LOCAL VIEW –A Boston Bombo-Blizzard–(With Friday Night Conclusion)

“Bombogenesis” is the word given by weather geeks for the explosive development of a nor’easter into a gale center as it moves up the east coast of the USA. Such storms are not as well understood as some believe, but there are some fairly reliable signs one is on the way. One of the best signs is to go into a grocery store to buy bread and see this:

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This sort of spectacle is indicative of great zeal on the part of the weather bureau, provoking panic on the part of the public, and suggests maybe I should check up on the young whippersnappers, and see what in blue blazes the geeks are up to.  Likely I’ll see, if it is winter, that they have gotten a bee in their bonnets and have issued an “Armageddon Alarm.” In this particular case I was a little disappointed to see it was merely a “Blizzard Warning”. Ho Hum.

I went outside, and it was about the nicest day we’ve had in a week. The temperature was up above 20°F (-7°C), which doesn’t seem warm unless it has been far colder for a while. It has been so cold that the air hurt your face, and people wore flinching expressions. When you can finally stop flinching, the relief is all out of proportion to the reality. Local folk walk around with big smiles on their faces, at temperatures that make people who have just returned from vacations in Florida shudder and wrap their coats around themselves more tightly.

If you want to spoil things for the folk relishing the improved temperatures, you put on a grouchy face and mutter, “Just a while back folk were speaking the old saw, ‘It’s too cold to snow’, but they’re not saying that any more. It’s warm enough to snow now.” This may not be as liable to provoke panic as a “blizzard warning”, but it does express the grumpy idea that no good can come out of any improvement.

Another pessimism is expressed in the idea that an especially blue sky is a sign of storm, and manifests as the local saw:

When the sky is fekless blue
Rain or snow in a day or two.

Still, this lacks the drama of a blizzard warning. It is hardly even ominous. And indeed a nice sunset at 4:20 PM sparked a memory of a more optimistic saw:

Red at night
Sailor’s delight.

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The only thing slightly threatening about the sunset was the fact the jet contrails were not fading away, and instead were expanding. But old timers didn’t have newfangled things like jet contrails.  Such ideas were above their down-to-earth heads, so I decided to check out the surface maps. Surface maps are down-to-earth, and go clear back to the 1860’s, so no one can accuse me of being newfangled if I look at them.

There is really no obvious sign of doom. Two days ago there is just a massive arctic high repressing what was left of a Pacific storm out in the Rocky Mountains to the west, and pushing tropical moisture away to the farthest southern reaches of the map.

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Yesterday we saw a new cold front appear across Canada, as even colder air rolled south, and on its east side a weak low like an Alberta Clipper, (which perhaps should be called a Hudson Bay Clipper), exploit the slight uplift caused by slight warmth of water beneath Hudson Bay’s thin sea-ice as an excuse to come nearly due south, towards the slight uplift caused by the Great Lakes. But that low down by Florida? It looked sure to be pushed out to sea by the big arctic high to its northwest. Right?

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Wrong. The computer models were stating it would blow up to a big storm off the coast. And a certain (usually younger) species of weather geek have great faith in models, and little faith in their own ability to forecast. If a prankster had the models produce a forecast for showers of obleck mixing with strawberry brandy they would rumple their brows with serious contemplation.

This morning we saw the Hudson Bay Clipper sag to the Great Lakes and grow stronger. The arctic high pressure to its south warmed and stopped pressing down with sinking cold air, and consequently lost its ability to press down high pressure with remarkable speed. The high pressure shrank. The dinky little low over Florida did not zip out to sea, but lingered and strengthened.

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By midday the Florida low was showing signs of strengthening, and had created a coastal front to its north.

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This evening the Florida low is deepening and moving north along the coastal front. The big arctic high pressure has all but vanished from the map.

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Still, there seems little reason to freak out. Yet people are. Schools are canceled for tomorrow. In some cases, near Boston, they are cancelled for Friday as well.

If the Florida low slices out to sea we will get only a dusting, and the weathermen will look like fools.

If the Florida low hooks inland, we will get rain and the weathermen will look like fools.

I bring this up because I am in awe of the risks these fellows take, making a forecast of a blizzard and precipitating a panic. The younger ones have little idea of the dynamics involved in “bombogenesis”, while the old-school can tell you of many of the dynamics involved. The younger ones merely look at a computer print-out, and parrot what computers regurgitate. The older ones understand the concepts that programmed the computers, and that the concepts are far from perfect.

