LOCAL VIEW —Fighting the Crab—

This is our third straight day with snow, and I think it is starting to get to people. There is a crab that resides in even the most sophisticated and the most serene, and a hard winter has a way of bringing it out.

Not that we have that much to complain about. On Tuesday we only got a dust of snow, as the southern-track feature slipped out to sea. Behind it temperatures sank under clear skies to -6.5° (-21.4° Celsius)  on Wednesday morning, however they swiftly rebounded as the weak high pressure crested over us, and were up to 8° an hour after the sun rose. Looking west at the snow associated with the northern-track feature, one could hope the snow would get wrung out by the mountains, and we might get a snow-free day. 20150218 satsfc

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By afternoon I was starting to have doubts, as the light winds shifted around to the south, and I could see tiny spots of cumulus in the sky were rapidly expanding. Still, it seemed mild, with temperatures up to 21.2° (-6.0° Celsius), especially with the February sun beaming. I thought to myself that though the wind might bring up some ocean air, it is hard to have bad feelings about south winds. However the forecast was for colder weather, so I was out by the woodpile, spitting fat logs to four or six thin logs, as small wood burns faster and puts out more heat in a hurry, which is what you want when it is below zero.

I spent a lot of time just leaning on my maul and admiring the sky, and noticing how the sun was still fairly high when it would have been settling into the trees in December, and was aiming to settle more to the west than southwest. There was plenty to feel glad about, except the cumulus kept expanding, and to the south I could see they were getting thick.  Then the flakes started drifting down, as an area of snow appeared out of the blue, right above us on the radar, far ahead of the line of snow associated with the northern-track feature’s cold front.

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This area of snow expanded south even as radar showed it moving north, and another one appeared further east to powder poor Boston. I didn’t have time to figure out the causes, but I could tell the weather bureau was nervous. The fat flakes seemed to be tapering off after a half inch, as I went to bed early, but in the dead of night the alarm on my weather radio went off and, when I bothered wander from bed to check on my way to the bathroom, there was this cheery message:

Heavy snow likely across parts of the area tonight through thursday … .a trough of low pressure will extend inland overnight. This feature will be the focus for heavy snowfall which will continue into thursday. The heaviest snows will be localized… However widespread 5 to 10 inches is expected across most of the area.

It sounded to me like a Norlun Trough, which are notoriously difficult to figure out. Or maybe it was a “vort max” arriving with the front. At 1:00 AM in the morning I was in no position (or condition) to find out. I was just glad I wasn’t some poor intern stuck with the graveyard shift at the weather bureau, wired on way too much coffee, with the responsibility of making the forecast. I imagine the boss would not be too happy if he was consulted at 1:00 AM, but would also be displeased if the forecast was blown. It was not a happy position for a rookie to be in. Or so  I imagined, yawning on my way back to bed, and conceding I had no idea what actually was going on behind the scenes. In any case, a forecast was a forecast, so I girded my loins and went back to bed preparing to do battle in the morning.

I heard a plow pass in the morning, and dressed without bothering to awake. I can practically snow-blow-the-Childcare-before-opening in my sleep, I’ve done it so often this winter. As I grabbed my portable weather radio and sleep-walked out the door I expected a cold blast to awake me, but it had only dropped to 17.4° (-8.1° Celsius), which is actually warmer than a lot of our recent daytime highs. What did awake me was the fact the snow I scuffed through on my way to my truck through did not seem deep at all. It was around two inches of pablum fluff. Then, as I listened to my weather radio on my one-mile-drive to the farm, all the alarms and warnings seemed to have been “disappeared”. Heading down the dark road the farm, I did find myself behind a plow, and I wondered if he too had been torn from a warm bed by alerts and warnings which had disappeared.

The plow did little but push the snow up the banks at the side, only to have the snow slide back down again after its passage. Until it came to a driveway. Then the snow had space to go, and surged into the nicely cleaned entry. I suspected a lot of homeowners were going to be crabby when they arose. I wasn’t, because it made my getting up early have more meaning. I would not have bothered to snow-blow only two inches of pablum, but cleaning the entry and exits of a foot of packed-powder-rubble is a bother that must be attended to, for some of the parents arrive to drop off their children in tiny cars with around four inches of clearance, and can be halted by small amounts of snow.

Once I had the entrance and exit cleared I could have shifted the snow-blower into sixth gear, but that would have involved striding too fast, and waking up all the way. So I sauntered in third gear, so well dressed against cold that it didn’t wake me a bit to gradually be powdered white by drifting snow. In fact I sort of liked it, as when I’m covered in snow the beautiful young mothers look upon me with a mixture of awe, pity, and tender sympathy, as I greet their children with icicles hanging from the ends of my mustache.  I look like the hard working owner, suffering to ensure the customer doesn’t suffer, so please don’t inform them that after years of this nonsense I have made darn sure I wear incredibly warm clothing, and am as snug as a bug in a rug, and am so comfortable I am having trouble staying awake.

