What a difference a day makes. First, here is my woodpile before the snow.
And here is the same woodpile this morning:
This is the sort of heavy, wet snow that causes weathermen to have fits, because it’s flakes are right on the verge of melting into rain, and in fact, if they fall a couple hundred more feet through above freezing air, then they are rain. For example Wilton, roughly eleven miles to our north, only had a couple inches of snow mixed with rain, and they are only a couple hundred feet lower. Meanwhile due south eleven miles, down much lower (where the “Flatlanders” live) in Townsend, Massachusetts, they saw no snow at all until at the very end. But we got a foot and a half (46 cm).
The snow was so sticky it took down branches and even entire trees, and as I start this post we have no power and my laptop is down to 20% power. I have no connection to the web, though my phone can still deliver texts, albeit very, very slowly. My oldest son, who snowplows in the winter, said Peterborough is a shambles, and he was one of the last trucks to weave through the fallen limbs and arcing electrical lines before route 124 was shut down. He had to travel to Jaffrey, which wasn’t much better, to come home. In essence the communities on the shoulders of Mount Monadnock were just high enough to get snow rather than rain, and got clobbered.
It might not seem fair that we get clobbered while people ten miles away get off Scot free, but it goes with the territory. People who live here long enough adapt. For example, as I began this post I was warm by my man-cave wood-stove, with my coffee cup atop the stove (rather than in the microwave) to rewarm my brew. My wife had pots of snow melting on both wood-stoves to flush the toilet with, plus a pot melting beside the wood-stove to wash dishes with. She could cook because, even though the electric “sparker” doesn’t light the burners of our propane stove, we can use a match to light them. We have candles for light. So having no power doesn’t slow us down much.
What slows me down is the thought of shoveling the front walk. Such snow is like wet cement. I’m pushing seventy and smoked too much when younger, so my armchair has its charms.
I did eventually push myself to dodder outside and shovel a pathetic path down the very center of the steps, and then walk through the deep snow to my jeep. It’s embarrassing to admit, but even walking through deep snow gets me huffing and puffing. I shoveled the plow-created snowbanks in front of my Jeep a minimum amount, and then clambered in. A good thing about a Jeep is that you don’t have to shovel much; you just put the vehical in four-wheel-drive, and go!
I drove to the nearby town center to see if they had power, and if I could make my weekly deposit at the bank. It’s not much of a center. It doesn’t even have a traffic light. But it does have a blinking orange light, and it was dark. I knew that meant the power was off and the bank would be closed. Oddly, there was a line of cars going through its ATM machine; I suppose the automatic teller runs by a battery.
Both the local market and local gas stations knew better than to be closed at a time when business was bound to be especially good, (for no one wanted to drive far). Both had generators humming. The market was doing a brisk business in “breakfast sandwiches” for the people who couldn’t cook at home, and the gas station was doing a brisk business in gasoline for those who did have generators. There are plenty of people who are prepared for power outages, but even those who lack generators need gasoline for their snow blowers. Driving further I saw snow blowers in action, and have to admit they looked sad. Rather than shooting powdery snow thirty feet away they were barely able to curve a limp arc of white molasses five feet.
Plows weren’t doing much better. They would get halfway down a drive and the weight of the snow would be so great the truck couldn’t budge it. My son said the trick was to angle the plow and swerve to the side halfway down the drive, and then back up, and then proceed straight ahead until you needed to angle the plow again. Plowing took much longer.
As the snow came down heavily yesterday it became obvious the plow wasn’t going to make it to my Childcare in time to clear the entry and drive for the parents who would soon arrive to pick up their children. When younger I might have gone out and shoveled like a madman, but now I’m too old for such heroics. What I did instead was drive to and fro and back and forth and in and out until the tires of the Jeep had packed all the snow down. The lot was a bit slippery, but nobody got stuck.
I bring up all these anecdotes just to demonstrate how people can respond to calamity, especially if they have seen the calamities before. But as I brag a bit about how self-sufficient the local people are, I do notice when fossil fuel is involved. If the Green New Deal fanatics have their way, there will be no gas for the plows or for the generators, and the testing will become far more rigorous.
For this reason I was hoping for a mild winter. The milder the better. (If you don’t use much oil or propane or electricity, there is less of a chance you will run out.)
One of the mildest winters I personally recall was 1975-1976, when it seemed all the storms headed north to the west of New England and we were always in the warm sector, on the warm side of storms. I think there were records set for snowfall in Minnesota that year, for they were on the wrong side of all the storms, but that was their problem. Here, even up in Maine, where I lived back then, it was relatively snow free. Because, this year, all the storms were going up to our west at the start of this winter, I hoped we were in a pattern similar to what we saw back then.
