LOCAL VIEW —On the Edge of a Legend—(updated thrice with summery)

I’ve seen it worse, up in our hills. We currently only have three feet of snow on the level places, and I remember one time, back around the middle of the 1990’s, when we had four feet and it was only the first week of January, with all the winter before us. One more big storm would have brought us to our knees, but an amazing thaw set in, and the snow shrank away, day after day, without even any helpful rain, until by the end of January there was hardly any left. I felt like someone must have prayed for us.

Unfortunately New England won the Superbowl yet again, and I don’t think anyone is praying for us, these days. We have been too successful and appear greedy. In fact this time Americans outside of New England are likely praying we get our faces rubbed in the snow. When they see pictures like this from Boston they likely guffaw:

Boston 0209_snow_cars

(Picture from Joseph D’Aleo’s excellent blog at “Weatherbell”.)

I really don’t understand why people react to success the way they do. If people were going to be mad at Boston it ought be for something like stealing billions from taxpayers to fund the fiasco called the “Big Dig”. However Americans seem to approve of that sort of sleazy corruption, and vote heartily for the fiasco called “Obama-care”, and subscribe to the fiasco of “green energy”. However when confronted with the old-fashioned work-ethic, and witness a coach like Belichick and a quarterback like Brady toiling year after year to achieve a remarkable success, people suck lemons, and pray the successful slip on the ice and experience discomfiture.

I wouldn’t mind it if it was only Belichick and Brady being made uncomfortable, however I suspect the unkind prayers also include New England fans. People outside New England are disgusted with not only the success of the professional football team, but the professional baseball, hockey, and basketball teams. They have had to suffer the agony of defeat, while we’ve had victory parades, so now they don’t pray we get a break when the weather is bad.

Or that is my explanation for why the bad weather goes on and on. (My explanation may be sheer poppycock, but so is “Global Warming”.)

In any case, we are midst a ordinary bad winter, but are at the edge of a legand. We are at the point where one more storm could bring us to our knees. Up to this point life has been slowed, and the snow is very inconvenient, but we muddle on, and squeak by. One more big storm, and things grind to a complete halt.

We’ve been at this point before, as I say, but the knockout-punch is never delivered.

In 1969 we had bad storms just before and just after the February vacation, and I think I went to school only five days the entire month. I approved of this, and had high hopes a third storm would continue the trend, but rather than a knockout-punch the third storm was rain. I had to go to school the entire month of March.  Alas!

Often I think deep snow creates high pressure, which alters the weather patterns. If this isn’t scientific then it should be. It likely explains, to the pragmatic, the failure of nature to deliver a knock-out punch better than prayer does.

So here we are again. One more storm would be a disaster. We are on the verge.

Will any pity us? Likely not. They will be irritated that, once again, New England gets all the headlines, all the attention, and all the glory. Children in other areas will be green with envy about how much school is cancelled here. Adults will seethe that we take their tax-dollars as we loaf at shelters.

If and when the knockout-punch is delivered, it will be up to bloggers like myself to describe the actual conditions, and to make it clear that getting a knockout-punch isn’t all stars and birdies. It hasn’t been much fun so far, and I can’t imagine another blizzard on Valentines Day will be all candy and roses.

Currently we are facing an innocent-looking Alberta Clipper coming at us from the Dakotas, as a more serious-looking storm slips out to sea, down the coast.

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The radar shot makes that clipper look more like it means business.

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When that clipper gets off the coast of New England it will suck up warm, moist air from the Atlantic, and get big very fast. In a worst case scenario such growth is called “bombogenisis” and the backlash clobbers New England. Currently it looks like the storm will explode a little too late, and it will be Nova Scotia that gets feet of snow. Boston will get “only” 3-6 inches, but howling winds may drift this snow into all low spots, which happen to be the roads people are having a hard time opening up, as it is. Then this clipper will be followed by another, only two days later, which may also explode. Both will drag south extremely cold, sub-zero air in their wakes.

How these two storms behave will determine whether we teeter at the edge of legend, or actually find ourselves living midst a legend.  I’ll update, to tell you how it goes.

We begin with our first sunny afternoon since last week. Temperatures got up to 27.3° in the sunshine, but have sunk to 14.5° at 11:00 PM. (-2.6° to -9.7° Celsius).


