LOCAL VIEW –Singing In The Pain–

One neat thing about the internet is the ability I gain to hear what people in other places are grousing about. For example, some are complaining their winter hasn’t had snowstorms and there will not be a White Christmas in their locale. This strikes me as ludicrous, for two reasons. First, winter will not even start for another two days. Second, here we are reeling from winter’s blows and many around here are already fed up with winter, before it has officially started.

The cold air masses that plunge down from Canada apparently “lift out” and are pulled back north before affecting many to our south, but we seem to always get clipped. Where to our south they get all rain we get some snow mixed in.

One storm I posted about two weeks ago gave us three feet of snow, though areas not far to our north and south got less than six inches. If it wasn’t trouble enough dealing with such depths of white, the following two storms passed to our west and gave us flooding rains, made all the worse by the fact culverts were clogged with snowbanks. A wash-out littered the end of my driveway with cobbles the size of my fist.

After dealing with deep drifts I had to make sure roofs didn’t collapse under sodden snow, and dealt with a flooded cellar. Then it seemed that the departing rain-storms always pulled down just enough cold air to create just enough backlash snow to force me to deal with clearing it; (at times three inches can be as annoying as three feet).

At the risk of sounding like Rodney Dangerfield, I was starting to feel I’d never get a break. Forget about finding time for Christmas shopping. I was finding it hard to find time to even keep the home-fires burning, or to start the campfires out in the pasture at our Childcare that makes sledding in the cold far more enjoyable for the children. It is hard to even start a fire when the firewood is under three feet of snow. Then children don’t want to sled when it is pouring rain. Then the arctic blasts that followed the rain turned the slopes into sheer ice, and supersonic sledding is downright dangerous when it involves three-year-old and four-year-old kids. (Not that the kids aren’t willing.)

To be honest, I’m getting a bit old to be involving myself in such nonsense. I should be staying home and complaining about the aches and pains brought on by low barometric pressure, not be out in the storms making aspirin salesmen happy by attempting to shovel and split wood like a young man, and to go sledding down bumpy slopes like a child. When the kids demand an igloo I moan. Then, when the igloo is half-built, and the rain ruins it, I start sounding like Rodney Dangerfield.

Despite all the pain, I can find myself singing. I can’t claim credit for lifting spirits, for I do some things by rote, in a purely mechanical fashion, about as cheerful as a robot. I depend on children aged three and four to display the spiritual wherewithal. They are the ones who muster the cheer. They never fail me.

For example, when we ran out of campfire wood I lugged my chainsaw out to the pasture. I know most childcare-professionals turn green at the very idea of small children being within a mile of a chainsaw, but I happen to know, from experience, that children delight in being invited along to the felling of a dead cherry tree or pine.

I take all sorts of precautions, keeping children out of harm’s way even should the tree falls the exact opposite direction I aim it to fall, and the children seem to comprehend the gravity of the situation. I don’t even need to gently rebuke the especially young and naive, because a five-year-old does it for me, like a small sergeant.

A hush descends when I shut off the saw and state the tree is about to fall. Then, when I lean against the trunk, and with a rending crack the tree starts to topple, and I shout, “Timber!”, the children jump up and down more than they do for fireworks, and when the trunk thuds to earth you’d think I’d just invented sliced bread. I keep my eyes on them as much as the log as I cut up the trunk, for they tend to edge closer, eager to load the logs on sleds. Then I likely violate child-labor-laws as badly as Tom Sawyer did when getting his Aunt Polly’s fence whitewashed, for children seem to fail to recognize moving hundreds of pounds of wood to a campfire on sleds is work. For them it seems a romp. But I do nothing to make the work be fun. The children do that work as well.

Another thing I do by rote is to show children what the Christmas carol that begins, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” is talking about. Some modern children have no idea what a chestnut, (or even an open fire) is. So I telephone grocery stores until I locate chestnuts, go get several pounds, build a fire and breed a bed of coals, and finally roast some chestnuts. Originally I used a flat rock or bricks, but we’ve gravitated to using the end of a broken shovel.

I never have to lift a finger to make the kids be interested. If anything I use reverse psychology, saying things like “This is grown-up food and you probably won’t like it” and “Chestnuts are too hot for little kids to peel the shells off of”. Even the most doubtful and suspicious will be busily shelling hot nuts, crouching like a squirrel (sans the tail) within an hour. The children supply the eagerness and excitement, as I plod about doing it all by rote.

However even the most idyllic setting can be wrecked by bad weather. Yesterday evening I had a splendid fire going out in the pasture, but noted that the sunset, usually ten minutes after four this far north, abruptly darkened. The wind swirled, and sparks flew from the fire, and then we were hit by an arctic snow squall. Such squalls immediately plaster small faces with wet flakes, and in a gusty wind even the warmest snowsuit can’t counter a freezing face.

I didn’t even wait for the wailing to begin. We immediately abandoned the fire and headed through the swirling, heavy snow for the “warming room” back at the stables, which was a bit like herding cats. The wailing was in full chorus by the time we arrived. Temperatures were crashing as yet again we got “clipped” by the coldest air so far this season, and again temperatures dove towards zero ( -17 Celsius.) By the stable’s infrared lamps the wailing soon ceased.

This morning’s bright sunshine did little to warm things, as the north wind roared in the pines.

Today I thought I might get my Christmas shopping started, but a member of my staff suffered a misfortune and I had to cover for them. Rather than being spiritual and feeling pity for them, I was Rodney Dangerfield and felt sorry for myself. (It is hard dealing with a bunch of small children bouncing off the walls when you can’t do the logical thing, which is to throw them outside.) (I’d rather “delegate”, and watch my staff deal with such chaos.)

Actually, children want to go out despite the cold, especially when the low, December sun is white in a vivid blue sky, and looks inviting through a window. Rather than quarreling I tend to dress them up in their snow suits and allow them out to learn for themselves that their fingers and toes are swiftly bitten by an invisible creature. I keep an eye on their cheeks, watching for the healthy pinkness to tinge to purple, which is a sign the white patches of frostbite may soon follow. I also teach lessons that northern people should know, such as staying out of the wind, or staying close to the sunny side of a barn, which happens to be right by the warming room at the stables. I want to be by that room for I know that, despite all the clamoring to go outside, and all the work of putting on snowsuits and boots and hats and mittens, in as few as five minutes the exact same children will be clamoring to go back in. I prefer that they go into a room where I don’t have to take their snowsuits off. Some settle in the warming room and play with toys or color with cold crayons, but other go in and out, in and out, all morning long. By lunch I’m exhausted, and glad to hand the children off to an arriving member of the staff who will usher them indoors to lunch and settle them for “quiet time”.

But what about poor old Rodney Dangerfield? What about me? Who will usher me or settle me? No one, because I’m a grown man. I’m macho. But machismo didn’t make me all that happy today. I felt the pain but didn’t feel like singing.

