It was down to -7.8°(-22,1 Celsius) as the sun first peeked over the horizon this morning to see what we humans were up to. It wasn’t a quiet dawn, as the drone of snow-blowers sounded from every direction. There was over a foot of powder to clear up, however powder snow is the easiest, and here and there streams of white arched in the landscape, as people hurried to assuage unforgiving bosses and avoid being late to work. I’d done most of my clean-up yesterday, and only had to snow-blow the mounds the plows push back into the entrance and exit of the Childcare. However I was stiff and sore from the work, and that gives me plenty to grouch about, when I should be counting my blessings.
One thing to grouch about is the piles the plows push back into your driveway, or the neighbors surreptitiously arch in the road in front of your drive, so the plows push it onto your drive and not theirs. With between two and three feet of snow on the level, we are starting to reach the point where people develop a chess-like strategy regarding the placement of the white stuff.
Another thing to grouch about is the fact teachers don’t seem to need to assuage their bosses, who are parents, on paper at least. They often are parents themselves, so they ought understand how it deranges a day to cancel school, and how the workplaces of taxpayers are rendered chaotic when employees can’t come in because their children are home, or, as often is the case, drag a child or two to work with them. However the real focus of most teachers seems to be to avoid having school cancelled too many times, for that would mean they’d have to work make-up days in the summer. To avoid that, they, (or their superintendent), more and more often resorts to the “two-hour-delay”, which counts as a full day of school yet involves all the derangement of a no-school-day.
For some reason I couldn’t grouch properly. My first cup of coffee didn’t work. Perhaps my old body was simply too weary, but my brain felt so stupid I could hardly think. The roar of my snow-blower, which I’ve heard way too much recently, stuffed my ears, and my head felt like it was stuffed in some pocket of wool: Hat and scarf and hood. All that was left was my eyes, peering mutely about as I worked. Perhaps that was the reason I found myself paying so much attention to the way the colors changed as the full moon sank and the sun arose. The snow never once was white. It shifted from blue moonlight to a muted green with blue shadows, as green twilight first blushed in the east, and then that became a muted pink with blue shadows as the twilight turned ruddy, and then the snow was suddenly salmon, as the sun peeked over the distant pines, and then faded through a spectrum of pastel hues, ending with a pale butter yellow. The snow may have become white after that, but I was back home for my second coffee, and studying the maps. (Click to enlarge.)
The forecasters are as weary as everyone else, though they don’t have to shovel, because they have been so wrong lately. You can be more correct if you add a half foot to their forecast of snow and subtract seven degrees from their forecast nighttime lows. I distrusted their forecast for “snow showers” on Wednesday night and Thursday, because the map looks a little like the map before the last storm. Hope notices the arctic high pressure is further south, but pessimism notices there is much more “juice” in the southern stream, down around Texas.
I didn’t have time to dwell on the maps, because the phone rang. It was the Childcare. The heat was off. So I drove the mile back, and discovered the deep snow was starting to drift over the exit vent of the propane heater. I think it is wonderful that the modern heaters achieve such amazing efficiency that you don’t need a chimney, and that the outflow warms the inflow by surrounding the inflow’s smaller pipe, but when it gets down below zero the air exiting the pipe is so cool it can’t even melt the snow faster than it drifts, (and is shed by our snow-shedding roof). So all I had to do was scoop snow away from that vent, and everything was fixed, and I was a hero (in my own mind).
Since I was already there, I figured I might as well snow-blow a path across the playground, and out to the campfire in the pasture. The schools won’t even allow children outside when temperatures drop below 20° (-7° Celsius), but our Childcare focuses on the outdoors, and the children often clamor to go out when it is cold. However snow above my knees is snow up to their waists, so I find it is helpful to snow-blow some paths. After I’m done the main route out to the pasture and sledding hill, I go back to the playground and create curving paths that make a sort of maze. I also create a mound of snow by spiraling out and directing the chute to the center of the spiral. (I should take before and after pictures, because all the paths are cut neat and tidy before the children stampede out, but they can never resist leaving the paths to flounder a bit on the deeper snow, and the scene is one of devastation after an hour.)
I had cut all these paths after the blizzard, but as I looked out the playground appeared completely flat. Between two inches on Friday, howling winds on Saturday, and around 14 inches on Monday with lesser winds, all my work had been erased. Here and there you could see a faint trace of what had been a deep cut, and the mound in the center of the spiral still poked up, but everything else had to be redone. I tried to follow the old routes from memory, but the only real gauge I had was how the snow-blower strained in the deep snow. When it strained harder I knew I was off the path.
The snow was now definitely white in the brilliant February sun, which is so obviously higher than December’s, and has a surprising amount of warmth, even when the thermometer argues it is barely above zero.