It was a gorgeous sunrise, especially as we haven’t seen one for a long time. It tricks you. Abruptly you become aware the sun is up before seven, and doesn’t go down until just after five, and when it is calm it doesn’t matter that the temperature is 3.6° (-15.8 Celsius); you stop gritting your teeth, and your neck stops shrinking down into your jacket like an alarmed turtle. Into the distant recesses of a numbed mind walks the faint memory of an impossible thing called, “Spring”. So you stick out your jaw, a perfect set-up for a sucker-punch.

The rosy hues of the dawn were caught and reflected by an amazing string of huge icicles along the edge of my home. It is proof my house is 250-years-old and has poor insulation. In fact having three feet of snow on the roof makes the house much warmer, while it lasts. The problem is that it melts next to the shingles, trickles down to the eves, and freezes solid when it meets the bitter cold air. This creates a dam, which gradually gets higher and higher, holding more and more water up on the roof, until it finds a single nail hole through the ice-and-water-shield under the shingles, and comes into your house.

I used to teeter up at the edge of the roof, on a freezing cold aluminum ladder, whacking away with a hammer and chisel at the ice, until an abrupt flood would gush out.  The gush had an uncanny way of hitting me in the center of my chest, no matter how clever I tried to be about positioning myself,  and I would go back into the house with a martyred look, but at least the interior leak would stop for a while. At times the water coming out was actually warm, and could grove a channel in the ice-dam for a while, before a new ice dam formed.

Now I just huck small white hockey pucks of calcium chloride up onto the roof, and it usually melts the ice right next to the shingles,  though at times it merely melts more water to run through a nail hole into your house. You have to stay ahead of the snow, or the ice dams get too huge. I learned this the hard way, as the pucks I threw up earlier were used up and washed away, and a giant ice dam resulted in a trickle coming down dead center on my wife’s desk. That got my attention real fast. I threw about ten pucks up there immediately, but at first it just resulted in calcium chloride brine dripping on her desk.

Usually it is only the north side of the house that gives me any problem. The sun keeps the south eves thawed enough to let the water out. However this year I’m not so sure. The icicles are gigantic, over six feet long. If the house tips over I’ll be in trouble, but I figure the icicles will soon reach the ground, and then will serve as props, holding the house up. I want to take a picture before I do anything, but do remember a time years ago that a mass of icicles fell from the eves of an apartment complex and totaled a car.

You can get a good idea of the age of a house, just looking at the size of the icicles at the eves. The newest houses have no icicles at all, but unfortunately are so air-tight tqhat the air within the house can get stale. CO2 levels get high, and trace gases like radioactive radon build up in the basements, and modern woods such as plywood can exude formaldehyde fumes, and moisture can collect and cause mold to grow, filling the air with mold spores. So perhaps a drafty old house isn’t all bad.

I drove to work through a chilled world where all the snow was rose-colored, changing to pumpkin as the sun inched higher, and then as I got out of the truck I noticed something fascinating.

There is a moment in the morning when the sun is shining horizontally across the atmosphere, heating various layers as the rays get lower as the sun ascends, and I’ve often noticed a brief deck of clouds will form and then dissipate, (as a layer is warmed and briefly rises, I suppose). Most beautiful are high decks of cirro-cumulus that form in the summer, especially when they form just before the sun gets down to ground level, though they are also enchanting when they form just after sunrise. The seldom last long, (though they can make you wonder if the forecast for a clear day is incorrect.) However this morning was quite different. It was a low layer of grey cumulous moving in from the east at a high rate of speed, though it was calm at ground level. It lasted only around five minutes, but made me shake my head over the power it revealed. The weather may be lovely, but when I see a east wind that strong, I don’t drop my guard.

The clipper is continuing to dig with the upper air trough. Even when the surface feature looks like it wants to head up to Hudson Bay,  it weakens to the north and reforms to the south. I think we are fortunate that storm off the coast is gobbling up a lot of energy, as I imagine it keeps the clipper weak.

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What a beautiful day it was, with the sun bright and the sky a vivid blue, and very little wind. Temperatures only got up to 18.7° (-7.4° Celsius) but the salted pavements melted under the rays of a sun as high as it is on Halloween, when red leaves are still on the trees and you can still pick hardy kale and Brussels sprouts from the garden. On the south side of maples the sap might even have been stirring, though not a bucket has yet been hung on any tree this year.

The lack of wind puzzled me a little, especially because I saw that fleeting scud of cumulus rushing over from the east this morning. What was that all about? Was it a thin layer of the atmosphere sliding like a single card in a deck? I don’t really know. That morning observation lay in the back of my mind like an undercurrent of shadow, in a day full of sun.

