LOCAL VIEW —Waiting for Grrr-Blow—(updated twice)

After our first thaw in weeks, (perhaps in over a month), up in these hills in southern New Hampshire, the cold air has come pressing slowly back south. In fact even as our thaw came in on Wednesday, the wind was already shifting around to the north side of west. The air was Chinook air, greatly moderated by passing over an entire continent of snow. It wasn’t the tropical stuff that makes a snow-eater fog drift over cold snow, but was rather dry, and both maps and radar showed we were on the north side of a boundary between continental warmth and polar coolness, with the arctic upstream and waiting in the wings.

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It was just mild enough to allow the snow-shedding roof at the Farm-childcare to actually shed snow, for the first time all winter.

I never was fully aware of how such roofs require a thin film of water to exist between the roof and the snow, in order to shed the snow. Or I never was aware until this winter. This winter it was so cold (and the insulation of the building is so excellent) that no such ultra-slippery slickness ever developed between snow and roof, so the snow just sat up there. Fortunately the winds blew some of the snow off the upper roofs, but unfortunately it packed the rest into over a foot of layered, packed powder. Because the structure was originally a barn, it has a barn’s roof, with a shallow slope at the peak, becoming a steep slope halfway towards the eves. The steep-slope has shed its snow, but the shallow-slope retained an ominous load of snow. I had to become a grouch and meany, and forbid the little children to play next to the building, (which they like to do as it is warmest next to the south-facing wall),  because I was concerned they might be hit by a heavy weight of accumulated snow, if the roof ever got around to doing its job. This concern was only increased when the local newspaper reported that a man the next town over was buried and trapped for two hours by his snow-shedding roof, before someone heard him yelling for help.

In conclusion, the snow-shedding roof was a failure, this year. It is suppose to spare me the bother of shoveling off roofs in snowy winters, but I had to shovel the lower roofs of the entry ways and porches, where the wind heaped snow rather than blowing it away. Also the snow got so deep up there that a second story outlet for a propane heater was blocked, the heater shut down, and despite excellent insulation pipes froze. Lastly, when the snow finally did come down yesterday, it fell with a sound like soft thunder, and packed into a substance like stiffening concrete, and blocked emergency exits with four feet of snow. I was not pleased, as I faced clearing paths to the exits.

At least I don’t have to worry about the roof collapsing any more. (The stable for the goats has required some roof-raking, as it has old fashioned shingles.)

There have been some roof-collapses in the area, or “partial collapses”, (whatever that is). This is a big worry for high schools, which tend to have flat roofs. This is also a big boon for roofers, who tend to be out of work this time of year. However they don’t work cheaply. A degree of danger is involved, as well as discomfort when the temperature is below zero, and a guy shoveling a roof will get $50.00 an hour. When twenty men are shoveling the roof of a high school, you are talking a thousand dollars an hour, and then there is the cost modern hoists and lifts and front-end-loaders and cherry-pickers. At a school not far north of here the taxpayers were informed by a contractor that to have their school’s roofs cleared of four feet of snow would cost $60,000.

The response of the local taxpayers was a rebellion. A large number of taxpayers showed up first thing Saturday morning and, with surprising speed, they cleared off all the roofs. They had to work fast, because if the School’s insurance company found out they would have forbidden such volunteerism.  However, if the insurance company found out it was too late; they faced a “fait acompli”.  (This is not to say some adjuster could be all bent out of shape, and, to display his petty power, cancel the town’s insurance, however such people gain a reputation for being a “stinker”, and it has been my experience that, in the long run, they get transferred to Siberia, where they have plenty of time to contemplate the wisdom of always stressing things be done “by-the-book”.)

I had a different concern, regarding collapsing roofs. I like to provide the children with igloos to play in, at our Childcare, however because the snow has never once been the sticky snow children make snowmen and snowballs from, all winter, I had to construct igloos of blocks of packed powder. This is actually what Eskimos build their igloos from, up where temperatures are -40.