If you put imperfect concepts in, imperfect forecasts will result, but the younger forecasters haven’t learned this yet, and tend to be too trusting of computer models.  The older forecasters are more on their toes, waiting and watching for signs of imperfection. They know, “Tomorrow will tell.”

Of course this post will need updates, so we can see what tomorrow tells us. I expect I will continue to be in awe of what weathermen dare to do, even if others scoff because a storm sliced fifty miles east, or hooked fifty miles west, and made parts of their forecast look silly.  People forget that they themselves never saw the storm coming two days ago, and are quick to ridicule those who did see it coming, if they miss the storm’s exact track by a matter of miles.

If the storm allows me time to sit and we don’t lose power, I hope to share the little I know about the factors that lead to bombogenesis. Those are the dynamics programmed into computers that make computers look amazing, when they are right.

Those are the factors young meteorologists should study, if they want to be aware of those times computers are wrong.

Here the stars are fading out, and high clouds have stopped the fall of temperatures, which reached a low of 2°F but are now back up to 4°F. This will be the first night we haven’t fallen below zero (-17°C) in a week.

Thursday Morning 6:30 AM

Temperature has risen to 15°F (-9°C) overnight, and pressure is falling to 29.66. Pressure was something the old-timers were savvy to, and they’d be on guard now, keeping an eye on the “glass” (barometer).

The map shows the storm exploding off the coast. At this point everyone should give meteorologists some credit, for foreseeing a storm would even be there.

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8:00 AM

Temperature is still at 15°F, but the pressure is falling fast, to 29.56. The snow began at around 6:00 and we only had a quarter inch when I went to spread a little sand at the Childcare. (A dust of snow over old, packed-and-polished snow can be amazingly slippery.) By 7:30 three quarters of our customers had cancelled. We will likely have only six children today. (We never close, for some parents have to work even in the snow; some Dads drive plows or are policemen, and some Moms work at hospitals. In ten years the only time we closed was a single day during an ice-storm, when the road was made completely impassable due to fallen limbs and trees.)

The cold snow is amazingly squeaky to walk upon. Tires make a strange growling sound when cars swing slowly into the Childcare’s driveway. I was brooming, as there was too little snow to shovel. There are gale warning for later, but the snow was merely slanting as it fell through the gray quiet. (Warning! Warning! Fit of poetry may attack me.) To my surprise the wind was from the southeast. Likely just a temporary, local effect, but I note it for southeast winds can bring about surprising spikes in temperature and change snow to rain.

Now I’m back home, and waiting for the snow to build up before going back to work. There are some amusing reports from Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, where they are not used to snow. Here’s a picture from Savannah, on the coast of Georgia:

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Notice how the snow is not melting on the pavement. That is very rare, that far south. Although I know how to drive on such slick surfaces, no one else has a clue, and you couldn’t pay me to venture out on a southern highway under such circumstances. Its like trying to drive in a pinball game, at times. Up here our snow is so dry and squeaky it actually has traction, and even southern drivers have a chance of staying on the street.

Boston humor going viral:

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(Note for foreign viewers: The bottom face is the famous coach of our professional football team.)

The gale is developing an eye like a hurricane. (Picture from Joseph D’Aleo’s blog at Weatherbell)

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Like London facing Blitz, Boston musters humor:

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Boston Globe reports 700 flights canceled, but subway running well. Go underground. (That’s what groundhogs do, until February 2).

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Judging from twitter, no one is heading underground or even indoors just yet and instead folk are out snapping pictures.

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Maybe I should do the same.

9:10 AM 18°F 29.50 

Storm now officially is a “bomb”. Notice the coastal front forming just east of New England. Cape Cod now forecast to get rain. Folk there will be scorning the weathermen, because yesterday the storm was thought to be heading a bit further off shore, which would have given them a blizzard. They’ll still get winds of storm force, with gusts over hurricane force. Our peak gusts should be around 50, here in the hills, though I’ll bet the hilltops will see higher. (Most old-timers chose to build down in the valleys.)

20180104B satsfc

What now could mess up the forecasts is if the storm drills so deeply into the atmosphere it slows down and even stalls. The Blizzard of 1888’s track described a tight little loop, and New York got two feet blown into towering drifts, as Boston got two inches of slush. But forecasters seem confident this storm won’t stall.

10:12 AM:  20°F 29.44

12:22  PM: 23°F  29.18

Hard to tell with the wind, but I’d say we are already over six inches. I think the snow grew heavy earlier than expected. This is the real deal.

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I have photographic proof I did leave this computer and snow-blow the first six inches from the Childcare parking lot.

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I couldn’t hear the wind due to the roaring of the engine, but the gusts brought blinding white-outs.