I could tell when the temperature was above ten, for the salt suddenly started working on the roads. Below that the salt might as well be more snow, for all the power it has to melt. The streets remain white and snow packed, and the porthole road seems surprisingly smooth, until suddenly the salt starts working, and the white roads turn to brown slush, and even become bare on the bigger highways. This reminded me of arctic sea-ice, for up at the Pole it is so cold now that salt drifts with the snow atop the frozen seawater, but in June the salt abruptly has the power to melt up there. It did make me feel a bit warmer to think of spring, and the sap first stirring in our sugar maples, but I had no time to post.
After lunch I had to hustle about at home, doing more shoveling. In a storm you do the bare minimum, but between storms you need to square off edges and clear paths to places you don’t go in a storm, for example to the propane tank and woodpile. Also it has been so windy snow sifted onto protected porches that are usually bare. And if you don’t carve a nitch and uncover your mailbox they won’t deliver your mail.
Then it was time to get back to the Childcare and greet the children as they awoke from their naps. I’ve gotten very good over the years at the strange skill of dressing a small mob in snowsuits and mittens. They rushed out and were all having a blast, though the day’s high was only 17.1° (-8.3 Celsius), and when the bus came the kids getting off were even more eager to play outside, after being kept indoors all day. There wasn’t a single complaint, but to me it seemed strangely colder. I always keep a careful eye on the children’s cheeks, alert for the rosy hue developing a purple tinge. I noticed the children gathered in a sunny, southwest-facing corner of the buildings, even before the sun touched the pines and sent long shadows across the field, and then, even as I was starting to note the purplish tinge on one girl’s cheeks and thinking they ought go in, there was a spontaneous mutiny. All at once, there was an incredible chorus of whining, “I’m cold! I want to go in!”
Usually we stay out, as a member of the staff has been inside scrubbing and vacuuming and disinfecting and getting the place ready for the next day, and the last ting the place needs is a bunch of wet, snow-covered children messing it up all over again. However something about the way the air felt and the way the kids acted made me not even hesitate. We all went in and made a mess.
I was wondering what the difference was. It has been colder, even with wind, and the kids have not been troubled the least. What I think the difference was involved the dew point. When I got home I heard the weather radio inform me what the temperatures of nearby cities were, at 5:00, just as the sun set, and they had temperatures warmed by the urban-heat-island effect to just above 20°, but dew points down near zero. As soon as the sun set temperatures plunged.
The maps didn’t make me feel much hope we’d avoid more snow.
The question is whether that northern-branch Alberta Clipper over Nebraska will scoop up the southern-branch low in the Gulf of Mexico south of Texas, and “phase” with it. I don’t see how they can help it, with that big high pressure in the way. Then the question becomes whether the storm will head out to sea south of us. The weather bureau seems to think it will bomb out to our south and miss us, as their main emphasis is on how cold it will be after the storm passes, but I did notice they are altering their language, and rather than speaking of “snow showers” they now speak of “snow” on Thursday. (Without stating whether it will be “light” or not.) Subtle.
NEXT MORNING UPDATE: Temperatures may have crashed below zero before midnight, but a light overcast brought a halo to the moon, when insomia awoke me just after midnight, and the temperature was 0.8°. I’d crashed very early, around eight, but the last thing my wife mentioned as I drifted off, unable to make sense of even the first sentence of a bedside book, was that the heater had kicked off again at the Childcare, for no reason she could see. It had started again without trouble, but she thought I should know. Insomnia can use a thing like that to keep you awake, so I dressed and headed to the Childcare in the dead of night, to make sure it hadn’t kicked off again, and pipes weren’t freezing. It was running just fine, but I took the opportunity to just stand in the yard and enjoy the moonlight.
It was amazingly and absolutely quiet. No distant scraping plows, no droning snow-blowers. Not even an owl. It was as if the entire world was worn out after the storm, and sleeping, as a big moon cruised across a silent sky, seeming to smile and be playful, with its hoop a huge halo.
Now I’m up again and the temperature is up to 7.9° (-13.4° Celsius), at 4:30. The map still holds some threat, but at least it looks like the first clipper may miss the connection with the Gulf of Mexico moisture. We might only get “snow showers” after all.
The problem is that second low back over Utah. It is in some ways what is left of a Pacific storm, after “morphisticatin” crossing the Rocky Mountains. In fact I recall the old-school weathermen differentiated between “Alberta Clippers” and “Mountain Lows.” I suppose you could call it a “Colorado Clipper”, but it looks likely to catch up with that Gulf of Mexico moisture, and brew a storm up as it gets to the east coast. With the Atlantic so warm, relative to normal, it could get big before heading out to sea.