It was too late for shopping, (as I also had an afternoon shift), but I had other tasks to catch up on. The woodpile on the porch was getting low, and I needed to cut some short logs from the long lengths of wood up on the back hill behind the house. It shouldn’t be so hard, now that recent rains had reduced the three feet of snow to six inches. I hoisted my chainsaw and headed off stoutly in that direction, and heard the pines roar, and then was hit by a blast of wind that made me wince and cringe away. Instantaneously I decided the saw was too dull. Rather than cut wood I should sharpen the saw. When I touched the blade the fabric of my gloves froze to the steel. I decided I should do the sharpening inside by the hot wood stove.

I think it was at this point my mood changed. Perhaps I don’t always need three-year-olds and four-year-olds to supply the spiritual wherewithal. Perhaps I can rouse something called “a sense of humor”, and muster enough poetry for a sonnet about sharpening a saw.

I know my wife don’t like machines within
Her tidy, warm house, but Wife wasn’t home.
The cold would freeze chainsaw’s steel to skin
And so I brought the chainsaw in, but own
Brains bright enough not to place Saw on polish
Of Wife’s Table. Instead I bent Old Back
And creaked down to the floor, a smallish
Rat-tailed-file in hand, and by Stove began Attack
On Dullness, tooth by tooth. Hearing grinding
My old dog came over to see what bone
I gnawed, down on her level. Then, finding
None, she licked my face. So, now I own
That simplicity’s not all that boring,
Stuck inside with arctic winds roaring.

LOCAL VIEW –Old Man Winter–

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As I get older I seem to look forward to winter less. I’m not as hot-blooded, and where I once threw snowballs without gloves and saw my hands glow a ruddy red, my hands now turn blue at the slightest excuse. Not that I still don’t hope for a white Christmas; I just hope we get around an inch at daybreak, and it melts away by Christmas afternoon.

It was said, back when I was young, that the Indians called an old man “one who has seen many winters.” I’m not sure how true that statement is, in terms of history, but it says something about how winters tax a man.  Like the taxes of a greedy government, winters sap you, and take so much out of you that you get tired of paying. However, for the poor, there is no escape to Florida, and therefore the mind has to adopt some sort of strategy, in order to endure the coming insult to our physical forms. After all, if you believe in evolution, we are jungle monkeys, at home in a Garden of Eden, and not upon tundra.

Even if you don’t believe in evolution, it has been a long, long time since we dwelt in Eden. Even if you don’t believe in evolution, perhaps we have been bred like dogs into certain breeds. Even if you don’t believe in evolution, it seems obvious that people to the north have whiter skin than people to the south, as sunshine is necessary, to produce Vitamin D,  but you can get too much of a good thing, in which case sunshine causes skin cancer.  God does amazing things to protect His children, and white skin allows people to get enough vitamin D where sunshine is low and weak, while dark skin prevents skin cancer when the sun is high, hot, and burns.

I have started to wonder if there are some other traits which have been imparted to northern people, that help them deal with winter. Because I run a Childcare, it seemed a good place to study the way the young react to the change in seasons, to see if they have any behaviors that seem northern in nature.

My study seemed especially insightful because modern children live lives so insulated from the outdoors, as do their parents. Parents chose our Childcare because they believe the outdoors is good, in theory; in actual fact they work indoors and only a few get out for hikes on the weekends. Therefore the children, who unknowingly were about to become subjects of my highly scientific study, were pure, and not corrupted by earlier experience of the outdoors. I could see responses that were fresh, and showed primal instincts.

One thing that became clear was that “shelter” became abruptly more important, as days swiftly grew shorter.

Not that children don’t build structures in the summer, but these are largely “forts”, and are built for warfare. “Warfare?” you ask? Yes, sad to say, but children do have a less than harmonious side, and build all sorts of forts that display sexism (“girls only” and “boys only”) and ageism (“big-kids-only” and “little-kids-only”) and even status-ism (“cool-crowd-only” and “uncool-crowd-only”), and then they steal sticks from each others forts and then rage about the robberies. You’d be amazed by how much time I have to spend overseeing the ownership of sticks. We have no toy guns at our Childcare, but over and over I hear either, “He keeps aiming his stick at me!” or “He stole my stick!”  Sometimes I can muster the wisdom of Solomon, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do; I’ll break the stick in two and give you each half,” but other times the only escape is to get away from the forts altogether, by going on a hike.

It was on hikes I first noticed the sudden interest in shelter. During summer rains I have a hard time getting children to bother with raincoats, and often wind up carrying raincoats they shed, as they delight in becoming drenched. However, as the sun sank lower in the southern sky at noon, the rain-clouds darkened, and suddenly the children wanted not only raincoats, but umbrellas, though the wind was from the south and rain wasn’t all that colder. As I happened to have seven umbrellas, I handed them out to the children, taking notes, for my highly scientific study, of this sudden interest in shelter.

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The rain then stopped, and you might think I’d then wind up carrying seven umbrellas. In actual fact I only wound up carrying five, because some sort of greed kicked in, and two umbrellas became some sort of status symbol. I had to break up fights, and teach “sharing”, and have them “take turns”. However it was when we entered the forest and were beneath the shelter of trees that I got a surprise. They all demanded their umbrellas back. It wasn’t because the rain had started again. It was because they wanted to build a shelter. I took a picture, for my highly scientific study.

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When we returned from our hike and I collected the umbrellas, (slightly the worse for wear), I became aware of a second attribute seen in northern children, which seems unlikely and only was revealed due to a mistake I made when I first opened the Childcare ten years ago. Back then I thought kids might be interested in old fashioned stuff, which is basically Neanderthal by modern standards: I showed them how to split wood with an ax and lay a campfire.

Big mistake. There is nothing more exhausting than having to oversee children swinging axes, and children by a campfire is nearly as bad. However the activity was incredibly popular, and the older children infected the younger with the desire to wave axes and feed fires. Any hope the interest would die away as the older children moved on from Childcare to more formal schooling, and I ceased to actively promote the activity, was dashed by the children who remembered the year before, and pleaded, “Please, please, Puh-leese can we chop wood and have a fire?”

To some degree it is gratifying to watch a boy grow from barely being able to lift an ax to becoming proficient at reducing a fat log to kindling. At times I think the Neanderthal were on to something. Rather than Ritalin they gave boys axes, and rather than drugged faces they saw faces that shone with pride:

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But there is no getting around the fact I have to work pretty hard to teach a boy to split wood with a Neanderthal implement. Some might say it is easier to just send them off to fight Arabs, so we can be lazy and just spin the dial of a thermostat, heating our homes with Arab oil. Never mind that the back yards of some homes are forests full of dead trees and fallen wood, (which is great for the local populations of woodpeckers, but represents an increasing forest fire danger during droughts).

Never mind that. That is a loaded subject for some future post. Instead let us face the fire-danger wood-stoves present us with. The poorer people in this area are still Neanderthal, and still burn wood, and fires do escape stoves, and houses do burn down, which means the fire department needs to educate children about what to do in a fire.

One thing that upsets children is that a fully dressed fireman looks, and even sounds, like the evil Darth Vader of Star Wars movies. Firemen entering homes to save children have seen them take one look at their rescuer and run the other way. Therefore they come to my Childcare and show that they are smiling, nice people,  before they dress in scary-looking gear. Even though the children have seen the nice people put the gear on, they still tend to be scared once it is on.