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After I was done I decided my goats were smart to just hide out, under the barn.

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The meekest one prefers to be fed up where the others can’t harass it.

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You need to be wary with these devilish creatures. For example, it is a little known fact goats have the power to hypnotize. This one is saying, “You are getting sleepy…sleepy…very sleepy. You will move your goats to Florida…Florida…to Florida.”

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2:11 PM: 23°F  29.02 (High temperature was 25°F)

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5:00 PM  21°F 28.88  Around a foot. Snowblower broke. Still snowing hard. Temps dropping.

6:09 PM  19°F 28.91 Pressure finally rising! Ever try to find a person to plow in the middle of a storm? Snow may be slacking off, as wind is not off ocean.

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You won’t see a map like this too often:

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In places the noon high tides rivaled the 1978 blizzard’s, Here is a video of salt water cascading down the steps of Boston’s “Aquarium” subway station. I guess it wasn’t so safe underground, after all. (Salt water can’t be too good for the third rail.)

9:06 PM 16°F  28.99  Wind still roaring but the snow has stopped. I have done far too much shoveling for a man of my advanced years. I’m just going to stand in the shower until all the hot water’s used up, and then sleep.

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5:01 AM Friday Morning  10°F (-12°C)  29.20 Clean-up morning. Too busy to write.

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12:30 PM 9°F 29.35

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6:30 P.M. -1°F 29.47  Roaring wind. Drifting snow. People walking outdoors have grimacing expressions.

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This “dry side” of the storm has been in some ways crueler than the “blizzard.” Fourteen inches of snow is no big deal for tough northerners, and though the gale was by no means “mild” and the snow was powder-snow, temperatures were not all that bad. They were over twenty Fahrenheit, and the mildest in a week. Today the temperatures dropped as the sun rose. The winds grew more bitter and bitter. Nor did they weaken.

Worst was the snow in your face. At first there was some fine backlash snow from deceasing clouds that didn’t show up on radar, but even after that stopped and the sun shone brilliantly in a blue sky there were strange white shapes, dancing and twirling, ghouls of blowing snow, drifting and shifting and sifting into any crack of a barn or chink in my armor of wool. But no matter how you try to hide at least part of a face is exposed, and warm skin melts the fine particles of ice that are whipped into your face, and if there is anything colder than sub-zero wind chills against dry skin, it is sub-zero wind chills against wet skin.

This deserves a post all it’s own, for I doubt many will read through this entire post to hear of the drifting. Just allow me to conclude by saying all the fellows who tried to stay ahead of the snow by shoveling and snow-blowing and plowing yesterday faced places where they had dug pathways last night, made into smooth, flat surfaces of deep snow, by the wind and the all-night drifting, by daybreak today.

I was only able to open my Childcare this morning because my eldest son came sweeping through the parking lot with his plow. It was a good thing, because the local schools had a “two-hour-delay”. This puts parents in a predicament, for they are expected to be at work on time, and, even in the unlikely case their bosses have compassion, many parents are on such tight budgets they can’t afford even two hours cut from their pay. We, as a Childcare, step in to fill the gap, though it creates chaos for us, for the older children are suppose to leave as the younger arrive, and a two-hour-delay creates an overlap, where we have twice the kids, often with some of our staff delayed by blocked driveways. Usually we can do it, but when my snowblower broke yesterday it seemed impossible. I couldn’t ask my oldest son to help, because he has too much plowing to do as it is, and was suffering his own equipment break-downs. So I told my wife, “We’ve only been closed by storms once in ten years, but I think tomorrow will have to be our second day.” She said, “We can’t! They are depending on us!” So I was fighting a battle to just clear twenty feet of the entrance (and a path to the door) with a shovel, so people could pull in, drop off their kids, and back out. It would have been easy at age twenty, but when pushing age sixty-five it was like I was Hercules shoveling King Augeas’ stables, and I am no Hercules. I was muttering nonspiritual vocabulary and thinking the drifting might win, when my sleep-deprived eldest son came by, and saved the day.

There are a time when a pebble, or even a grain of sand, can start an avalanche which brings all to ruin.  There also times when a single deed stops ruin from happening. Storms bring such situations to the forefront. It is then that the small deeds of (seemingly) unimportant people are very important.

There is an old rhyme that starts out, “Because of a nail a horseshoe was lost”, and winds up with a kingdom falling “all because of a half-penny nail.” Conversely, there are times a kingdom is saved, because a tired son plowed an extra driveway that allowed his father’s Childcare to stay open which allowed parents to go to work so they could be taxed and allow teachers to take the day off.