(Please do not inform me I am disrespectful to use the word “Eskimo” and should use the word “Inuit”.  Such people know I have huge respect for the ability to survive vicious winters, but think lesser respect is petty, and superficial. Furthermore, if they really care about such petty things, I’ll make a deal with them: “I will call Eskimos “Inuits” when they respect a sacred tradition of my tribe, and always follow the letter “Q” with the letter “U”, when using a form of communication called “writing”, which, as far as I know, Eskimos never developed on their own.  They likely didn’t bother because writing is a petty thing, compared to surviving when it is forty, fifty, sixty and even seventy below zero. )

In any case, despite the lack of sticky snow, I created a structure the little children delighted in. By running the snow-blower around and around in a circle in the playground, aiming the chute in towards a central area, I could turn four feet of snow into a mountain of packed powder they could climb up and slide down. Then a sort of worm-hole was carved through the mountain, and at one end I carved blocks from the mountain and constructed an igloo of chunks of dry snow that that didn’t stick together, and only didn’t fall because employed the principles of the arch, which was first discovered by the Roman Empire and Eskimos, but not by the Inca.

The problem is that children are not satisfied by crawling into an igloo. They have a strange desire to scale the outside as well, and sit on the top. Because the structure was not made of sticky snow, and only made of blocks of dry snow, I had to again be a grouch and a meany and forbid climbing the roof of the igloo, especially as I got a bit carried away, and the roof was seven feet tall.

Only yesterday was the snow, for the first time all winter, sticky. As soon as the drive and walkways and entrances were clean, the very first thing I did, (after attending to the nagging goats), was to head straight to that igloo and pack all the chinks between the dry blocks of snow with sticky, wet plaster.  (I only did the outside; the inside must await a warmer day.) The structure went from looking like a Yankee stone wall, laced with cracks and chinks and crannies, to looking utterly smooth.)

I’m not sure why I did this. I sure didn’t need the exercise, as I already was gobbling aspirin.  But I’m glad I did it. Everything froze solid last night, and stayed below freezing as today dawned gray and cold, and only got up to 27.9°.  Towards noon, as I drove into the parking lot, bringing my gang-of-six back from half-day kindergarten, I glanced toward that igloo, and seated at the tippitytop was a curly-headed three-year-old, waving merrily at me.

(I’m going to have to have words with the staff about igloo-watching.)

Another concern I face this time of year is that the sledding suddenly goes from slow to rocket-speed. For the entire winter the trails have been packed powder, and any crashes were into fluff. Now a glaze forms on the trails, and increasingly the snow gets crusty, and crashes are into snow that is less kindly. Small children delight in going much faster, and need to instructed about the dangers of speed. Such awareness doesn’t seem to be something humans know about, in their chromosomes. (Nor do small children listen to me, as much as they learn from first-hand experience, and having a scab on the tip of their nose.)

Parents who allow their children to come to our Childcare are not the sort who feel children should be bubble-wrapped and placed in a padded cell. They understand healthy children tend to have scabs on their knees. However I myself don’t like scabs on the tips of noses, and do everything I can to avoid what we call a “face-plant”, which causes such scabs.  However today we had our first face-plant, six feet away from a mother, and it happened not on the sledding trails, but at the igloo.

I can’t blame my staff, because I was working, but I was busy adding a new room to the igloo, and was not attending properly. The mother had arrived, and her boy, who loses his mittens with amazing regularity, had already turned in his “loaner” mittens and therefore had naked hands. I expected they would head to the car and go home. However the mother got to talking to a member of my staff, and somewhat to my astonishment, these supposedly mature women came out to the igloo and lay down and went worming in through a child-sized entrance to investigate the cavern at the side of a snow mountain. Meanwhile the small boy, with nothing better to do, decided to climb the snow mountain without using his naked hands. Bad idea. Because he was protecting his hands, they somehow got trapped beside his body as he slid face-first like an otter, and he did a face-plant, just as his mother was reappearing. feet-first, from the worm-hole.

He suffered a nick on his nose, and another on the skin above his upper lip, and his chapped lower lip split slightly (but didn’t turn into a “fat lip.”)  However facial wounds bleed a lot, especially in the case of young and healthy circulations, and though in this case the bleeding lasted all of thirty seconds, five-year-old boys are not macho at the sight of blood, and this child let loose a bawl likely heard on the far side of the moon.