Shelter 4 FullSizeRender To be accurate, as a reporter, I should add it is somewhat amazing I was even able to take the above picture, because the Darth Vader appearance of the firemen completely freaked-out a two-year-old, who was wailing in my arms. He wouldn’t let go, even when they took off the costumes and let the other children experience the sublime joy of sitting in a firetruck.

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Perhaps what the two-year-old was trying to tell me was that, no matter how amazingly nice firemen and fire-women may be, something scary is involved in the subject.

For that matter, something scary is involved in the subject of fire, and even in the subject of winter. Both freezing and burning are scary.

Children are not as stupid as some seem to believe. (For that matter, neither are adults.) It is futile to gloss over reality with an insipid belief we can be spared a very real thing: Old Man Winter is coming, and will turn turf into tundra, and unless you befriend the dangerous realities of fuel and fire, you will die.

Some seem to believe children should be buffered in over-heated classrooms, with nature only seen on video screens, and spared knowing of the bitter winds that bluster and buffet outside. It likely a heresy for me to say this, but I think such mollycoddling harms, for the results of my highly scientific study suggests children are happier, healthier, and smarter when allowed to learn what their northern, Neanderthal genes already yearn to learn about, which is not the subjects of grammar, “social studies”, and algebra, but rather the subjects of shelter, fuel, and fire.

The sun is low at noon, and by four o’clock
The west is aflame: the sun is a fire
In the boughs of pines that bitter winds rock,
And their trunks send long shadows across mire
Turned to stone tundra. It’s north we’re heading.
The farm pond skims with ice too thin to tread;
There is no skating, no snow for sledding;
But the west grows dark with approaching dread
And the children aren’t fools. They want a fire.
I have solar lights that cast blue firefly
Dimness, but they want orange to inspire
Dancing and warm mirth. Should I not try
To teach fire is something other than danger?
Winter’s too cold when fire’s a stranger.

LOCAL VIEW –Black Fly Blues–

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       BLACK FLY BLUES

Outside the blue sky’s gorgeous
But I’m not going out of doors today.
Outside the sun is golden
But inside is the place I’m going to stay.
I’ll be a couch potato
Until the biting black flies go away.

I’ve heard God’s love’s in everything,
Even in that pesky little fly.
I found the thought impossible,
So I grabbed one, and I looked him in the eye.
He whined, “Hey man! I love you!”
He’d made a point no woodsman can deny.

They love me head down to my toes;
They even love the inside of my nose.
They also love my armpits
(And not too many folk are fond of those.)
They’re part of Love’s creation
Sort of like the thorns upon a rose.

See that flycatcher winging?
He loves black fly. Black fly he’s glad to see.
Hear that songbird singing?
Black fly fuels his springtime rhapsody.
Feel that itch and stinging?
You are part of Love’s ecology.

Outside the blue sky’s gorgeous.
I can’t be cooped up inside any more.
Outside the sun is gorgeous.
I find I’m walking slowly to the door.
Spring is here and it is clear
Love’s inviting me to come explore.

I wrote that song back in May, 1990. It was one of the last songs I wrote as a bachelor, though I didn’t really have a clue what lay 45 days in my future. I had just chanced into a small town church choir, and found myself mingling with young married couples with small children, and they wanted me to sing at a church picnic in June. It was sort of a graduation party for the Sunday School. For me it was great fun, for I’d been through over a decade as a drifter and a loner, and now all of a sudden I had not only a guitarist and bass to back up my vocals, but the young housewives insisted on being accompanying dancers as I sang, and choreographed a thing where all held fly-swatters and waved them like batons as I sang. I doubt it would have been a hit on Broadway, but we weren’t aiming for that. We hit the bulls eye of what we aimed for, which was joy and a good laugh.

To make joy out of black flies is a major achievement. In fact it is something I think might be good to be remembered for. It would make an intriguing tombstone, “He made joy out of black flies.”

However here it is 27 years later, and I’m dealing with a whole new generation of children and black flies. One way I create a safe-house out of doors is to use the old-fashioned idea of a “smudge.” You basically build a hot fire, and then smother it with wet leaves and twigs.

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Black flies don’t like smoke. They don’t even like the exhaust of a lawn mower or leaf-blower, but back in the day I was prone to using un-powered hand tools, and therefore during the spring I was a chain-smoker. I’d say I only inhaled a puff or two of each cigarette, but they were much cheaper back then, and I’d go through 3 packs a day quite often.

Of course, the politics of smoke have gotten rougher. The EPA was doing its best to outlaw smoke altogether, (though they did get caught fudging some of their data, concerning the harm of “particulates.)”

When I was a small child I didn’t use the word “particulates”, but, believe it or not, one of the small girls at the Childcare furrowed her brow, as I built my smudge, and asked me if I was worried about the “particulates”.

What could I say? I just tugged my beard thoughtfully, and said man started using fire a long, long time ago. Neanderthals used fire. Even Homo Erectus used fire, perhaps as much as 1,500,000 years ago. If it was bad for us, it would have killed us by now. In fact, we probably evolved to handle smoke better than laboratory rats do.  So I told her she shouldn’t worry too much about “particulates.” There was probably more bad stuff in indoor air, than by a campfire.

The girl seemed immensely relieved, and ran off to happily play. But it did make me wonder what some environmentalists think they are teaching our children, when they cause the young such worry, and so many bad dreams. Actually the outside is a lovely place, even when the black flies are out.

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LOCAL VIEW —Christmas Homesickness—

December has been snowless so far, and I’m rather enjoying it. Last year we’d already had enough snow to shovel, and I was numbering the storms. Even though a warm wave was in the long range, and it turned out we had a green Christmas (with bluebirds and robins in the yard as the yearly Christmas miracle), it also seemed down in my bones that we were in for a test, and spring would be a long time coming, and I was right.

This year has been kinder, (though I feel the end of the winter may have a lot of snow). I actually am rotor-tilling the spring garden, and we’ve gotten some late house painting done. Considering I work a lot more slowly than I used to, I like having extra days to be ready for the time the snow clamps down and life becomes more limited.

I don’t relish storms the way I once did.
Perhaps this simply goes with aging.
I’m in the driver’s seat, don’t want to skid,
And have burdens enough without raging
Winds and whirling snows. When you’re young the blows
Fall on others, streets are cleaned by magic,
Hot water comes from the shower and flows
Over you, and you need not get tragic
About how you must cut wood to heat it,
Nor even think much about food on the table.
So the ease gets boring, and to defeat it
Youth makes problems, challenges it’s able
To feel vain about conquering, until years
Teach that life’s best without brewing such fears.

One thing I deal with every day, because I run a Childcare, is the problems modern parents have doing something as normal and natural as to have children and raise them. To me family seems more like a “given”, than a “problem”. To call family a problem is like calling the ground we walk upon a problem. Family is simply there, and it is amazing to me the degree some are able to make it not be there.

Often both parents work, and their child is dropped off at Childcare at 7:00 AM and then not picked up until 5:30 PM. To me it seems so much time is spent working to pay for a house that hardly any time is left to make it a home.