Hmm. Something here isn’t adding up. But this post is already too long.

Memo to self: Expand upon this topic.

Memo to self: Try to keep posts on meteorology from straying outside the topic of the meteorology.

9:40 PM   -3°F   29.53   Wind still roaring in the pines; snow still sifting by the windows.

11 thoughts on “LOCAL VIEW –A Boston Bombo-Blizzard–(With Friday Night Conclusion)

  1. Best of luck in New England. They spent the last week predicting 4 to 6 inches and the SE VA coastal areas got over 10 inches. The Weather Bell forecast was for up to 10-inches so not too bad. Even the local weatherman was saying, forecast 4 to 6 inches but it could be over 10-inches. That of course was on top of the initial ice. Only 4 to 6 inches here, a little bit inland, and no starting ice. All schools and work closed. Little snow-ice driving experience, not a lot of snow equipment, no snow tires, makes for a huge driving hazard.

  2. Good to see the snow blower repaired … what was the problem?
    Re Florida – smart goats. Take them to Disneyworld!

    • First problem was crud in carburetor. Second problem is something to do with engaging the blower. The engine runs like a top but it is useless. Sigh. Perhaps its time for a new one.

      • Caleb a hint from my experience in the 1970’s …. your engaging the drive sounds like something our first blower would do and we solved it by bundling the blower in old blankets after it had been running. That seemed to give the snow that had worked it’s way into weird spots time to melt and evaporate and then when we went to run it again all the engaging parts were unfrozen and free to move ie engage the blower drive. Perhaps you have a broken piece but maybe this will help.
        The second blower would always engage okay but the starter would freeze unless it too was blanket wrapped.
        Now I don’t have a blower but with the son recently moved out I started to look for one.
        Look after that geezer body …. on the xmas break I just about crippled myself skiing powder … holy crap did I ever tighten up several hours after quiting … thank heavens for Aleve and other pain killers.

      • Your wrap-it-in-a-blanket advice seems good. I think a lot of the problems with machinery in snow is due to the heat melting snow, and then the water refreezing. My dream would be a warm garage. As it is I tend to just shut the thing down and stagger indoors, which of course mean slush freezes up all over the place. Next time I’ll know better and go the extra mile (maybe). An old dog can learn new tricks, if the cur can be bothered.

        I too have noticed that swift stiffening-up you describe. I used to never get stiff and sore until the next day, or even two days later. Now I tend to delay lunch, because I know that once I sit down it will be hard getting back up.

        I advise getting a blower, rather than hiring an able bodied youth. The machine does most of the work, and there is something good for the old ego to go out into a storm and battle it. I find it downright disappointing when the machine quits, and I have to go indoors and phone the repair shop, and sit in my rocking chair like an old geezer.

  3. Snow even was disappointing in DC. Unlike the modern forecaster that obsesses about computer models, I actually follow was happens in the real world. Yesterday afternoon, I saw some fairly heavy snow breaking out almost back to Charlotte, NC, well west of where any snow had been forecast by the models.

    At that point, I started telling my friends that the models were full of it and that DC might get a lot more than the dusting being forecast by the NWS, We got a fairly good initial bust shortly after midnight, but by 2 AM it stopped and we got almost nothing after that. So where I live, maybe 2″.

    So the young forecasters that just mindlessly regurgitate what the computer says were right and I was wrong.

    • RE Young forecasters: Even the blind squirrels get the nut sometimes. But the computers had it farther out to sea until the later forecasts. The NAM was first to catch on. Our forecast was 3-6 inches, then 4-8 inches, then 6-10 inches, and we wound up with 14. The thing about this storm was that it moved so fast even while deepening so rapidly. It didn’t have time to fling much moisture inland before it was already past, and winds were north and drier. But when it snowed it came down like gang-busters, when the storm was still to the south and southeast. Just imagine if it slowed or stalled. That’s what the 1888 storm did, and places got 4 feet from a single storm.

      Looks like a thaw ahead, but don’t lower your guard. The wildest storms seem to hit in late February or early March.

      • Watching on intellicast I was surprised at how quickly the storm tore to the northeast which as you say was a good thing.

      • There is a whole side-science in the art of seeing when storms will accelerate and when they’ll stall. It is all the more fascinating because these storms get so big they are changing the very “steering currents” that steer them. It is best to stay humble, for anyone who thinks they know for certain how a storm will behave is a fat ego like a balloon headed for a pin. I don’t think I’ve ever seen two big storms behave the same way, in all respects. Each has an unique fingerprint.

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