LOCAL VIEW —Particular Law—

Smoke woodfire john-caldwell-if-you-ask-me-the-fire-has-the-most-potential-but-it-s-the-smoke-that-h-new-yorker-cartoon

(Cartoon Credit: John Caldwell; New Yorker)

Three dawns ago the cold spread out possessively over the land, and spread its arms with a greed so vast that it lay flat with its breast to the ground, which in less poetic terms is called “an inversion”. It was 8° at 6000 feet atop Mount Washington, and fourteen degrees colder on my back porch at -6.2°. It was forty degrees warmer in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota, where it was thawing at 34°as a Chinook arrived, but that meant nothing to the people shivering in our twilight, and starting fires in every other house in town, whether they had wood stoves as their primary heat, or only as a sort of quaint object included with other interior decorations for atmosphere.

From every other chimney puffed smoke, and the smoke didn’t rise far before spreading out as flat shelves in the calm. Likely a few wealthy people looked out picture windows from over-heated living rooms, and tisk-tisked about what I heard one call “particular pollution”, meaning tiny bits of soot in the air, and not that they themselves are too particular. They are always in the mood to ban wood stoves, and when you point out many poor people can’t afford Arab oil, and would rather burn local trees, they dismiss the poor as white trash who have no understanding of environmentalism.

I dismiss the unenlightened rich as fools who have no idea of the radiance of a home fire, nor of the environment of a loving household.  (The chill of certain wealthy households is not measured by thermometers, but by divorce rates, and even by tragic statistics such as the suicide rate of children under twelve.)

Fortunately we do not get too many inversions in New England, and they seldom last past mid-morning even when they do occur. Also the people who heat with wood tend to be very aware that smoke is basically un-burned fire, and a smokey fire is an inefficient fire. There is lore going back to the Indians involving how to build a smoke-free fire, for once upon a time a smokey fire could give away your location to enemies. Basically you construct the fire in such a way that the blazing part serves as an afterburner for the smoldering part. Benjamin Franklin took this afterburner-idea one step further, and had the smoke rising up a chimney from a downstairs fire go through a bed of coals set on screen in the chimney upstairs, turning all the smoke to flame, so that nothing left the chimney but steam.

As I drive the kids from our Childcare to kindergarten we dip down into the Soughegan Valley and cross the river by one of the oldest working mills in the nation, which was built around 1800 and has, among other things, woven fabrics for the Union Army in the Civil War, and for a vehicle that bounce-landed on Mars.

The old mill recently updated their heating system to a huge, external wood stove, (reducing the risk of fire in the mill itself), and the heating system is a gleaming structure of shiny metal pressed against a steep cliff right beside the road. It’s huge hopper is fed wood-chips on a regular basis by sixteen-wheeled trucks, from the road at the top, and the chips are fed into a furnace that burns the wood so efficiently that nothing departs the fire but steam, which escapes the system via the only other sign which is obvious from the road: A gleaming, over-sized stovepipe, which billows steam.

You can tell the steam is clean because even during an inversion the white cloud swiftly dissipates into clear air, leaving no smudge of “particular matter” behind. Not that there are not a few wealthy people who frown at the sight, on general principles. One sad attribute of such people is that, for all their protests that they care deeply for both the poor and for the environment, what they care most about is their own wallet and remaining rich, and able to assume the position of someone who can sit about disapproving. (Not that many poor people actually care what such snobs think, but snobs like the illusion that they matter, fostering this illusion by cozying up to those with political power.)

Many of the unenlightened rich have dug deep into their wallets to invest in getting the political payback called a “subsidy,” which can be gained by investing in amazingly unprofitable concepts such as wind turbines, and solar panels in northern lands where the sun barely rises in the winter. The sanity of burning wood in an area with a surplus of trees irks these people, because it threatens the insanity of “clean energy” and the subsidies they lust for. Therefore they are itching for some excuse to ban burning wood, and the local mill’s ability to burn wood cleanly infuriates them.

I try not to think about this subject too deeply, as I drive the kids to kindergarten, because my job is to pay attention to the road.

The drive involves a decent down a short, steep hill into town, which lies on a flat shoulder above a more gradual decent to the river, which lies in a granite canyon crossed by an amazing field-stone structure,  called “High Bridge.” Perhaps the Inca built taller bridges of stone without cement, but I know of few other such bridges north of Panama.

There are only about five mornings a year when any sort of serious smog forms in the valley due to wood fires. I fail to be properly horrified by the smog, for I know that which kills the elderly, and is worst for their frail lungs, is not “particular pollution,” but rather being forced to live in a home with the heat turned down to fifty, because they can’t afford the inflated heating bills created by the government’s insane “green energy policy.”  To be honest, the smog actually looks rather beautiful, in the light of a rosy sun just cresting piney hills.

The smog is worst at daybreak, for few have the time, in the rush of arising, to properly lay a fire, and start a blaze in the smoke-free manner one would do if smoke could reveal their location to their enemies. To start such a smoke-free fire you would light the driest tinder of birch-bark, and slowly add the smallest dry twigs of hemlock, only slowly increasing the size of the kindling, and keeping the orange flames high and lively at all times.

