to get things done that I usually do on Tuesday and Wednesday, including some end-of-the-month payments and the mortgage at the bank. It was hard not to linger places, and join in with the eager storm gossip. The Superbowl and “Deflategade” seemed forgotten.

I did linger just a little at the local garage, to thank them for fixing my middle son’s car for only $447.00. The tow-truck driver, who swooped in like a vulture after my son bumped into the car in front of him last week, had told my son the car had $3000.00 worth of danages, and was only worth $2000.00 according to the “blue book”, but he would be kind and rather than charging my son for towing, he’d give him $100.00 for the hulk.  He looked downright nasty when I said we could do better, and had it towed back to town, but it turns out I was actually right, for a change.

However now I had three children’s cars to deal with. My youngest son is at college, and my younger daughter just escaped this blizzard to fly down to Florida to help out my mother-in law. Where to put all these cars?

We slithered them up the back hill, with my middle son’s car in front and most accessible, when the blizzard is over. It was a bit difficult, as my younger daughter’s tires are bald. In fact my middle son got a running start and piled it into a snowbank, where it was stuck for a while, until we burned the tires down through the snow to the ground. Then I took over and got a running start, and for some strange reason I zipped up the hill far enough and straight enough to park it correctly.  Amazing! Right twice on the same day!

There was no room for my eldest daughter’s car, but she was away at work, trying to get three days work done in one. We had the delightful granddaughter, and midst all my frantic activity I got to give my wife a break, and just hang about with the toddler, who has only learned to toddle this month.  The kid did one thing that that I found sort of touching. She toddled to the chair in front of my computer, patted it, and smiled at me. So I scooped her up, and we checked out the weather maps together. (I think she’s the only female who has ever approved of me zoning out at a computer.)

The entire time I kept glancing at the sky, trying to pretend I was back in the past, and had no weather bureau to inform me, and had to rely on myself to sniff out the aroma of storm.

To be quite honest, there was little to indicate we were in for it. At sunrise there was very little redness, though I did note a gloom in the opposite direction which I associate with oncoming weather, though not necessarily a blizzard. The morning was sunny, with increasing clouds, but there was no obvious indication (to me) that an extra-special storm was on its way.  Except for one thing, which I did note and park in the back of my mind.

Late in the morning, when the sky was still mostly clear except for high, silver cirro-cumulus drifting over from the west, there was an abrupt veil of gray streaming over from the southeast. It was like when fog first starts moving in on a summer coast, but far faster. Too thin to call “scud”,  and only lasting around fifteen minutes, this gray veil rapidly streamed over and slightly dimmed the sun, and then was gone. I think it must have been some sort of meteorological shock-wave, as the the storm far to the south first started to explode.

Other than that there was little to note, beyond increasing clouds, both low and high, as happens before every storm.(Not that I was given enough time to lie on my back and study the sky, in my opinion.) As it grew gray in the afternoon the wind began to lightly waft from the northeast, but it does that for small storms as well.

Very briefly, around noon, a few snowflakes fell despite the fact the sky was still showing streaks of clear blue, and the sun still shone low in the south as a silver smear midst gray alto-stratus.  Maybe that was a sign, but mostly people used the few flakes as an excuse for jokes about the oncoming storm. “Arrgh!!! It has started!!!”

As evening came on early, under a charcoal and lowering sky, the first real light flakes began to fall. After over-feeding the goats, (in case they would have to wait for breakfast,) my last chore was to top off my truck’s gas tank. There was a surprising line of cars at the gas station. People were not only filling their tanks, but lots of red, plastic five-gallon-jugs. People must have been listening to the Boston stations. Boston is not used to getting this sort of blast, and often get rain when we get snow. Also we are farther from the blizzard, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we only got 16 inches (41 cm), which isn’t all that unusual, up in these hills.

I will not start filling up extra jugs with gasoline until there is a threat of freezing rain. The only other time I am especially worried is when storm follows storm, and the snow banks get higher and higher. However this is only the first big storm, so I’m not fretting yet.

The real bother will be the wind. When winds get up near gale force and the snow is powder, it is a waste of energy to try to snow-blow drives early, as the drifting snows just fill in the dents. Also, if you are lucky, the wind may scour down and clean your driveway for you. (If you are unlucky your poor snow-blower faces a whopper drift, up to your nose.) Also my face is wrinkled enough without subjecting my skin to blowing snow and wind chills below zero. The sane thing to do is to feed the fires and cuddle the wood-stove.

My elder daughter made it in just as the wind and snow began to pick up a little after dark. She squeezed her car as far out of the way as she could, and then came in for the mother-and-child-reunion which is always delightful to witness. And then we could get down to the serious business of eating, cooking, and staying indoors.