This is mere memory on my part, and one problem with personal recall is that it tends to be a general impression, without much foundation on fact. When one recalls one must confess they neglected to save weather maps from the papers, or record temperatures day by day. And what I actually recall about 1975-1976 was how disappointed I was. I was young and wanted a wild and crazy winter, and thought such a winter would be more likely up north in Maine, but instead I labored through a winter which would have seemed mild even down in Massachusetts. So that is what I remember. However I do like those meteorologists who are far more specific, and have past maps on their fingertips.
One such weatherman is Joe Bastardi, who was forecasting a cold December, and, midst the slew of examples he gave, he happened to mention a cold December in 1975-1976.
Cold December? I prodded my memory, and realized there was evidence I wasn’t paying attention. Why? Likely I was writing the Great American Novel or some such thing. I was only jarred from my inward contemplation by the arrival of my nemesis for Christmas. (At that time my nemesis was a big brother.) As my brother and I practiced the high art of dysfunction I awoke to the fact early December had been so cold even the salt water had frozen. There was a big slab of sea-ice in the Harraseeket River in front of my parent’s abode.
The following will show you how different my memory is from that of a tried and true meteorologist:
I only recall that slab of sea-ice because my older brother was too lazy to row a rowboat around it. It was only fifty feet across but perhaps three football fields long. Therefore, after testing the ice with an oar, he got onto the ice, pulled the boat onto the ice, and then pushed the boat across. The ice was so thin, and so rotted by thaw, that it cracked under his feet, but he didn’t fall through because he supported his weight on the stern of the rowboat. As he reached the far side of the floe the ice completely disintegrated beneath his feet, and the boat wallowed down through the slushy ice, but he did a sort of push-up on the stern, with his feet above the water, and then swung his feet around and into the boat. A local lobster man, who had watched the spectacle, commented, “That fellow is off his f—– rocker,” likely because the lobster man knew the water was so cold it could all but paralyze a person plunging into it, and kill a man in five minutes.
I liked hearing my brother was “off his f—— rocker”, because we were intensely competitive at that point in our lives, and he often expressed the opinion that I was the one who was “off his f—— rocker.” I liked hearing the lobster man suggest it might not be me who was the nut. What does this have to do with meteorology? Absolutely nothing. But it does suggest December 1975 was cold.
Joe Bastardi had been going on about the cold December for a long time, literally since August, and I was amazed to see things develop in a way very much like what he had predicted. While the cold might be bad for the energy situation in the short term, I still had hopes it would give way to a warmer winter in the long run.
How can cold lead to warmth? Well, sometimes the stormy spell will climax with a gigantic outpouring of arctic air that leaves the arctic so depleted that no cold can follow, so what follows is a lovely winter thaw. But I was also aware there are different, particularly nasty patterns, which do manage to swiftly reload, and to hit southern lands with successive arctic blasts. I was aware of this because 1976-1977 was so unlike 1975-1976. What caused the difference?
Usually any southward movement of arctic air involves a dip in the jet-stream. (Back when I was young, meteorologists called this dip a “low pressure trof”. The fact meteorologists spelled “trough” incorrectly was proof they were practical Science majors, and not nit-wit English majors like myself. They would spell a word like it sounded, and dictionaries could be damned. Out of great respect for those vanished scientists I will spell trough, “trof”, for the rest of this post.)
Ordinarily low pressure is centered at at the Pole in the upper atmosphere, with higher pressures to the south. Winds swing around and around the Pole, west to east, and if those winds remain west to east the flow is called “zonal”. A zonal flow tends to trap the cold at high latitudes. However sometimes the west to east flow gets perturbed and wavy, and when a wave pokes north it is called a high pressure ridge and when it pokes south it called a low-pressure trof. But sometimes the trof gets so huge it actually moves the the center of the polar rotation south along with it. That is when newspapers scream about the “Polar Vortex” coming south, (without a clue what they are screaming about.)
These super-sized trofs involve storms and cold outbreaks which often are remembered in the record books, but involve such a derangement from the normal state of affairs that they are often followed by a period of dull weather. The polar vortex has to regrow back up where it belongs, and before it is regrown the jet stream circling the Pole lacks its ordinary vigor. The arctic has “shot its wad”, and has nothing left to send south. The south takes advantage, sending thaws north. Occasionally this can brew up a decent storm, when a vast area of snow-cover creates enough “home grown” cold, and that cold needs no reinforcements from the Pole, and is able to clash with the thaw in a wintry way. However such storms don’t tend to stress people as much; temperatures are just below freezing, and often they are bracketed by thaws. For the most part a mind numbing arctic outbreak involving the Polar Vortex is a reason to hope. One hopes that, if you just hang in there, you’ll see a prolonged thaw, and can eventually stand in the sun, and even stick your neck up from your scarf a little.