The kids seem to get especially homesick during the dark days of December. Perhaps the homesickness happens because the all-pervading, ever-present Christmas music is so suggestively sentimental about home, with songs like “I’ll be home for Christmas”, but I also think it is during the dark days that a warm hearth, and keeping home fires burning, becomes especially meaningful. During the long days of summer the outdoors is welcoming, but during the early dusk of December a warm place by a fire, (hopefully with cookies and cocoa), becomes a solace to the human spirit, especially if you are a little child, in a big and sometimes frightening world.

Parents sometimes seem to spend even less time at home around Christmas, as they work overtime to afford presents, and then go to malls to shop for the presents, seemingly quite unaware that small children can have just as much fun with a cardboard box as what comes in the box, and have a deep craving for the parents themselves.

What the kids seem to need most is the interactions. But parents get fooled. A kid who has been happy for hours may throw a fit as soon as the parent arrives to pick them up. It is as if the child has been saving all sorts of grievances up, and dumps on the parent the moment they appear. The parent is fooled because all they hear are demands for chocolate and dolls and bikes and computer games and what-have-you, but that is not what is really important to the kid. What is important is the interaction. What is important is the parent. Parents need to be told this, because they too often tend to feel their child only cares about stuff, and not them.

I get to see what the parents don’t, which is that sometimes a child is homesick and sulking, and is asking over and over, “When is Mom coming?” or “Is it soon that Dad will be here?”

During these dark days I often build a bright and cheery fire in the pasture, as much as for the light as for the warmth, but today the final kids were not all that cheered by its flames.

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What I heard from the kids was basically, “I want to go home,” over and over. To a certain degree I could distract them with gathering wood, and making an especially big fire, and stirring the coals and making showers of sparks rise into the purpling sky like fireworks. But, as I thought, watching the kids, I got to thinking about how “I want to go home” is such a powerful part of Christmas, even when one gets old like me.

She was dying but didn’t really know it
And as I visited her the past seemed
More present than the present. She’d show it
By how she saw me as one dimly dreamed
About, while her childhood home’s least detail
Was vivid. It made me think about how
We launch from the nest, yet strangely fail
To ever leave it. Her old, care-worn brow
Had ever fretted over slung arrows
Of worry, and yet now mere memory
Soothed and smoothed it. I wonder what narrows
Our lives, and what it is that sets us free?
For the farther we wander and restlessly roam
The more we are yearning to find a way home.

Of course, I don’t subject small children to my sonnets. (I’d likely get arrested for child abuse.) Instead I decided that, if I couldn’t beat them, I’d join them, and I started to sing songs about wanting to go home. There are a lot of them.

They liked “Sloop John B”, though you would think children couldn’t relate to sailors getting thrown into jail for being too rowdy in Nassau. However kids always surprise me with their ability to regurgitate adult music that you might think was miles over their heads. (I knew one small girl who, at age four, had what was seemingly a photographic memory, when it came to country music she heard on her father’s radio, and, in a sweet, piping voice, would sing about picking up babes at a bar.)

Abruptly a memory came back to me of the first Christmas after my own parents split up, and of how at age eleven I memorized a song miles above my head, that was a hit on the radio at that time, and could belt it out at the top of my lungs. The kids liked it as much as “Sloop John B”.

LOCAL VIEW —Sneak Attack Cold—

It was 20° (-7° Celsius) in the dawn twilight this morning, without much wind, which isn’t bad for a January daybreak this far north, especially when there isn’t a cloud in the sky. It was colder than yesterday, so my mind digested the fact a cold front had moved through, but somehow I tricked myself into believing the air behind the front wasn’t all that cold. As the first brilliant rays of the sun crested the hills to our east I dressed as if it was 20° and rising.

As I went through the morning chores of opening up  the Childcare and greeting the parents and children I thought about something my dentist talked about yesterday, when he had my mouth full of stuff and was able to monopolize the conversation. The last thing I’d been able to speak coherently was a comment about how people in the north got so used to sub-zero cold that 20° seemed mild, and he expanded on the subject, going into great detail about how the thyroid gland regulates our metabolism.  I was thinking to myself that my thyroid must have over-reacted to the slight thaw we had yesterday, because now 20° felt darn cold.

As I was loading the kids into the van to drive them to kindergarten I was wincing and my hands were stinging, so I checked the thermometer readout on the dashboard and saw it was 6° (-14° Celsius.)  My first thought was that the thing must be malfunctioning.  However when I stopped in at home after dropping the kids off my Christmas thermometer informed me it had dropped as low as 4.9°, and only risen to 9° in the brilliant sunshine.

I can never remember such a sneaky cold. What was oddest was that it came in without a roaring wind. Instead it sort of oozed in around the edges. There were none of the usual visual clues that would lead one to suspect temperatures were plummeting.

This is just further evidence that old fossils like me are not as smart as we like to think we are. We still can be fooled, as we fall back on a lifetime of experience, and experience tells us that when it is 20° and calm on a January dawn, it will get  warmer. Instead it dropped fifteen degrees with amazing swiftness.

At least it wasn’t snowing. In fact the USA was amazingly  storm-free.

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The radar showed almost no precipitation across the entire country.

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Having been fooled once, I regarded the low pressure down on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico with deep suspicion, as those things have fooled weathermen quite often in my life, especially as our light winds occasionally shifted to the northeast.  Temperatures crawled back up to 17.1° (-8° Celsius), and I wondered if a little North Atlantic air might be mixing in with the Arctic air, but there were no clouds, and the winds became nearly calm. At the Childcare the kids were not at all cold as they sledded, and the smoke from my bright fire drifted slowly to the south-southwest.

Yesterday the snow was so sticky the children used up their superabundance of energy rolling snowballs, as the snow was sticky, and because I was off at the dentist they built an army of snowmen and a fort right where they sledded. All the snowballs have turned to stone today, which turned the sledding hill into an obstacle course, and may explain why we got word from our insurance agent that our insurance has been cancelled, this afternoon.

That was a bit of a surprise, and will close us down in a hurry if we can’t find a replacement.  It is typical in a world that wants children bubble-wrapped. Another surprise attack.

If we get shut down I’ll take it as a sign I’m suppose to work on my novel.

It is pretty amazing how two small snowfalls have winterized our world. The roads were so heavily salted, (I suppose the road crews have an excess, at this point, as the winter hasn’t been all that stormy so far), that they are dry, but every parking lot and driveway and sidewalk was slushy yesterday, and all the slush has frozen into iron-hard ruts that in some ways create a situation worse than we see after two feet of snow.  Who would imagine a couple of two-inch-snowfalls could make such a mess?

Temperatures fell fairly swiftly as soon as the sun dipped to the horizon, and were down to zero by nine.  So we are in for another below zero night, and I have three fires going. The storm far to our south is creeping up the coast, but still is forecast to slip out to sea.

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I never trust a storm to the south of us, and am nervous about that dent in the isobars on the south side of the high pressure over us. It looks a little like a negatively tilted trough is attempting to form, which can slow a storm down as it grows and throws snow inland. I don’t like that spot of snow in North Carolina either. However I suppose there is nothing I can do about it, except get up a little earlier and peek out the window to see if there’s a surprise.