Unfortunately I was so weary I fell asleep as soon as I ate, and missed a lot. The silver lining is that now I am awake with insomnia, and can watch the radar show the blizzard explode.

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I just stood a while out on the porch. The flakes are going every direction but down, out by the streetlight, and the pines are roaring on the hill. I know it is a big storm when I don’t only hear the pines on the near hill behind us, but also on the far hill, across the road.

Yup, it is a big one. Hope is slim, but when I look at the map below I hope it shows a lot of energy east, perhaps heading out to sea.

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In any case, it is here for the moment.

 

LOCAL VIEW —A Warm Snow—

I was so stiff and sore Friday afternoon I didn’t stock the porch with firewood. I was hoping that by moaning and limping and looking pitiful I might inspire my middle son to stock the porch for me. However he failed to get the hint, as he has his own reasons for moaning and groaning: Despite amassing huge debts gaining a degree in biology the only work he can find is in a coffee shop. After a day’s work he needs to remember who he is, and heads off into the woods to study the local wildlife, rather than stocking a porch with firewood.

To a degree I expected that, but knew that the snow wasn’t suppose to start until mid-morning yesterday, and figured I could limp out and get it done early. However I confess I half-expected the snow to start early, as the upper air trough was positively tilted and the storm was wasting no time coming north.

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Temperatures, which had dipped to the upper teens in the evening, rose into the twenties over night as the clouds rolled in, and by the first light of dawn it was snowing. It was fluffy stuff, and atop the iron ice underneath it was like dry sawdust on a polished floor, and treacherously slippery. As my middle son ate waffles and studied the internet, I dressed in my woolly hat and scarf, and with a deep sigh headed out to work with great care, moving wood by wheelbarrow to the porch, and laboring up the porch’s stairs. Soon I forgot to feel sorry for myself, for it was quite beautiful out, and so warm I didn’t feel a bit chilled in a world that resembled a shaken snow globe.  (One thing I can’t understand is how, when a storm is zooming past, there can be no wind.)

Soon my son came bounding out, hardly dressed for winter at  all, and began rushing to and fro carrying wood by the armload, making me feel a bit old as I wheelbarrowed in slow motion, but also a bit wise as he went flying on the slick ice and crash-landed in a manner that would have put me in a hospital. He hopped right up with a laugh and continued.

It was fairly obvious he had other things to do, and wanted to quit as soon as the pile was knee-deep on the porch. I myself was originally thinking I’d quit when I achieved that minimum, but now that I had companionship I continued, despite the slight look of pain on my son’s face I went for the next load, again and again, and the pile on the porch passed waist-deep and headed towards chest-deep.

Besides hauling we did a bit of splitting, as the fellow who delivered the wood last fall was in such a hurry to keep up with orders he didn’t always spit the logs down to a sensible size. We talked about trees and the grain of wood, and I learned things I didn’t know, as I lack a degree in biology, but also had the satisfaction of answering a question. A song much like a tree frog sounded from the tree tops near us, and my son quirked his head and asked, “What’s that?”  I could answer, “A woodpecker,” though I had to confess I never had figured out if it was a hairy or a downy.

All in all it was fun, to my surprise, and it felt good to go stamping back inside past a porch stacked to neck-level. The snow already seemed to be slacking off, as I pottered on, doing the Saturday chores, and enjoying my first snow tires in years, though I will confess they took all the challenge out of going up hills.

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By the time I headed off to feed the goats and chickens and rabbit, and snow-blow the drives and lots at the Childcare, it seemed the snow was done. As I drove I passed many who were just finishing up cleaning off their drives with looks of satisfaction on their faces, but everyone was in for a surprise, as a little following-wave developed and messed up all the neat and tidy jobs with an extra inch. Again the snow-globe was shaken as I worked, in a windless mildness that topped off with temperatures of 29.5° (-1.4° Celsius).

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The second wave of snow was already tapering off as the dark descended. All in all we had around four inches of fluff, though it settled some. I feel a bit foolish for dreading the prospect of snow so much, for this has to have been one of the nicest and warmest snows I can remember since I was young, back when all snows were warm.

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However even as this snow moves off over Nova Scotia, a little Alberta Clipper is diving south, to the southwest of Lake Superior.

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That little clipper is forecast to give us an amazing two feet of powder snow, with winds gusting over 40 mph and temperatures in the teens, this coming Tuesday. I’m not sure I fully believe that forecast, yet, but confess I haven’t learned my lesson, for I am once again cringing at the prospect of snow.