Right now our winter is snowy, but still in the range of a “normal” winter. One more snow will tip us into the realm of major inconvenience. It is all well and good to talk about a legendary winter from a summer armchair, but quite a different thing to endure it.
NEXT EVENING UPDATE: The first impulse pushed through this morning as a dazzling snow with the sun shining, falling from a pale blue sky made milky by the snow, dappled with sliding alto-cumulus. Temperatures rose slowly but steadily all day to a mid-afternoon 27° (-2.8 Celsius), and then, after hesitating and dithering, continued to creep upwards even as night fell to the current high of 29.8° (-1.2° Celsius) at 10:00 PM.
The map should be showing a warm front close to, and parallel to, the approaching cold front. Or so I feel.
The southern moisture still hasn’t moved north and been combined to “phase” with the northern impulse, however it seems some modified Chinook-Pacific air has streamed east along the south side of the cold front, running into a stale arctic high on one side and a fresh arctic high on the other. It is almost an occlusion, a sort of tube of milder air streaming east as a long band of snow.
In the above radar shot you can see a slight southward bump on the eastern edge of the snow, and in the more-recent close-up below you can see a second band of snow formed ahead of the first, and the two bands come together just to my west.
It looks like if I wait five minutes it will be here, so let’s wait. (Dum-de dum-dum da-da-dum-dum)
Sure enough, I just went out onto the porch and it is snowing like gang-busters. The street is white, the windshields are white, all man’s efforts to undo the winter’s work are being undone.
I’m not yet tired of this, as it is sort of neat to be midst what may become a winter of lore. However I confess my body is getting tired. When I was cutting blocks of packed powder, and starting an igloo I build for the kids at the Childcare nearly every year, I’d only cut six blocks when I noticed my arms felt like wet noodles. My old body feels like it is running out of gas, and I was very glad to see my middle son had split some wood for me and stacked it up on the porch when I got home from work. I don’t much like the prospect of needing to run the snow-blower again tomorrow morning, so I hope this snow is a quick passing thump, a swift inch which is just as swiftly over and done.
The snow now falling is utterly different from this morning’s, which was a dazzle in sunshine. This is a dump in darkness. However the trick is to see each has its beauty, and to marvel at the variety. In this manner, though winter wearies the body, it invigorates the mind.
I’d surrender to winter but winter
Doesn’t want me. I’d wave a white flag
But the white will wave back. Torture-splinter
Under nails, that’s the mercy that will drag
Me as a carcass for the crows, if I bow
To the attack. So instead I’ll enjoy
The beauty of the beast, see poems in how
Snow’s heaped as crystal sparks, and employ
A poem’s yeast to make bread that taunts famine.
Sweet revenge I’ll then have on cruel frost.
He who builds dams for up-streaming salmon,
And heaps fresh losses on the weeping lost,
Will see I am his cold snow enjoying
And therefore bring sweet spring’s snow-destroying.
ANOTHER MORNING UPDATE There are three inches of fluff outside, with the fat flakes still falling. So I am off to blow snow. Temperature is a mild 29.7° (-1.3° Celsius) but there are wind-chill advisories for -20° (-29° Celsius) only twelve hours from now.
EVENING UPDATE AND STORM-SUMMERY
The northern branch feature and southern branch feature have moved off the coast without ever truly combining and “phasing” into a proper gale center. They look like they are still in the process of the merge, and likely will get their acts together and bomb into a big gale up to the northeast, by Labrador or Greenland.
You might think we escaped with a mere nuisance-snow, but the radar showed the snow was thick as it passed., even as it never sucked up the “juice” to the south. It left us with more than a nuisance, as it headed out to sea.
All in all we got half a foot, which isn’t much ordinarily, but when you already have roughly three feet, (Or roughly four feet, if you live on the other side of Manchester where Joseph D’Aleo reports from), and when the forecast is for only a quarter foot, it makes a surprising mess of things, especially when the superintendent of schools bases his judgement on a forecast and doesn’t walk outdoors and sniff the air, and concludes that rather than cancelling school there should be a two-hour-delay. The resultant mess on the highways is best described as a “fracas”, which is a sort of frowning “circus”.
Even glancing out through the whirling white in the dark before dawn I could see the snow had gotten so deep it was starting to cover the hastily and poorly placed sensor of my Christmas thermometer, and I didn’t have time to rush out and wallow across the yard to scoop the snow away, and therefore I’m only guessing that the high was actually 29.7° (-1.7 Celsius), before dawn. However as I hurried to to work I could already see the sticky snow was turning dry and powdery, and when I paused at the market I could see the plow-operators, (who were the only people there) had weary eyes turning from white to bloodshot. It was looking next to impossible to clear the streets for the school buses, with the snow whirling and falling at an inch-an-hour rate.