 

 

THE LOCAL VIEW —The coldest warm-up—(updated)

The forecast low last night was 10° (-12° Celsius), so when it was down to 1.9° (-17 Celsius) at 9:00, it was fairly obvious the forecast was a “bust.”  However then temperatures began to slowly rise, as just about the coldest “warm sector” I’ve ever seen appeared on the weather map. By morning it was up to 7° (-14° Celsius), which means the forecast was still a “bust”, but perhaps a little more understandable.

As I hustled about stirring the embers of the wood fires and getting them going I could hear the furnace running non-stop, which meant the inside of the house was down below 57°. I blamed the coal fire, which never really caught, and was only producing a small, feeble, red glow from beneath a pile of unburnt coal. The ashes beneath were blocking the flow of air, so I carefully poked a few holes to the dim glow and hoped it caught, and then dashed out the door.

Outside I could see the twilight was nearly windless, but the smoke from chimney was drifting ever so slowly away to the north.  So the map was right. We were in a warm sector.

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As I pulled into the farm to open the Childcare I could see the nearly full waning moon sinking to the west. It seemed midst an odd, ominous, grey haze, that looked more like low scud than high clouds, though the rising sun soon showed it was actually high clouds. I noted the look of the sky in the back of my mind, where it now sits with the looks of thousands of other skies.

I decided I was being subjective to call it “ominous.” After all, we were in a warm sector, and a tiny little storm, (perhaps an updraft caused by the Great Lakes),  was passing to our north. The air was calm, and some the arriving children were giving their parents the typical hard time about having to bundle up.

After dropping six tykes off at kindergarten I stopped in at home to have a quick glance at the latest map.

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I didn’t like how the isobars showed northeast winds behind the mini-storm moving up the Saint Lawrence Seaway. If they pushed the front south of us the air behind the cold front wouldn’t be moderated by the Great Lakes, but would come straight from the frozen north.

I checked the Great Lakes using my usual radar, but it showed nothing. Sometimes that radar doesn’t pick up the low stuff, so I checked my Wearherbell radar, and it showed a wall of snow moving due south off Lake Ontario. (I’m not sure why that radar is more sensitive; it just is.) (Unfortunately I haven’t learned to steal pictures from its screen yet, but will advertise the cool Weatherbell site just the same.)

Seeing the radar echos of snow head south gave me the sense we wouldn’t be getting any lake-warmed air, but rather would get the “Montreal Express.” Therefore I should hustle to take advantage of the “warmth” while it lasted. When I checked the thermometer I saw it had made it up to 11° (-12° Celsius.)

I didn’t hustle much. I was paying the price for some lovely insomnia, and withdrawing into the world of weather maps when smarter people are sleeping. Now I was kicking myself for being so stupid. Like the old song goes, “You’ve had your way; now you must pay.”

It seemed to me that, if I’m going to practice escapism, I really ought retreat to the year 1971 and work on my novel. (I’m about done a “teaser”, which I may publish on this blog.) However the fun of escapism lies in the sense of escape from responsibility, and it would be too much like responsibility to work on my novel, so I wander off into the world of weather.

Actually, when I think deeply about it, if I was born to be a writer, then one of the most wonderful sidetracks of escapism was to get married, a quarter century ago. As soon as you get married you get hit by a whole bunch of marital responsibilities. Little did people know I was actually being irresponsible, as a writer. It’s been my secret wickedness, to look like a model citizen, coaching little league and so on, but actually practicing escapism to my heart’s content.

However now I’m getting old, and one of these days, hopefully not too soon, I’m going to meet the Maker who made me. My understanding is that He sees through all our ways of fooling others and ourselves. I’m a bit nervous He’ll ask to see my novel, like long-ago Algebra teachers asked to see my math homework.  I doubt he’ll fall for the excuses that used to fool, or at least entertain, my long-ago teachers. Therefore I’d best get to work.

I only worked a little, and then took a midday, after-lunch nap, and when I awoke the wind was picking up, and my new thermometer told me temperature had peaked at 16.7° (-8.5 Celsius), and was starting down. Cumulus was rolling in from the northwest, surprisingly purple for clouds that were relatively shallow. I’d gotten a fire going out in the pasture at the Childcare, but as the wind picked up it swirled and occasionally roared like a blast furnace, streaming sparks downwind. As the wind swirled about no one dared stand too close, so it didn’t warm people as much as yesterday’s. Flurries of streaking snow filled the air, which swiftly became bitter. It had dropped to 8° by the early sunset and dipped below zero at around 8:00, and is now -4.7° at 9:30. (-20° Celsius).

I’d say our “warm spell” is over.

Usually each day has at least one scene that stands out in my memory as particularly beautiful and poetic, or at least as possessing the charm of a Normal Rockwell painting. I was thinking today it would be during the milder morning, however instead it was during the afternoon.

Yesterday, when it was colder but calmer, most of the kids ignored the fire and made their own heat with their winter play. They sledded, before two small girls noticed they could scrape the snow off a flooded part of the pasture and find very smooth ice beneath.  At first they played in a private world of their own, but other children became intrigued and came over to see what they were up to. Despite their strenuous objections others began cleaning the snow away from their own sections of pasture, and then someone discovered that by turning a chair upside down a sort of snowplow could be pushed about. This created quarrels about who got the chair, which I solved by finding other chairs.  At first there were a number of small areas connected by a system of roads, but this expanded into a single long oval of smooth ice, and the children invented a new game of running and then flopping and sliding on their stomachs, as darkness fell. Most completely ignored my warm fire.

Today they went right back to their new fad, ignoring the sleds altogether, and for the most part ignoring the bitter wind and swirling snow. Then, just as the front was passing and the weather grew most snowy and brisk, they noticed my middle son over by the rooster cage, opening the door.

Last winter the beastly bird stayed out all winter, but by spring he was croaking more than crowing, and his comb looked a little worse for wear, so we decided to move him into the barn this year. Then we put it off, as the bird is mean and I’m the only one who can handle him. I grab his neck and squeeze, and he becomes compliant. (I also am the only human he backs away from. He attacks everyone else.)

I went when I saw my son was having some difficulty getting the bird to leave its pen and enter a small cage. The rooster didn’t see me sneaking up, and I was able to nab its neck and flop it into the cage, but my son didn’t close the door swiftly enough, and the bird flappingly fluttered right out and back into the pen, (which is difficult to enter as it has a low, chickenwire roof to deter hungry foxes and owls at night.)

Now now the rooster was more on guard, and wary, and I had to creep around the sides of the pen poking with a long, dead, sunflower stalk. All the children became excited, and crowded around the pen helpfully shrieking and waving their arms, attempting to get the rooster near the door again, but he was too smart.  He ran everywhere but near the door, hiding where he could, under his small house and a few rooster toys, and always regarding me with deep suspicion and mistrust. After a while he got tired, and then exhausted, and then my son did a surprising thing. He crawled into the pen and gathered the rooster to his chest in a most tender way. Even more surprisingly, the rooster didn’t rake him with its spurs, but instead became meek and humble, and accepted the cuddling embrace. I shook my head in disbelief as my son popped the big, docile bird into the cage and closed the door.