One man was back from a three week trip to Idaho, where he is working hard to open a new branch of his business, and he was looking around with a sort of disbelief at the towering snowbanks, and the deep paths cut so children can run in the playground, which have appeared in less than a month.  When he left we only had two inches.

I gathered from him  they have had a lot of Chinooks out in Idaho, and it has been a kindly winter without the deep snows that used to trap pioneers and cause cannibalism. The last thing he expected was to come home and discover the jet-stream has swung the Rocky Mountain Snows to to New Hampshire Hills and Boston Streets. (We haven’t resorted to cannibalism yet, but some are becoming extremely crabby.)

As the fellow looked around in disbelief he didn’t seem the slightest bit crabby. I awoke slightly, because I saw wonder in his face. Sometimes you forget, when you are living midst a legend, that there is wonder involved. Rather than thinking anything is wonderful you just get crabby.

The only wonder I felt was a wondering about where the arctic air was. The wind was still south, and it felt mild out. It had cleared off, and all the branches were heaped with fluff in the morning calm, and when the first south winds stirred, veils of powder came sifting down through the golden sunshine. After I’d delivered my gang-of-six to kindergarten I stopped in to check the maps at home. It looked like the cold front’s snows were moving off through Maine, and the front was south of us, but the air felt so unnaturally kindly I could not help but suspect they’d left the true arctic front off the map.

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The fact the map had no arctic front got me wondering about how it is fronts can appear and then get “disappeared”, in the same way weather alerts and warnings can appear in the dead of night and then be “disappeared” at dawn. I entertained myself by imagining various scenarios at the weather bureau this morning. One scenario had the boss charging in and threatening to fire everyone, and another scenario had the boss rushing in to placate a bunch of crabby empoyees before they all quit the graveyard shift to become Climate Scientists, because Climate Scientists never have to work graveyard shifts, get to go to meetings in Bali, and will be dead before anyone figures out their forecasts are wrong.

I don’t know why my mind goes off on these junkets. I suppose I’m not awake yet. I certainly have enough crabby scenarios right before my eyes, and don’t need to go so far afield.

The fellows who have to deliver mail and propane and fuel oil in this landscape of gigantic snowbanks are starting to lose it. Their sense of humor is starting to quit. I don’t care how big, tough and strong they may ordinarily be, they have developed the whine and petulant attitude of a spoiled three-year-old. I get quite enough of that at my Daycare, and sure don’t need it when I go out to stand by my mailbox when the mailman arrives.

My wife, myself, and my middle son have worked long and hard to carve away a huge snowbank to a degree where you can see the mailbox, but the snippy, infantile mailman (who is usually quite different) stated our lilac bushes were pressed down and might scratch his car. If we didn’t cut them back he wouldn’t deliver our mail.

I was going to tell him lilacs are a symbol of spring and of hope, and if he thought I was going to hack away at beautiful bushes so he could be lazy, then he could take his government job and…but my wife suggested I just cut a few branches. I suggested she do it, as the thin slips we rooted a quarter century ago now have trunks as thick as my arm, and the branches the postman wanted clipped can’t be snipped with a clipper, but require bulky shears, and my shears got left out in the rain and are rusted solid. After some further discussion I found myself wasting my precious time looking for where the heck I put my penetrating oil. Then I had to loosen up the rusted shears. Then at last I clipped off some big branches. I avoided becoming crabby by thinking the mailman would be happy, my wife would be happy, and it might be a cool thing to do if I forced some lilac branches to bloom in a vase. Just then I saw the oil delivery man attempting to back up the driveway that I share with a neighbor up the hill.

I’d thought it was odd, yesterday, when I saw my neighbor-up-the-hill out snow-blowing when we hadn’t had any snow. He explained he had to widen his driveway or the oil wouldn’t be delivered. Now the deliveryman made a most desultory effort, and when his tires spun a little, he gave it up. My neighbor-up-the-hill came down, but the deliveryman was adamant. He was not going to back up a drive that was six inches of packed powder. It had to be scraped down closer to the pavement.

I was going to tell the guy he was wimp, and rather than timidly backing up he ought just go gunning up the hill forward, because there was a nice space at the top where he could turn around. This time I did not need my wife to tell me to reconsider.

The simple fact of the matter is that these guys have been working seven-days-a-week for a month now. When the fellow came to deliver propane at my house last week he was amazingly grateful I had actually shoveled a path to the tank. Usually they have to wallow their way through snow up to their waists. They always back their trucks into situations, because if they run into problems with traction it can be next to impossible to back out, and they’d rather be facing foreward as they retreat.