As one of the older children dashed off, and swiftly returned with roughly half a box of Kleenex in a huge wad, and we mopped up the blood, I figured the mother would be displeased with my skills as a childcare-provider. To my surprise she wasn’t. She watched as I went through my usual routine, admiring the blood and the loudness of the bawling, and then acting a little disappointed that the bleeding had stopped (as was shown by the failure of the Kleenex to mop any more,) and even more disappointed by the failure of the bawling to get louder. I was helped by the fact the mother was present, and could give the magical hug that makes hospitals look pathetic, as it stops crying far more swiftly, at no cost. However, as the boy returned from trauma to laughing, I was surprised the mother was so stoic, and wasn’t mad at me.

It turned out she was surprised I wasn’t mad at her. She thought her boy was bleeding because, as she squirmed out of the igloo feet first, she had accidentally kicked her child in the lip. She was very glad she hadn’t kicked him, and a face-plant was to blame.

This demonstrates the complicated social interactions which lawyers and bureaucrats would take months in courtrooms to resolve, but which mothers and childcare-providers deal with swiftly, and often do so several times in a single hour.

What do we understand that they don’t?  Perhaps we simply know that in a month all the snow will be gone, and none of this will matter or even exist any more.

However it is going to be a long, long month, I fear. For the time being all the snow may be suppressed south, and it may be southern states getting the record snows as the cold sinks south. We only had a few flakes today, and Boston only got a dusting.

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Currently we are only spared because the current upper air trough is “positively tilted,” and the front is a “anafront”.  (On his superb blog at Weatherbell, Joseph D’Aleo has a wonderful explanation of such meteorological concepts, today.)  To simplify greatly, all the weather is sweeping west-to-east out to sea, to our south.

I look further south, to the Gulf of Mexico, where I see the above maps show a sort of weak, winter “Bermuda High” is starting to bring up tropical juice.  I have a very nervous feeling we  will not get out of this winter without a surge of that tropical juice interacting with arctic air, and giving the east coast one, last, farewell kick in the butt. After all, this far north March is still a winter month. In 1993 the entire east coast was clobbered by a magnificent storm, but even that amazing event was small potatoes compared to a storm that hit between March 11 and 14 in 1888.

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That 1888 storm hit after a mild winter, when they had no snow banks to begin with. If such a storm were to hit us now, with the huge snowbanks we already have, New England would be basically be shut down. Of course, we’d make an effort to clean up, but the real clean up would be done by spring sunshine in April. For the most part we’d rely on that, and not on bureaucrats, lawyers, and politicians, who think they have power, but are pawns to a realer Reality.

UPDATE  —SUPER SUNNY—

It was -2.0° (-18.9° Celsius) just before sunrise this morning.  It’s unusual to get sub-zero cold in March. It’s also unusual to have the entire USA basically storm free, without any rain or snow except  a few showers off the southern tip pf Texas, and flurries up in Washington State.

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I refuse to be fooled by this benign map. I’m waiting for Grrr-blow (play on words: Waiting For Godot), and will not lower my guard and be hit by a sucker punch.

However I have to admit the March sunshine does get to you. It has a sort of exuberance utterly unlike December’s sun, and gets under your eyelids and chases gloom from the caverns of your mind. Even our old, fat cat waddles to the front door and stands by it, as if it actually will go outside for the first time in months. Of course, if you open the door, it recoils from the inrush of arctic air, and does an about-face. However the sunshine pouring in the window can fool even a comfort-loving cat.

Into my mind this morning came exuberant sunshine, and out of the blue I recalled a song I wrote at age 19, after a long, cold, and seemingly hopeless winter.

Is that there a willow tree
In the winter’s gray?
Clowning yellows happily
And laughing in its play,
“Spring will come some day.”

Can it be a hidden grin
Is bursting out aloud?
A boatless sailor’s porpoise fin?
I see you’re in
Beneath your shroud.

I had better be careful. If I don’t watch it I’ll be fooled into smiling by something you can’t put in a bank: Sunshine.

EVENING UPDATE;  ARCTIC SUNSHINE

Today was dazzling, so brilliant that I verged on snow-blindness. When I stepped indoors it seemed very dark, even when I turned on the lights. The temperatures only topped off around 20°. ( I have to move my Christmas thermometer, for the sun has gotten high enough to mess up its midday readings.) Yet the snow softened next to south-facing walls, or on south-facing slopes, and I was able to transport sticky snow in a sled to my  igloo and strengthen the walls. The snow has settled to a degree where small children can walk on top of it rather than wallowing through it. It remains amazingly deep, but definitely is on the defensive.