The depth of the snow may have been another undercurrent. Perhaps fellows are not tapping the maples because the buckets would be up at chin level, after the snow melted.

After I’d opened the Childcare and attended to morning chores I headed up to the church to check up on the state of the parking lot, which trashed a fellow deacon’s plow yesterday as he attempted to bulldoze the snow. I was happy to see a third deacon rumbling about in a big, front end loader with a heated cab, doing a wonderful job of clearing the lots and raising ivory mountains of snow around twenty-five feet tall, at the ends.  The power of those machines is amazing, and, combined with the power of the February sun, fostered the illusion we were fighting back against the power of winter.

I myself still have some shoveling to do, but I took a day off from that work and caught up on other stuff.  There are all sorts of chores that get delayed, when you get a lot of snow. Not that I need any help procrastinating. However it does feel good to delight in doing chores you usually feel are humdrum.

There was the usual frenetic chatter about “the next storm”. No longer is it the oncoming clipper, but rather is the following clipper, scheduled to get here on Saturday. Some are talking about another blizzard. However I noticed even those who love to harp upon bad news lacked the usual tension, and failed to tighten their temples to snare-drum rigidity. Instead the honey of sunshine had people relaxing.

My middle son came in with a bemused look, as I worked at my desk, and mentioned he’d never thought about what it must be like to be a small bird, who usually lands on twigs, but now must land on a twig heaped with snow. (Snow can make a twig as thick as a match stick be as thick as your thumb.) I paused, and realized that in my sixty-one years I’d never thought about such a thing. So I asked him, “What do they do?”  He said, “They sort of crash into the branch and bully their way through the snow to the twig by shrugging their shoulders.”

It was that sort of day. We’d had too much of toil, and took time to see the beauty in the details.

The lack of wind continues to surprise me, considering how energetic the maps look. Spruce and hemlock remain loaded with snow, more white than green, looking a bit unreal, too postcard-perfect to be anything other than an artist’s exaggeration.

Temperatures crashed at sunset, but since then the decline has slowed, as clouds from the coming clipper move in from the west. The clipper no longer inspires the worry it generated even 36 hours ago.

20150211B satsfc

They are predicting an inch of snow. I think we can handle that. I’m too tired to stay up to see if it starts before midnight. If it doesn’t, today will be our first day without snow in over a week.

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UPDATE #3  —Back into the snow globe—

Temperatures bottomed out at 6.3° before slowly rising to 8.1° in the 5:00 AM black before dawn. Not a star was to be seen. By the deep charcoal dusk it was nearly up to 10°, as I headed out to warm up my truck.

I don’t like to bother warming up the truck, because I tend to hurtle out the door at the last possible minute, as I want to extract every possible moment of free time from the morning before the Childcare opens. However that made driving increasingly risky, as often I only had time to scrape the smallest hole in the frosty windshield to see through. My commute is only a mile, but when the windshield is chilled to zero or below, within a hundred yards my breath makes such a fog on the inside of the windshield it is hard to see. Nor is it a steam you can wipe away. It is an icy frost you must scratch frantically scratch away, as friends and neighbors smile and wave back, assuming you are waving a cheerful good morning at them, when you  are desperately trying to see.

As the weather got colder I had to eventually break down and allot a few extra minutes to going out and starting my truck.  There is one point during my short commute where I take a right turn onto the road the Childcare in in, and on my side of the road is often an old friend walking towards me walking his dog. When my view is reduced to a small scratched hole I can’t see to the right when I make that turn, and I figured I was playing a sort of Russian Roulette, and sooner or later I’d hit my friend. That seemed stupid, so I warmed the windshield before starting.

As I walked out today I felt faint moisture on my cheek, and was surprised to see, looking up towards the streetlight, the mist of freezing drizzle swirl. I was surprised because it was only ten degrees. There must have been some sort of warm-layer above, but by the time that mist came to earth it was super cooled. Perhaps you could call it ultra-super-cooled. It froze instantly, as soon as it touched anything. It seemed a very good morning to warm the windshield.

I then learned something interesting about ultra-super-cooked drizzle. Even when your windshield is warm, and even when the drizzle is so faint it barely glazes the road, it instantly freezes on your windshield even when your windshield is warm, except for a tiny spot at the bottom of the screen. It happens within a hundred yards, so I drove to work at a snails pace, and crept around the right turn at around three miles per hour, despite all my good attentions.