With temperatures averaging a good ten degrees below normal,  many of their customers are freaking out about running out of fuel, but some people freak out and demand tanks be refilled when they are only a little less than halfway empty. The fellow who delivered propane to my house recounted that, after backing his truck as far as he dared up a steep drive, he could barely reach the tank by dragging the truck’s hose out as far as it would go through deep snow, and then he discovered the tank was at 45%.

Furthermore, they are not government employees, like the mailman. They have no fat pension paid-for-and-guaranteed-by-taxpayers to look forward to. Rather they were working for the now, salivating over overtime pay. I myself may avoid paying my staff overtime like the plague, but I do understand working for the now.

In any case, the oil delivery man whined like a three-year-old, and did not deliver to my neighbor-up-the-hill, and left him and his partner shoveling away at the  PPP (packed-powder-pavement) which the snow-blower wouldn’t touch. They were talking about spreading lots of sand and salt and Calcium Chloride, as I headed indoors to slurp my wife’s wonderful soup and perhaps relax by sitting at this computer a bit before my shift at the Childcare. I got the wonderful soup (actually more of a stew) into my system, but as I sat down the phone rang. It was another neighbor, alarmed by cracks in her ceiling, and afraid her roof was overloaded with snow.  I told her I’d look at the cracks on my way to work, and, with a sigh, left my chair.

As I entered her house I was surprised to see her husband lounging by the TV, which had a screen so large it made me feel like a midget. He explained she had been watching the Weather Channel, which, in the true spirit of sensationalism, was making it sound like half the structures in New England would collapse due to overloaded roofs. Then he went back to watching a show about fishing for tarpon in Florida. It looked so nice and warm I was tempted to sit beside him, but his wife said I should forgive him because he was zoning out before work. (I wondered if it occurred to her I might need to do the same.) I wound up scrutinizing a thin crack atop the junction of a a doorway’s wooden header and the horsehair plaster of an old-fashioned wall.  With the authority vested to me as a non-husband male, I suggested it was likely due to the expansion and contraction caused by heating and cooling, and not snow on the roof. She was ever so relieved, though I was talking through my hat.

In fact it is not merely the Weather Channel freaking out about snow on roofs. Insurance companies are freaking out about paying for collapsed buildings, and in a strange desperation, (wherein they actually pay rather than collect), are offering homeowners $500.00 to have their roofs freed of snow. They have to do this because people are hurting and will not even pay the $100.00 some guys will charge to risk life and limb shoveling up where sane people don’t go. (I used to do it for $50.00, but that was 1995.)

Our local economy includes highly skilled construction workers, but they have been hurt by whatever Washington DC calls our current economic state. Even if it was a mild winter, this statistic called “housing starts” would depress lots of locals, and with temperatures near record lows and four feet of snow on the ground, the idea of starting a house is absurd. Just imagine digging a basement. Lots of guys just depart for warmer places, and those who stay look for any work they can find, even if it is shoveling a roof for a hundred.

The five hundred offered by insurance companies is quite an economic boom, unless you are a home owner who has no insurance, in which case you abruptly can find no one who will shovel your roof for a reasonable fee. ($20.00/hour.)

The insurance companies are basically offering people $100.00/hour to shovel off a roof. My middle son took a day off from his job at a coffee shop to make far more by helping my oldest son shovel roofs. Neither has offered to shovel my roofs, for free, out of the goodness of their hearts, for some odd reason.

This is just more wonder, as far as I’m concerned, and is part of a wonderful winter. I see no reason to get all crabby. If need be, I’ll shovel my own roofs. I’m waiting to see if the possibility of rain next Sunday has any basis in fact, especially as the same computer-forecast suggests it might be -15° (-23.1 Celsius) on Saturday.

What I am most concerned about is my business,  which is Childcare, and that involves keeping kids happy. Today this difficult endeavor involved sledding. Sledding is great, as it keeps children warm in cold weather, but sledding is difficult in four feet of powder snow, as the sled just sinks, and fails to head downhill, even on a steep slope.  For this reason I trudged about in snowshoes, packing the powder on the slopes. This afternoon we tried out my packed-powder trails, and while sledding was still too slow to be any fun on the shallow slopes, the children lined up to try out the new death-defying triple-black-diamond slope, (over the jagged teeth of rocks two feet tall, nicely buried under four feet of snow.) It was not entirely a success, as the slope was too steep and the children tended to wipe out. However they had a blast even if they didn’t make it all the way to the bottom, so the experiment was a success, in terms of children getting the fresh air of the outdoors, and gaining laughter, and staying warm even though the temperature was below freezing.