They put the cage on a freight-sled I use for firewood, and headed towards the barn, as I headed back to tend the fire. It was then I got my scene-for-the-day, for it seemed every child was waltzing along beside the sled. They had a new fad: Bringing the rooster to the barn, and it made them all completely happy for five minutes, dancing beside the baffled bird as the snow swirled in the gloaming.

After that it was getting dark, and so cold we all headed inside.

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(Click these maps to enlarge, or open to a new tab, to get a larger and clearer view.)

10:00 PM. -5.6° (-21° Celsius).  Wind still roaring in the pines, but a little less. Jupiter brilliant beside the moon in a cloudless sky. You can bet I have the coal fire burning better tonight, and it’s cozy here where I write, but only 60° in the next room, despite two other wood fires burning in other stoves. 250-year-old houses need snow on their roofs and drifts about their sides to be really warm in a winter wind, and we have neither, until perhaps next week.

UPDATE — 6:30 AM

The temperature is a balmy -12.5° (-25 Celsius) to start the day. I checked all the taps, and thought no pipes had frozen, until I went to flush the toilet a second time. That’s a new one. A vole likely dug a new hole by the cellar wall. I’ll have to hit that pipe with a hair drier, after the Childcare is opened up.

Even Boston made it below zero, at -1°.

I noticed it is relatively milder west of the Great Lakes. It was -10° on the east side of Lake Ontario at the Watertown shore, but +10° in Toronto on the northwest coast of the same lake. Backwards of the way it usually is.

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LOCAL VIEW —Real Winter—

It was still above freezing just before sunrise yesterday, but all day the temperatures fell. It was down to 30° at sunsrise, and at 3:00 in the afternoon was down to 19°.  By 8:00 PM it was down to 9°. (-13° Celsius). All day the wind roared, and low, shredded cumulus blew over all the way from the Great Lakes, swirling flurries of snow so dry that it seemed to just blow about and then sublimate back into the air without ever accumulating. Only in a few nooks and crannies could it drift enough to be seen, white against the steely blue of the frozen slush.

For a time a streamer of snow could be seen stretching towards us on radar from Lake Ontario, and even though most of the moisture was wrung out crossing the mountains of New York and Vermont, and it never was thick enough to show on radar, all day we saw flakes, mostly heading sideways.

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It made me wonder how much colder the air would have been if it didn’t cross the lake, and also how misleading the temperature statistics for the day would be, showing a high of 38°.

I didn’t start a fire out in the pasture at the Childcare, because in that kind of wind it causes more misery than pleasure, swirling smoke into eyes and with most of its heat blow away before it can warm much. Therefore I expected the children to quickly start whining they wanted to go in. To my surprise they were so keen on catching up on their sledding, which they’d gone without for over two weeks, that there was more or less a mad stampeed for the slopes, and then they were so busy running up and sledding down the hill they didn’t seem to notice the cold.

Today dawned gray, as a pocket of moisture on the backside of the cold high pressure headed towards us well ahead of the weak storm it was associated with.

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The temperature bottomed out at 4.8° last night before the cloud cover moved in, and today has climbed all the way up to 12.0°.  Then, as the light snow began, it dropped back to 10.9°. (I got a new fangled thermometer for Christmas, and now don’t need to go outside to see how cold it is.)

I never trust these weak impulses, as you never know what they will do when they hit the warm Atlantic. Even when they don’t explode and kickback snow from the ocean, they often become gales and bring roaring wind from the north as they head out to sea, and right now the coldest air is just to the north of Maine.  It can stay up there, and slide away to the east, and I won’t be bothered a bit.

Winter is for real now, and I don’t need any embellishments. You  can keep your deep snows and record-setting cold. I’m busy enough just feeding three fires, and a daughter who’s got the ‘flu.

LOCAL VIEW —The New Year—

I’ve taken some time off to take stock of my situation, which can be a difficult thing to do when four out of five grown children descend on the so-called “empty nest.” Actually the situation is more aptly described as “my chickens coming home to roost.”

I like it in many ways, for I’m an old rooster myself, however it does involve a lot of interruptions to the flow of thought. I need at least a few hours a day to simply allow my swirling mind to settle. Usually I manage it by staying up late, but so do my kids. I found a way around that by developing handy insomnia, and being awake between two AM and five, however one side effect of having lots of chocolate around at Christmas is that chocolate makes me sleep like a log.

My wife and I decided we needed some time away, however we couldn’t afford flying to Florida, or even a night at a bed-and-breakfast, so what we did was turn our childcare into our resort. It was closed on New Years Day, so we went out to eat on New Year’s Eve and then, instead of going home, we headed to the childcare-farm and spent a quiet night there, followed by a quiet morning which extended into the day, and the next thing we knew the sun was going down and the kids were calling my wife’s cell-phone, worried about us.

Fortunately there has been a lull in the weather. Actually it was not exactly a lull, because the high pressure that came crashing down from Canada was enormous and well worth making a fuss about. We were on the northeast side of the action, which meant we got day after day of dry northwest winds, and only an occasional disturbance passing over and giving us a few wandering snowflakes. The Christmas mildness faded away, the mud froze, and then the sheer dryness of the air resulted in a lot of sublimation, and the frozen mud dried on its surface, and leaves scurried around the brown pasture in the wind. (Click maps, or open to new tabs, to clarify and enlarge.)

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As the huge high pressure pressed south it moved over milder earth that lacked snow-cover and which warmed it, so that the heavy air grew less heavy, and less like a pressing high pressure, until now the western side is actually starting to rise and become low pressure at the surface. A great blob of moisture is starting north from the mild Gulf of Mexico, up the west side of the weakening high pressure, but the northern side of the high pressure remains cold and strong enough to put up a bit of a fight, turning the rain to snow in the north.

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I’ve been expecting this sort of mess to come north, and in fact have been surprised that there hasn’t been a storm. Quite often a giant high will breed a giant storm, but this one was so huge it squashed the last storm like a bug, and the flattened corpse slid out to sea, which was fine with me. However it looks like we won’t be so lucky with the next one.

I’ve taken advantage of the fine weather, (which has been tantamount to a sort of drought,) and have managed to cut some wood and shift it about. Yesterday I had some fun with the few kids who were at our Childcare on a day-after-New-Year’s-day, (many parents get the day off,) and they sat in the back of my pick-up truck as I rattled about over the frozen pasture, lugging wood in for the pasture campfire and the upstairs stove.

If I split the wood out in the woods the pieces are light enough for the children to hurl into the truck, but I was feeling a bit stiff and sore from splitting at home, and also in a hurry, so didn’t split the logs and I couldn’t employ the kids. The logs were too heavy. In fact when I looked at them, and considered heaving them up onto the tailgate, they looked a bit heavy for me. Not that I couldn’t do it, by I’ve learned to be lazy in my old age. It seemed the rounder logs might as well be rolled, and the kids could roll them. So they rolled all the rounder logs down the hill to the pasture campfire, and had good fun doing it. (The deal was that if they helped, I’d give them a ride in the back of the pickup.) Now we have a heap of round logs down where I can split them as I need them, for the pasture campfire.