Even by the time I arrived at work the drizzle was turning to flakes. By the time I drove my small and rowdy gang of six to kindergarten the flakes were thick.  No adult was making the usual jokes, and instead everyone seemed to have a slightly desperate gleam in their eyes. In what seemed a blink the bare roads were again white, and we were back to winter. People didn’t believe the forecast, which was for a dusting in the morning and an inch in the afternoon, and I confess I double-checked the radar and map.

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The radar showed a line of snow materialize and pass over right during the morning commute, however it soon passed off the coast, after perhaps a half inch, and then the hills reappeared in the distance, at first as dim ghosts and then as hazy blue mounds. Snowflakes continued to drift about, few and far between, all during the gray day, but the February sun melted the streets black again even through the clouds, as temperatures rose to 27.1° (-2.7 Celsius.)  That seems likely to be the warmest we’ll see for a long time, as the radio began to announce a warning for -15° wind-chills, and sounded ominous about the next clipper, coming on Saturday.

By afternoon the big,fat flakes began again, as if someone had given a snow-globe a shake, and again the roads turned white as we received a swift inch and a half.

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It was just enough to be a nuisance, and forced me to quickly scrape off the walkways as parents arrived to pick up their kids. The grim looks had returned to faces, and the jokes seemed a bit strained as people gave me the news there was a winter storm watch for the Saturday clipper, with a blizzard warning for coastal areas, including Boston.

The above map shows a small spot of snow over Vermont. It grew to a final line of snow squalls that passed through after dark, as I sat in an adult bible-study with some old friends. We looked out the window at the snow swirling in the floodlights, and shook our heads. While the warning is only for a half foot in our hills, and we will contiue to be midst one-of-the-worst winters, if the forecast for Boston is correct they will once again get more snow than us, and definately be midst their “worst ever”. Even back in the mid 1990’s, when they had a couple winters with around 100 inches of snow, (they have around 80 now), there were periods of melting between the storms, and they didn’t have so much all at once.

Up here the warnings have the crews out with wing plows, attempting to shove the snowbanks away from the roads to make space for the next storm. I had to pull over as far as I could and stop, as I drove home last night, as a plow came rumbling the other way. It made me grumpy, because it means they will make a mess of the entrances and exits of the Childcare, and I’ll have to head out early tomorrow to clean up the mess.

However this “snow event” is over. The stars are out and we had a whopping two inches. Nothing, really, but like a slight jab to a boxer’s chin, a lot of nothings add up.


5 thoughts on “LOCAL VIEW —On the Edge of a Legend—(updated thrice with summery)

    • I’m sorry. Things have been so crazy around here with the snow I just haven’t had time to even read the messages I get. Right now I’m hoping we get some wind to blow the snow off the roofs of the barns and stables, or I’ll have to shovel them off. I don’t have to worry about my 250-year-old house, for it has such lousy insulation that the snow melts down next to the shingles, and the water flows down to the eves, which creates other problems: We are getting giant icicles and ice-dams along the eves.

      Also I strangely wound up in charge of a funeral, which I’ve never done before. Hopefully by next weekend my head will stop spinning and I can reorganize.

      I hope your recovery is proceeding without any glitches. Did that last Chinook reach up to Calgary? I saw it hit 80 degrees down in Kansas. No such luck, here. The long range forecast shows bitter cold in the east, with no above-freezing temperatures for the next ten days.

      • We have been popping in and out of the warmth the past several weeks and currently sitting about -10 but it is to be above freezing by morning as the wind shifts to the west and the Chinook hits. They say +10 for the high tomorrow but I’ll believe that when I see it.
        Healing is going okay and I have approval to ski again in 5 days & so I’m looking forward to enjoying the fun winter has to offer again although I expect to be as weak as a kitten since I’ve been riding the couch or in bed for the past 8 weeks with strict orders that nothing over 10 lbs was lifted.
        My sister in Portland had an ice dam and water running down the wall … many dollars to get rid of ice dam and the snow on the roof and the wall still has to be repaired come spring.
        Good luck with the snow and cold … you folks are really getting it this year …. although a lot of your snow and cold would be just a normal year in many places up here 😉

  1. Just about the time I said that I’ll believe the warmth when I see the warm air moved in and now we are +7 and sunny so very nice in the sun.
    See the pop at this site http://wx.ca/
    However very sloppy driving about and lots of windshield washer needed to keep the view clear.

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