The snow-cover is extensive. Joseph D’Aleo had some great satellite shots today on his blog at Weatherbell. However what I notice is how it is largely to the east. The snow-cover had record-setting readings way down in Kentucky, (-9° in Monticello). Meanwhile way up in Wyoming there is hardly any snow-cover across the entire state.  To me this suggests things are out-of-balance, and some peculiar adjustment will occur. My forecast? Planet Earth will abruptly veer from its orbit and head off towards Pluto.

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I think it was a dazzling day over a lot of the USA. Mighty March sunshine briefly rules. A single weak clipper-like storm nudges into Minnesota.

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I worked a long afternoon shift at our Farm-Childcare, including “quiet time”, which involves watching innocent children nap. Usually at least one is trouble, but today, for some strange reason, all konked out. So I sat and thought about March sunshine and wrote a couple of sonnets.

All winter the snow’s been powder, never
The glue you can stick together and shape
Into castles and forts and other clever
Constructs of winter minds, until now, too late
To build anything lasting, snow’s sticky.
What’s the use of starting? Forts won’t last.

What’s the use? Ah! There thought gets tricky
For all things will someday crumble, be past,
Yet who can resist building castles of sand
At the beach, despite a gargantuan
Snoring, a stone’s throw off? It’s our demand
That we bloom; fruitfulness is part of man.

Therefore I’ll build snow forts in sunshine
That will erase all, and leave not a sign.

********

Moved by March sunshine, my wise, old, fat cat
Waddles to the door and looks up at me
As if she might go out. Fat chance of that
When the temperature won’t nudge past twenty
At noon, and yesterday’s slush is so frozen
That light-footed ladies crunch like elephants
Passing in the street. My cat hears, and then
Turns away from the door, not taking the chance
Of wincing whiskers with in-rushing arctic.
Still, the sunshine is March’s, so the wise cat
Walks to where light pools, and pauses to lick
Her paws, and then slides into warm honey that
Will push her across the rug all morning.
March sunshine moves us, without warning.

I get a lot of quiet joy from playing with words and penning sonnets, and tend to softly chuckle to myself  and, if I am describing a cat,  to take on the cat’s facial expressions as I describe it. Just as I was finishing the second sonnet I glanced up, and saw a small six-year-old girl, with her head up on her elbows, was studying the contortions of my face with obvious, deep, and grave interest.

One wonders what she might tell her parents.

LOCAL VIEW —BESIDE BOSTON’S BLIZZARD—(Updated twice)

We only have three feet of snow up here in our hills, which is not all that rare. I know it is getting bad when the snow gets up to the top rail of the garden fence. Ordinarily I only need drive down south fifteen miles or so, to where the “flatlanders” live, and snow depths drop off dramatically. My sister, who lives in Watertown right up the Charles River from Boston, often has bare ground and is amazed when I send her pictures of drifts up to the eves of the barns snow-shedding roof. Not this year. Boston is buried.

Its not really  fair for people who live in areas that have more snow to laugh at people who don’t, when they do. I used to work for a guy who lived by Lake Erie when young, and he would roll his eyes when people in New England exclaimed at snows of over a foot, saying it was merely a flurry, compared to lake-effect snows. (He neglected to mention how localized such snow is, how light and fluffy it is, and how lake-effect snows shut down nearly completely once Lake Erie freezes over.) Furthermore, he muttered and cursed as much as any New Englander when he had to deal with the conditions created by coastal snows.

It is hard enough when dealing with a foot or two, but now Boston has had 80 inches, most of it in the past 21 days. Despite settling and a little thawing there are 4 to 5 feet in places. They are not used to it. It is difficult to prepare for what has not happened in the lifetime on anyone alive.

Now they are expecting another foot, with temperatures at 10° ( -12.2 ° Celsius) and winds that could gust as high as 70 mph. It is a time to hope the forecast is wrong. The city will be shut down if it is correct.

Up in these hills we are basically onlookers. We will be greatly inconvenienced by more snow, but not shut down.