However the most severe winters don’t involve the Polar Vortex being uprooted and coming south. It may wobble, or drift to one side of the Pole, but it stays home. And from its home it directs successive pulses of arctic air down one channel, created by a trof which somehow gets locked in place, or else wobbles to and fro at roughly the same longitude. Down at the bottom of such trofs people at lower latitudes experience the worst winters of their lifetimes. The hoped-for thaw never comes. The cold never quits.
I found myself remembering such a winter when I chanced across a Seth Borenstein article titled, “December Serving Up Baked Alaska…”
I have been rolling my eyes over Seth’s Alarmist take on weather for over a decade. (Heck, it might even be two decades by now.) But, even though he tends to use information to leap to preposterous conclusions, he does tend to use actual facts as his springboard. In fact I tend to like his writing the way I once liked Robert Felix’s site Ice Age Now. At Robert’s site I could learn of cold waves and snowstorms no one else reported about, and in Seth’s articles I read about warm spells and thaws every Alarmist wants to report, but often Seth is the first.
However as he talked about warmth in Alaska it triggered my Way-back Machine.
The winter of 1976-77 was one of the coldest I can remember, on the east coast of the USA. That was back during the “Ice Age Scare”. And one thing I remember was that it was hot and very dry in California, and mild in western and central Alaska, because the jet stream looped far to the north, off the west coast. But then it turned sharply south, drawing a cross-polar-flow of bitter cold air from Siberia to Eastern Alaska and the Yukon, and then down the east side of the Canadians Rockies and southeast, spreading out across the USA clear down to Florida.
I remember Pacific storms would head north, missing drought-afflicted California, and then crash into the wall of arctic air, dwindling into a little ripple of low pressure that came down the boundary between Pacific and Arctic air formed by the Rockies. I’d watch these “Alberta Clippers” carefully, because usually they just delivered the next installment of arctic air, but some hooked north on the east coast of the USA and became gales and gave us snowstorms.
I was young and hot blooded and cold didn’t bother me, and the winter had all the misery I wanted (and had been so disappointed about not seeing the winter before). I had a wonderful time that winter because, despite twelve foot tides twice a day, Casco Bay froze so solidly that you could walk for miles and visit islands. I think the start of my interest in sea-ice was simply due to spending so much time upon it. Here is a picture of me upon the salt water in January 1977, writing on sea-ice (with my dog Zeus.) (Picture taken by my friend Joe Nichols.):
One lesson I learned from that winter was that warmth in western Alaska is by no means a sign of a warm winter overall. In fact it may be a sign that we in eastern USA need to be on guard. Hold onto your hats, and pile your firewood near the door. Have a back-up plan for when the power goes out, or the oil and/or propane isn’t delivered.
In actual fact our government’s hate of fossil fuels made me heap firewood even though I am reaching a point in my life when lugging firewood has lost its appeal. I’d much rather just sit back and turn up a thermostat. But without fossil fuels a thermostat will not work. And even during a mild winter, this far north, you either want the thermostat to work, or want to have a heap of firewood.
The question I have is whether this winter will be cold or not. I’d like a mild winter, for then I’d have firewood left over and wouldn’t have to buy as much next year. But a mild winter like 1975-1976 would put me on guard for a monster winter like 1976-1977.
But I just don’t see a sign the arctic will send the “Arctic Vortex” south and “shoot its wad.” Even the December chill seems very balanced with the Polar Vortex remaining at the Pole and having trofs rotate around it. Look at the map I’ve used in prior posts of what computer models see for the situation round Christmas.
Despite how deep the trofs are, the situation looks very balanced. If you include the cold in the mid Atlantic and mid Pacific, the trofs look like the five arms of a starfish. There is no sign (yet) that the Polar Vortex prefers one trof to another, and is going to surge down on one side of the Pole and “shoot its wad”. Rather the pattern looks sustainable. It looks able to reload and repeat. In which case the thaw I hope for would be less likely, and the worst-case-scenareo (for a world which foolishly has fossil fuels in short supply) seems more possible.
I confess my inability to state which option will come to pass. All I want to do is point out what we might look for. If the worst-case-scenario develops, knowing it is about to happen might be helpful and allow one to make preparations which seem appropriate, “in time” and not “too late”.
What I am going to be looking for is the “reload”, and a map that looks like the above map again in January, and again in February, and again in March, and even in April. That is a development I very much hope NOT to see.
Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
P.S. The power is back on and I again can link to the web. One of the first things I did was to peruse the long term forecasts, and immediately noticed the snow forecast for Christmas weekend has been changed to rain. The storm looks likely to go west of us, which gets me remembering 1975-1976 again. This is good news if you like low energy bills in New England. The news is not so good in Minnesota, or even down in Texas. I can see temperatures as much as twenty degrees below normal forecast for Christmas, to our west.
It doesn’t seem fair that we get off Scot free, but the weather plays by its own set of rules.