By this point I had woken up. For one thing, the smaller children insisted I had to sled with them, so they sat in my lap as I went screaming down a short, steep, triple-black-diamond slope. I doubt it was good for my spine, but it did wake me up.

As I woke I became aware the bright sun was fading in an odd yellow haze, and then abruptly we were in a snow squall. The children were so absorbed in sledding they hardly seemed to notice, but I noticed visibility was less than a quarter mile, winds were over 30 mph, and temperatures were definitely sinking below the day’s high of 23.7° (-4.6° Celsius). In fact we were, at times, experiencing “blizzard conditions”, which might have concerned people who watch the Weather Channel, but not a little boy on his third birthday. He’d rather keep sledding.

As the supposedly responsible adult in this situation, I kept a sharp eye out for any signs of hypothermia or frost-bite, and sent the frailer children one by one back to the member of my staff who was back at the Childcare, supposedly scrubbing and disinfecting the place for tomorrow, but increasingly dealing with wet clothing and boisterous youth.

Even as the squalls faded to light snow the wind was so gusty that great clouds of whirling white swirled and stung faces, and before the sallow sun sunk I decided the remaining sledders ought head back, and we all trooped indoors, even as the parking lot filled with a traffic jam of arriving parents. After an amazingly chaotic half hour,  quiet descended, as the final few children drew and colored at a table, my employee vacuumed, and I wondered why anyone should be crabby about bad weather.

Day after day we get hit, over and over, by stuff that makes a legend be legendary. It is like a boxer being hit by jab after jab. It doesn’t take a single knock-out punch to get your eyes starting to cross. Still, I see no reason to get crabby.

The forecast is now for bitter cold. Indeed temperatures are sinking through the teens this evening. The maps shows the squalls departing and the cold arriving. (Notice how the squalls, uplifting and departing out to sea, do not fail to give poor Boston a solid jab,)

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I am certain that, if a person is determined to be crabby, they can find numerous reasons. You can not see it, in the above map, but there is a surge from the south behind the huge, extremely cold arctic high pressure in the center of the USA which is threatening to freeze orange groves in Florida. The counter attack behind this cold wave could give us, in this landscape of powder snow, a thing called “rain”, on Sunday.

Rather than worry about “roof collapse”, what I am thinking is that this might be the turning point. The snow might start shrinking, from now on, until a day in May when all we are so crabby about now simply ceases to exist. In which case, rather than being crabby, we should be taking pictures, to document how amazingly deep the snow, once upon a time, actually got. Rather than crabby,we should be filled with wonder about the legend we have the privilege to witness.

(Not that the snow might not get even deeper. I think it will. But, even if it doesn’t, we ought be filled with wonder.)

I doubt I can adequately say what I’m glimpsing. It is something the boxer Cassius Clay (Mohammed Ali) described, when telling of the beauty a staggered boxer experiences when still on his feet after getting an uppercut to the jaw, when he is still sensible despite seeing stars and hearing birdies. There is a beauty in battle. It is a non-modern thing Vikings enthused about, when they spoke of war as being what heaven must be like. It is contrary to the sissified concepts inherent in “political correctness”, which thinks happiness is dependent on weather like a day in May. Such a joy is weak and limited, however real Joy cannot be contained.

White snow stole sky’s azure, west of the bright
Predawn twilight. The pasture stretched out pale blue
Until the sun peeked through trees, and its light
Shot out long stripes that draped a salmon hue.
 
A man could have stood and seen his blue shadow
Reach across snows to the pasture’s far side
But no man stood out there. I alone know
The swift streaks of pink sun and blue shade I spied.
 
Then it was gone. It had lasted only
As long as half of the sun was risen.
Do I sing this sonnet because I’m lonely
And must share or else feel my heart wizen?
 
No, I’m not alone, for sooner or later
All hearts sing applause to daybreak’s Creator.

SUMMERY OF SUMMERLESS DAYS

We did have a flurry before dawn this Friday morning, so today can’t be called snow-free, but the daylight might be snow-free, as the last shreds of cloud faded away with the sunrise. However the wind is roaring and it is amazingly cold, as temperatures fell all night and even after the sun rose, dipping a hair below zero just before 8:00. They have limped back up to 5.9° (-14.5° Celsius) at 10:00 AM. This blast of cold will set records, so the legend continues. However this particular “snow-event” is over, though the wind is drifting snow into the roads. We await the next “snow event”, which will come tomorrow and may change to rain on Sunday. That will be my next post.

This snow-event stretched over four days and involved a southern branch feature and northern branch feature that never “phased”.  All together it gave us only around three inches of snow, but it was one more jab to the chin of a poor boxer starting to get cross-eyed.

The final map and radar shows the old storm does appear to finally be “phasing” way up in Labrador, which is giving us our vicious winds, and also shows our next snow-event starting to get its act together far to our west.

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