We began this morning with a blast of cold air. Temperatures kept dropping even after the sun rose from 7.9° at 5:00 AM to 1.9° around 8:30. Wind whipped yesterday’s 2 inches around as dazzling clouds of stinging white. And this is just yesterdays storm blowing up, as it moves away far out to sea. The next clipper is expected to blow up nearly on top of us. We shall see.

Right now the low looks very innocent, over South Dakota. It’s pressure is at 1021 mb, which likely makes Europeans chuckle, as they call that high pressure. If the forecast is correct, it could be east of Boston in 48 hours with a pressure of 960 mb.

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The radar shows only a small patch of snow out west.

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This should be fun to watch, but I can only do that if I don’t have to go out in it, so I’d better get to work on my chores. I’ll update when I can.

UPDATE #1 —Brutal cold funeral—

Yesterday’s high was only 8.1°, (-13.3° Celsius), despite a brilliant sun. The wind was cruel, and it was one of the rare days when the children at our Childcare didn’t go outside, despite our focus on the outdoors. I might have taken a few of the more energetic children out for a half hour or so, for I noticed our goats did leave the shelter beneath the barn to wade through the deep snow and eat the ceder shingles off the side of one of our out-buildings, so I knew there were sunny patches out of the wind worth visiting, albeit briefly. However, right in the middle of the day, my dwindling church was hosting a fairly large funeral, for a small town.

It was in some ways an impossible task, as the smarter members of the church are in Florida, either retired or on vacation, and on paper it looked like seven people had to host a funeral three hundred might attend. It was a task we were sort of stuck with, as we are the “community church”, the tiresome Calvinist remnant of the original 150 European settlers, who at one point were the government of the town, and who became so vocal that the rest of the USA took a condescending view and called New England the “Bible Belt” (the same way that people view parts of the American South, today).  Obviously a reaction occurred, as New England now is home of just about the most virulent distaste towards Christianity imaginable, in various liberal guises. (Some would rather take LSD and converse with a chunk of crystal quartz, than put up with a preacher.) Be that as it may, we happen to have a big building, if not a big membership, and this means we have this thing called the “facilities” for a funeral. So we were stuck with the darn job.

The weather was uncooperative, unless some prayer was answered that pushed the last storm out to sea. It took a major effort just to clear the parking lots. Then the wind howled behind that storm, and even though it “missed” us, it whirled clouds of stinging snow about. I found time to zip over to the church in the orange twilight before dawn to shovel the drifts from the doorways, focusing on the handicapped ramp over which the coffin would be rolled. Then, feeling virtuous, I hustled off to open the Childcare. The wind hustled to build a new drift, and then a elderly lady, arriving to work in the kitchen, shoveled away the drift a second time. However when the coffin arrived it bogged down in a third drift, and the guys from the funeral home had to do some swift work. Maybe they put chains on the wheels of their coffin-roller. I don’t know. I wasn’t there.

I showed up briefly after dropping off the gang-of-six at kindergarten, and was amazed at the hive of activity. As a person who was opposed to the draft in the Vietnam war, I am reluctant to draft anyone into any activity, however other church members have no such scruples.  Things got done. Even the programs to be handed out to people entering the church involved work as clocks approached midnight, the night before,  but they were done. I take no credit. I was having a hard time finding time to change into my suit.

The gang-of-six had some choice remarks to make about me being “:dressed funny” when I picked them up from the half-day kindergarten and dropped them off at the Childcare, and they frowned on me for not staying. However I was late to a funeral.

It was great to see our church filled, for a change, and have it be for a good fellow who taught shop at the school for 40 years. Some day I hope to tell how, like a pebble dropped into a small pond, his influence spread out like ripples, and there is fabric on the surface of Mars, amazing glass-walled hotel lobbies with two-story-tall trees growing in them, and lazer technology used by the construction industry, which can be traced back to his shop class. For now, let it suffice to say he was remembered well, got a good “send off”, and we had a “celebration of life”.

Of course, none of that really matters when facing the starkness of death. We can “celebrate life” all we want, but death has a nasty habit of reducing all such banter to absurdity. Especially when a good man wasn’t even seventy years old when he died. Under such duress, perhaps people just need to cry.