Next we headed a bit further down the pasture to where I had cut up some lovely dead maple that was bone dry. Where a standing tree can continue to suck up a surprising amount of moisture even when it is dead, this one had snapped off and fallen into a fork between other trees during a summer thunderstorm, which kept it five feet above ground, horizontal, and wonderfully easy to cut into logs with my chain saw. I didn’t even need to bend my old back as I cut. I used a wheelbarrow to move these logs to my truck, (where I would have carried them when younger), and the children insisted on helping. Most of the logs were too big for them to hoist, but they had quite an argument about who got to roll the empty wheelbarrow back to the cut-up tree, and I had to be the judge and decide who got the next turn. When the pickup was half full they’d all pile aboard for the ride back to the barn, and all get out as I reached the fifty yards of public road, (as it is illegal to have children in the back of pick-up trucks on public highways,) and then wait for me to return with the truck empty for the next ride back and the next load.

It always surprises me what fun the children think this is. It doesn’t seem to occur to them they are working, and I can guarantee they will brag to the other children when they come back from vacation on Monday about all they missed, and the other children will slouch and feel staying home and playing video games in a warm house was not “where it was at”.

The goats came out to join us. They like an open winter, as they don’t like wading through deep snow and usually sulk beneath the barn, but now could poke through the brown leaves for the stray acorn squirrels have missed, and nibbling the green boughs of pines and hemlocks. They like having humans about as they seem to know it will keep the coyote at a distance (and they don’t seem to know the bear are snoozing in caves.)

As the dark fell it seemed everyone had a good afternoon, despite the fact there was no sledding on Christmas vacation.

After reaching record extent in November, the snow-cover has retreated to a degree which I think is average or even below average for the start of a year, but now is starting its January advance. The maps below show December 29 snow-cover (top) and January 2 snow-cover (bottom), and how the snow is all the way to Texas due to the huge high bringing cold south, and snow to Tuscon, Arizona and the suburbs of Los Angeles.

Snowcover 20141229 ims2014363_usa Snowcover 20150102 ims2015002_usa

I imagine the snow will be here by Monday, despite all the warm air surging north. It’s a bit much to hope for another Christmas rain. There was simply too much cold air brought south by the huge high, and also more cold air is coming right on the heels of the warm-up. We could be below zero by Wednesday.

The Great Lakes have again started to freeze, after actually thawing a bit during Christmas.

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However, with so much of the water open, the lakes will buffer us from the really cold air. The warming of the air crossing Lake Michigan shows up with wonderful clarity in this Dr. Ryan Maue map I lifted from Joseph D’Aleo’s blog at Weatherbell, which shows the sub-zero air (-18° Celsius) as gray within the navy blue of single-digit cold, and charging us from the west on Wednesday. (Click to enlarge.)

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The problem for us will be when the winds shift more to the north on Thursday. Then the Lakes no longer are upwind, and Hudson Bay is frozen over and only warms arctic air slightly through the ice.

I think I’ll go buy a couple bags of coal. We have a tiny coal stove to supplement our three wood stoves, in the coldest nights. (I don’t trust the propane heat, after the brown-out we had last week.)

I need a warm house, to continue work on my novel. (A subject for another post.)

 

 

 

 

LOCAL VIEW —Santabomb Storm—three versions—(updated)

Storm #10 gave us a backlash of snow first thing this morning, which eases my conscience about calling it a winter storm when it was mostly drizzle. It was a miserable drizzle, only a couple degrees above freezing, but if nothing freezes it just seems like cheating to tell people in the future, in a bragging sort of way, “We had the most snows since the 1600’s, and The Little Ice Age”.   There was a winter in the 1600’s when they had 26 snows, so that is what I’m aiming at.

The snow was a trickster, for when I looked out at 5:00 AM there was only light rain to see, so I relaxed, thinking I had no sidewalks to clean at the Childcare, but as I got ready to head to the farm at 6:15 I looked out at a whirl of white. So I shifted from slow and lackadaisical to fast and muttering blue blazes. It was a wet slush, and soon faded to scattered flakes, but was enough to sweep, in a slushy sort of say, and then forsed me to scatter some sodium cloride upon the thin sheen of slush the broom left behind. As I headed down the sidewalk I heard clucking behind me, and turned to see a couple hens pecking away at the grains of sodium chloride.

Suicidal hens are a sure sign of a hard winter. Not only are they suicidal to eat sodium chloride (which hasn’t shown any sign of killing them, yet) but those chickens are also suicidal to break out of their pens this time of year, for usually it is a sure fire way of getting snatched up by a local red fox. That  fox must have been slacking off, this morning.

The upper radar shot (below) shows the backlash hitting us, and the second shows it has moved up to Maine, but a second impulse of snow is moving through the Ohio valley.

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For a while the European models were turning that second impulse into a storm off our coast on Saturday, but now it looks likely to zip out to sea as several separate impulses, far south of us.

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Therefore weather geeks are looking to a midweek event which has been dubbed the “Santabomb.” However the weather models, which were unusually agreeing yesterday, and placing a storm over the great lakes, have now reverted to form, and disagree hugely.

The American model sees two features, but has the leading feature sucked back to a Santabomb over the Great Lakes.

The Canadian Model sees the leading feature retaining individuality, and has a bizarre, peanut-shaped storm over the Great lakes and the coast.

The European  Model sees the leading feature becoming more dominate, and crawling up the coast and moving inland in Maine.

I’ll add more later, but need to hustle a bit. We’ve used a surprising amount of wood already, (especially with my kids returning to the nest,) and I figure I’d better cut up a couple dead trees out in the woods before the snows get deep.

UPDATE

Once again Joseph D’Aleo is way ahead of me. I will steal three maps from his Weatherbell blog to illustrate the three versions of virtual reality available this morning from Dr’ Ryan Maue maps at the Weatherbell site. I figure they won’t sue me for theft, if I make it very clear how much better their site is than this site.

Also these maps are already outdated, for the computer models are already changing their minds. They are allowed to be fickle and never have to sign contracts. If you really want to stay updated you should be a true weather geek, and constantly check the latest “model runs”, or else lurk at the Weatherbell “forum”, where a bunch of somewhat obnoxious dweebs yak away about what idiots everyone else is, to not subscribe to the model run they do, until the next model run comes out. In some ways they need to get a life, and if they really want to see an idiot they should look in a mirror, however their redeeming quality is that they are up-to-date, when it comes to the computer model runs. They seem to have a desire to be the first, and even to believe that people think they are smarter than the true experts such as Joe Bastardi or Joseph D’Aleo, simply because they are commenting before the experts comment.

I don’t need to get a life, because I  already have one. In fact I’m working on two other posts, besides this one, involving things outside of my writing. In fact I have to struggle to even find the time to write.

In some ways I envy dweebs and weather geeks. It must be nice to have all that time to waste.

Here is this mornings outdated GFS map of a Great Lakes storm on Christmas day: The trailing low has absorbed the front-running low.

S-bomb 1 gfs_pr3_slp_t850_east_57

Here is the Canadian model’s view, where the front-running low keeps its identity.