The streets were a mess. Though heavily salted, the salt had no effect when temperatures remained below 10° (-12° Celsius). The snow and salt was packed down into a squeaky surface that had decent traction, and built up to a degree where you found yourself stepping down into places you usually stepped up into, which suggests the packed powder was getting thick. However as soon as temperatures rose above 10° the salt started working, and packed surfaces turned to a strange, dry slush. It might have melted more, but the spike in temperatures was brief. Also the pavement beneath the packed snow was likely chilled to near zero (-18° Celsius). In any case, even if hadn’t snowed a flake, the rise in temperatures turned smooth packed streets into brown, rutted messes, and the mess would have needed to be plowed aside.
But it had snowed, and still was snowing vigorously, and the brown surface grew tan and then the color of overly creamed coffee, as plowing-vehicles churned around, attempting to make the mess ready for school opening two-hours-late. For every truck actually plowing the roads there were fifteen guys with plows on their pickups, attempting to plow driveways before heading off to their day-jobs. And one odd thing about these guys is that, when they plow a drive, a fair amount of the snow they push about winds up back on the street.
You would have thought we had at least a foot, the roads were so rutted as I drove to work, but when I started my snow-blower, (the electric starter only whined, but the pull-cord miraculously started it, on the sixteenth pull), I found I could operate the machine at third gear, walking briskly behind it, for at that point we’d only had five inches. I only needed to slow at the street, dealing with the brown slush. Soon the entrance and parking lot and exit of my Childcare was the cleanest side-road in town. However my brow was furrowed with worry when I looked out on the street, and saw the deep ruts, and knew plows would eventually pass and plug my entrance and exit. But, after a swift greeting of a few parents and some swift instructions to my staff, I headed off to my dentist, nearly twenty miles away.
It’s my fourth and last visit of the young year, and will just about bankrupt me, as Obama-care is useless in my case. I like to be presentable, but looked like someone who was up before dawn shoveling. I like to be on time, but got stuck behind a young mother with a van full of kids, apparently slithering along on bald tires, and I had to drive at 15 mph for seven miles. I expected to be in the doghouse when I arrived fifteen minutes late. Instead I turned up to be the only customer who had the courtesy to show up, and the entire staff doted on me.
In any case, I can chew again, and headed home through thinning flakes and surprisingly improved roads, past amazingly blocked driveways. When I got back to the farm-childcare I barely made it through the huge brown wall in the entrance plows had helpfully erected. Once in the drive, I drove easily to my parking place, and was confronted by a goat.
Goats hate walking through deep snow, beneath which they don’t know what their feet will come down upon, but Beulah had waded through chest-deep snow to nag at me. (Goats don’t baa; they nag.) So I fed her and the others, and the nagging chickens, and the patient rabbit, and then headed in to the Childcare to get nagged some more. A member of the staff had the flu’, and I needed to both care fore children and clear the entrance and exit of the Childcare. Don’t ask me how I did it. It’s amazing what you can do if you have to.
(One law states you can’t leave children unattended, while another states if the entrance of your Childcare is impassable, you need to close down. What would you do?)
As I chugged about pushing the snow-blower in low gear, removing the heavy, brown, and oddly dry sludge from the entrance and exit, I could feel the cold intensifying. The wind was starting to whip about whirlwinds of powder. The clouds faded to the east and the sun shone brilliantly, but the cold kept increasing. By the time the sun dipped behind the pines the wind was so cruel I moved all the kids inside.
And now, as I look at my Christmas thermometer, (which has been cleared of snow), I see we are dipping below zero at ten o’clock. Where we spent 24 hours on Tuesday with temperatures rising, we are now midst 24 hours with temperatures falling.
Just as the forecast was for a quarter foot, and we got a half foot, I expect temperatures will plunge below the forecast of “four above to four below”. At this rate we will be sinking past four below by midnight. The poor forecasters are slaves to computers that just can’t fathom the fierceness of this February.
People south of here have no idea what we are going through. As a weather geek, I hear weather nerds complaining they haven’t had enough snow, and the cold predicted by the computers never happens. Down around Washington DC the nerds are complaining they’ve had no winter.
I’d be glad to export our conditions, and usually I could expect it to happen. In the past I’ve seen deep snow create, or attract, cold high pressure, which ends a snowy time and shunts storms south of New England.
I’m actually expecting this to happen, but the computers are not seeing it yet. Instead they see a single sunny day tomorrow, and then increasing clouds Saturday with snow late, and then snow on Sunday, snow on Monday, snow on Tuesday…
Oh No! Mo’ Snow!