Having faced that winter, it was time to change back to my work-clothes and hustle about facing a less important winter. And less important details.  Such as the fact that, if the coming storm doesn’t blow like crazy while dropping only a modest amount of snow, I will have to prop a ladder by sheds and barns and start shoveling roofs. However I am hoping the wind blows the powder snow off those roofs.

The evening maps still showed no storm. Just a little clipper. It is amazing that forecasters can talk of winds gusting to 75 mph in Boston, and 40 mph away from the coast in these hills, when there is basically nothing to see.

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Temperatures had crashed below zero to -1.6° (-18.7° Celsius), by 9:00 PM.

UPDATE #2  —GRAY MORNING—

I was up briefly a little after midnight to stick some wood in the fire, and noticed temperatures had risen to +1.1°, as a thin overcast slid over. A quick glance at the wee hour maps showed nothing very impressive.

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I doubt I would be particularly concerned, beyond my usual suspicions about any storms, were in not for the media. Though people like to laugh at the forecasters, in this case they have people who would otherwise be caught off guard very much on guard.

Temperatures  took another nosedive as the patch of clouds slid away and stars shone and I did the sensible thing, which was to go back to bed. They had dropped to -6.9° (-21.6° Celsius) in the dusk before dawn, when a new deck of clouds slid over and turned the day gray.

The radar shows the area of snow to our west expanding, and the map shows the clipper to our northwest a little stronger, but to the layman the maps continue to look fairly innocent. Who would guess a blizzard would be exploding just off the coast in 12 hours? You can see how the fishing fleet, back in the days of sail, might sniff a south wind and decide to dare head out, and be caught. There was one storm that wiped out something like a third of the fleet back in the 1800’s. . And those old-timers knew their weather lore. So perhaps we ought give meteorologists more credit than we do.

Now I’ve got to get cracking. starting by loading up the porch with firewood.

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UPDATE #3 —The first wave—

Very light snow started early, at 9:00 AM, as I hustled to get wood onto the porch. It didn’t show on the radar, but caused consternation. Temperatures had risen fairly swiftly into the teens, and we had a slight south wind, and I suppose were in a vague warm sector of the clipper, though the map showed the warm front to the west. As the snow expanded in the radar it formed two distinct areas, the first passing over us and associated with the warm front, and the decond diving down through northern Virginia and associated with the potential blizzard.

It was the first we had to deal with, as the snow gradually increased. We hit our high temperature of 16.3° as the snow began to thicken, and then the snow seemed to cool things, and temperatures were fairly level, but inching down.

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It being valentine’s day, my wife and I attempted to squeeze a little romance into the hectic storm preparations, and planned to eat out, after some shopping and a grandson’s basketball game one town away. However as the snow kept getting heavier the game was delayed and the crowd nervous about getting home, it was hard to feel relaxed. In the end we got spooked and skipped eating out and drove home through heavy snow at around 25 mph, getting home shortly before the heavy snow began tapering off, as the first area of snow moved east.

The map shows the storm has dipped down to west southwest  of us, and the second pocket of snow is surprising folk down in Maryland.

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Now the stars have come out, and if I was a farmer back in the days before a weather bureau I might think the storm had passed, as the winds have shifted around to the northwest. However I might scratch my jaw a little, because it is fifteen degrees warmer than last night, as if a warm front has passed and the cold front hasn’t hit us yet. Also I’d notice my bones ache with the falling pressure.

The temperature has only dropped to 12.2° (-11° Celsius) despite clearing skies and around four inches of fresh powder. So far there has been little wind. The pressure is 29.52 and falling. An old farmer would note that “falling glass” and rumple his brow.

Actually, with the stars out, I think I’ll call this “snow-event” officially over, and call tomorrow’s snow a different event, worthy of a different post.

Back in the 1600’s and in the early 1700’s there were terrible winters where Boston had 26 storms.  I’ve lost count this winter, but by stretching the definition of “snow event” a little we might be able to challenge the record.

LOCAL VIEW —Oh No! Mo’ Snow! (Updated thrice) (With storm-summary)

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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 20150204C rad_ec_640x480

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

LOCAL VIEW —Duster’s Bluster—

I’ll count my blessing, as a second blizzard intensified explosively out to sea just far enough, on Friday evening, to clobber Maine, but only clip us.  I’m not sure I could take more snow-removal, though I suppose you do what you have to, when you have to.