S-bomb 2 cmc_pr6_slp_t850_conus_34

And lastly here is the European view, where the front-runner absorbs the trailing storm.

S-bomb 3 ecmwf_slp_precip_east_30

If you have nothing better to do, it is great fun to lurk, and watch the weather geeks argue about which computer is correct, and then conveniently forget what they stated with great authority, when all three computers turn out to be wrong. I’d advise against joining the discussions, however, for you can wind up being shrieked at, for nearly anything. You are dealing with people with too much time on their hands, and I know, from personal experience, that can cause one to become a bit unhinged.

However the older I get the less time I have left, and therefore I am more careful about how I waste my time. Tonight I’d rather waste time discussing obscure details about differences between poplar trees, as I’ve been chainsawing wood today.

I only spend time focusing on three versions of Christmas to demonstrate to those who don’t yet know it that spending a billion on a computer doesn’t automatically give you a correct answer. In fact spending a billion three times, on three computers, may not give you the correct answer, because all three may be wrong.

At the very least, it should breed a bit of humbleness.  And at best, it can whip up some wonder.

 

 

 

LOCAL VIEW —WORST WINTER EVER—(A Synopsis) Updated

I figured a sensational headline might get you interested.

I looked over at Joseph D’Aleo’s blog at Weatherbell, and got a bit of a shock. Despite the fact we are midst a “warm spell,” the European model is printing out three storms next week. I can only suppose “warm” is a relative term, and “above-normal” can still be below freezing and still produce snow.  It may only amount to three inches in Boston, but if you look at the map below you will notice a lobe of higher amounts sticking down into south central New Hampshire, which would mean that these hills got over 28 inches. Yikes!  Now I understand why Joe Bastardi calls this pattern the “Heckuva Way To Run A Warm Up Pattern.”

Worst ecmwf_tsnow_ne_41(3)

This brings back a memory from when I was young, involving the way old-timers would worry when it got warm during the winter. Severe cold didn’t bother them much, because they would simply say “It is too cold to snow” and get on with their work.  However warmth promised snow, and snow was a bother and a nuisance, (and rain would bring muck and slush that would freeze and be worse,) so they would crumple their brows when the weather got nice.  It didn’t make a lick of sense to me, for to me the nice weather made the snow sticky, and be better suited for making forts and conducting snowball wars.

People now don’t need to work outside so much, but they still furrow their brows when the weather gets nice. They think it suggests Global Warming is occurring and the sea will rise and drown Boston. It still doesn’t make a lick of sense to me, but perhaps it is best I don’t go there.

In any case, the current computer models are showing a mild spell, but the above graphic demonstrates that might not keep this from being the worst winter ever. Therefore I will continue to record the storms, as if this might be an event people in the future would want to read about.

You people in the future might be interested to know that we people back at this time still had little idea what lay ahead, despite an amazing arctic outbreak in mid November that buried towns on the shores of the Great Lakes in as much as seven feet of snow, and also a rare Thanksgiving snowstorm. The waves of arctic cold were countered by waves of resurgent mildness, and the snow-cover that blanketed the land all the way south to Texas retreated back to the Dakotas often enough to allow us to entertain the hope the heart of the winter might not be all that bad.  You know if we were fools, but at this point we don’t.

Tonight we are experiencing the resurgent mildness. We had a snow-eater fog earlier, and now the low clouds are hurrying above, lit by a waxing moon that occasionally peeks down at the pines that roar up in the heights. The west wind brings a cold front this way, but we still hear the sounds of thaw, as the last of the snow and freezing rain that encrusted the trees this morning plash to earth, and eves drip. The roads are bare and the foot of snow that fell over Thanksgiving has shrunk to a dense inch, with bare patches on south-facing slopes. The temperature peaked at around 46, but has only fallen back to 41, as the pressure continues to fall even as the snow-event moves away, now down to 29.86.

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The lake -effect snow behind the cold front, shown by the radar, suggests the air is below freezing. Remember that below-freezing can be above-normal, now that we’ve reached the month of December.

If I’m looking for stuff to worry about I look up to the southwest of Hudson Bay, at the second cold front bringing arctic air in our general direction. Then I look to the very bottom of the map, at what seems to be a tropical whirl appearing south of Jamaica.  (Believe it or not, New England’s 400 years of weather history does contain a few references to what they called “snow-hurricanes.”) At the very least, a glob of tropical moisture coming north could add punch to a nor’easter.

Actually I’ve got a bad case of the sniffles to worry about.  It seemed to be getting better, however after cleaning up slush this morning I’ve been laying low, pampering myself just a little. I did go and buy some Italian chestnuts so the children can understand the song with the lines, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire; Jack Frost Nipping at your nose…”

It’s funny how it once sounded cozy and romantic to have Jack Frost nipping at your nose. Now it just makes me worry my nose will turn blue.  When I was a boy I never much liked old guys with blue noses.

While pampering myself I got bored, and decided I should prepare a list of snow events that occurred during the “Worst Winter Ever.”

WORST WINTER EVER SNOW EVENTS

  • #0 November 3  Just missed us to the east; coastal nor’easter. Caused concern just before the Patriots-Bronco’s game, but field was cleared up before game time.
  • #1 November 14  Mini-nor’easter. 1 inch, melted by noon.
  • #2 November 17  Trace of snow changed to freezing rain, then rain. Primary low over Hudson Bay with secondary right over us.
  • #3 November 19 Dusting from Alberta Clipper bringing Arctic Outbreak #1 and amazing lake-effect snows by Great Lakes; only a few flurries made it this far east.
  • #4 November 23 Dusting at the very start of a mild surge as a storm moved up to the Great Lakes and then northeast through Quebec.
  • #5 November 26 Thanksgiving Storm. 12 inches. Formed on cold front trailing down coast from #4. Just barely below freezing, and little wind.
  • #6 November 29 Norlun Wave that formed behind Thanksgiving Storm. Followed by brief Arctic Outbreak #2. Temperature 3 degrees in Jaffrey.
  • #7 December 2 Another secondary on front dangling from a mild-surge storm that passed well north, over southern Hudson Bay. 1 inch followed by freezing rain, then rain.

There.  That’s a fine start to a worst winter ever, especially when I think back to milder Decembers when people were worried whether we’d have a white Christmas or not. I can remember one year, either 1991 or 1992, when it was in the sixties in December and I was hired to do some last minute house-painting. The way some are responding to the recent computer model’s ideas of a warm-up, they are expecting similar warmth this December, however when I look at the European map of snow totals by a week from tomorrow, I doubt much house-painting will be seen in New Hampshire.

UPDATE  —Take your pick—

Insomnia has me up at 2:00 AM, and I thought I’d take a look at what the computer models show for next Wednesday.  The American (GFS) shows fair weather for New England, while the Canadian (JEM) shows a howling storm.  The fascinating thing is they start out with roughly the exact same data, and come up with such wildly differing solutions. (The American map is on top and the Canadian on the bottom. (Click to enlarge.)

Pick gfs_precip_mslp_noram_53 Pick cmc_precip_mslp_noram_27

(Maps created by Dr. Ryan Maue at the Weatherbell site.)