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(In the lower left of that last radar shot you can already see the next storm coming.)

As the blizzard hit Maine the winds on the west side began to pick up, as the isobars tightened. (Click, or open to new tabs, to clarify and enlarge maps.)

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Temperatures plunged in the roaring wind, and it was 2.6° (-16.3° Celsius) on Saturday morning. I was hoping the snow would have been just damp enough to form a crust and prevent drifting, but if any crust did form it was too fragile to stand up to the wind, which soon was digging down into the powder snow heaped up by last Tuesday’s blizzard. As the sun rose white in dazzlingly clear skies, the air was sparkling with tiny flakes of wind lifted snow.

I watched from inside at first. There was no way I wanted to go out in that wind. I’m not hot-blooded like my middle son, who headed out to cross country ski with his girlfriend.  When I decided I could hazard the heated cab of my truck and go to pick up some hay and grain for my goats, I passed “Windblown”, the local cross-country-ski area where I once worked and even ran a snack bar, twenty-five years ago, and saw business was booming, so I suppose my son isn’t the only person who enjoys being incredibly uncomfortable.

The roads were dry, and then you’d suddenly hit a place where the snow had drifted over the tar. Usually it was when there was an open field to the north or west, but occasionally it would be in the trees, and know the tree trunks must have formed some sort of coincidental, funneling tunnel. Sometimes the pavement would simply be powdered white, but in a few places the road would abruptly be deep, rutted snows. You had to make sure to keep your steering straight, and neither accelerate nor brake, until the pavement was dry again.

It was a wind that made you wince, and my goats had the sense to stay out of it. They’d found a south-facing area under the barn where they could stand in the sun and avoid the wind. They are not at all pleased by deep snow, as they don’t like walking where they can’t see what their feet are trodding upon, and are far less likely to wander and eat the neighbor’s shrubs, once the snows get deep. They are also more crabby, and take it out on each other, and give me glances as if they are contemplating taking it out on me, so I strongly advise them not to even think of it. The cold gives them a voracious appetite for the grain, and they are even less dismissive of hay than usual.

The chicken’s water was frozen, so I had to attend to thawing the dispenser and refilling it with warm water. By then my fingers felt like blocks of wood, and even my dog was standing by the door of the truck, ready to head home, which is unusual.  Temperatures had already started down, after reaching the day’s high of 12.7° (-10.7° Celsius.)

It was nice and warm at home. One of the benefits of deep snow on the roof of a 250-year-old house with lousy insulation is that it acts as a blanket, Also the pipes are less likely to freeze, with the foundation tucked in by white blankets of drifts. However I became suspicious when I noticed it was 70° by the front entry and only 60° on the kitchen where the wood stove was roaring, so I checked the thermostat for the propane heat. Sure enough, my son had turned it up, as like most young men he prefers his girlfriend warm. But he doesn’t pay the bill.

Now it is down to -3.5° (-19.7° Celsius) at 6:30 on a Sunday morning, and the wind has died down.  Already we have a winter storm warning for 7-12 inches of snow on Monday, with the high temperature during the storm expected to be around 10° (-12° Celsius). That’s a nasty cold snow, and makes today’s expected high temperature of 25° (-3.9° Celsius) seem downright balmy.

The power grid is being tested to the limit by the cold all over New England, and the wisdom of shutting down two power plants this January, because our president doesn’t like coal, (and Big Oil doesn’t like competition), is seeming less wise. So far we’ve only had one short brown-out, (when a transformer fire caused all sorts of frantic adjustments to be made to keep the power going), but people will really howl if the power goes off just as everyone sits down to watch the Superbowl. But that probably won’t happen, as so few businesses are operating on Sunday night. Monday will be the first real test, with many businesses starting up and running at full blast, even as many kids stay home from school and household electricity usage stays high.

Last year the cold came down further west, and we were on the eastern edge of the below-normal blasts, but it looks like New England will be right in the bulls-eye for the cold as February starts, and people west of the Great Lakes will get spared.

Here are the maps of the lull before the next storm. (Click to enlarge.)

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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.