In a modern household few have the time to squat by the fire and tend it with such care. Rather people are gulping cups of ambition while attempting to motivate recalcitrant children to dress, eat and get out the door. They tend to dump tinder, kindling, and firewood in stoves all at once, and even if the fires swiftly become a bright blaze, it passes through a period where it smolders and produces a lot of smoke.

As I head to work on calm mornings I see a lot of chimney’s producing this first-smoke in the dusk, with the smoke only rising a little before flattening into shelves and flat veils. By the time I head to kindergarten ninety minutes later some of this smoke has dissipated into a low haze, and only the chimneys of late risers are producing the first-smoke. The others produce no smoke, but only wavers of heat, for the fires have burned down to beds of coals, and often the home is in the process of being deserted and becoming just an empty box,  until humanity returns in the evening.

Usually the stirring of the air with the daylight disturbs the calm, and the valley is washed clean of smoke an hour after dawn, but as I decended into the valley last Wednesday the smoke was a remarkably beautiful series of shelves and smudges. I feel sorry for the people who can’t see the beauty of the sight, or of the self-reliance it symbolizes, and instead insist upon the political correctness of working themselves into a tizzy.

I tried to pay attention to the road, but found my mind marveling over the structure of the atmosphere revealed by the smoke. There wasn’t a single inversion, but rather several, and I could see the calm atmosphere had layered itself like a deck of cards, and interestingly each card had a slow drift in a different direction. Generally the drift was from south to north, hinting that the high pressure was cresting and a warm-up was coming, but one layer was sliding ever so slowly from the north, obstinately indicating some back-flow in a layer perhaps only ten feet thick. (I can’t imagine trying to program all these variances into a weather computer, yet each microcosm is the wing of a butterfly that can create a swirl that effects the larger chaos.)

Down by the mill the air was so cold that the steam pouring from the mill’s wood-furnace didn’t dissipate swiftly, but formed a snow-white stream of steam the flattened and undulated down the river. I thought at first that the south wind might be right down at the river, but then thought that the bitter cold air might be draining downstream just as the water did. (The Soughegan is a rare north-flowing river, in out town.)  Also interesting was to look down the river and see the undulating ribbon of flat steam reached a point where it lifted up above the dewpoint, and vanished, but then dipped down to air below the dewpoint, and reappeared, as the ribbon tapered out to a series of dashes.

It is hard to pay attention to the road, sometimes.

Also distracting me from the road, and distracting me from the Eureka of discovering some great meteorological truth through astute observation, was the simple fact the van held six children, all asking questions in a somewhat demanding way. They (like me) cannot commute without filling the time with worthwhile activity. Occasionally they even unsnap their seat-belts, which I strongly discourage. I encouraged story-telling, which created tremendous debates about whose “turn” it was. (I may have encouraged debating skills more than story-telling skills.) In fact the noise became so loud I decided to encourage music appreciation, and introduced them to classical music. (For some reason they called it “circus” music.) I hoped they might become quiet and listen, but it led inevitably to the questions about whether we could listen to “other” music, and also the question as Beethoven finished, “Why is that person (the PBS announcer) talking so funny?” (I had no answer, but informed the child, “They are sitting on their hairbrush.”) (The child sagely nodded, understanding what that is like.)

Another little girl wanted to listen to country music, so I switched to a country station, and was embarrassed because the very first song was by a man singing about heading off to a bar on Friday night to get sloshed and pick up a babe. I feared I’d corrupt a child, but the girl knew every word, and sang along with the gruff baritone in a sweet, piping soprano.

By the time I drop the children off at the kindergarten I tend to be a bit haggard, and like the peace and quiet of the drive back to the Childcare. Nearly every day I have to stop, as a school-bus coming the other way picks up a girl going to grade school. A little stop sign swings out from the side of the bus, lights at the top of the bus flash, the little girl trots across the street, and climbs stairs into the bus.You can see, through the windshield,  the girl walk down the aisle and take her seat, and then the little stop sign swings back and the light stops flashing, and then you are allowed to proceed past the bus.

As I approached the bus this morning I could see the entire process occurring, even before I was near the bus, and made an incorrect forecast. I assumed the little sign would swing in and the lights would stop flashing, and only slowed. For some reason the driver was extra careful, and didn’t start the bus up as I expected.

The reason the driver was so careful was because there was a police car right behind the bus, and the officer saw me proceed past the bus before the little stop sign swung in. I had flagrantly broken a law which is in place to protect small children, and he rightly nailed me for it. I explained my forecast, and why it had failed, and he was sympathetic, but the letter of the law is the letter of the law, though he did give me the minimum fine of a hundred dollars.

The real drag is that we have only just got our insurance back after we lost it because my wife broke the letter of the law. A State inspector visited the Childcare, and asked for some tedious paperwork the state thinks is more important to do than to actually watch children, and my wife stepped through a doorway to get the file from a shelf, stepped back in with the scrupulously kept paperwork, and found she had committed the crime of “leaving children unattended.”

So we are a couple of criminals. The average American commits five felonies a day, because the letter of the law now is six stacks of paper each seven feet tall.

I don’t wonder that some disrespect the law, but I still try to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, (though it may well be a raspberry.)

At times I wonder over the fact anyone can pay attention to the road at all.

However at least the wind did turn south and it swiftly warmed to a high of 27°, and the smog was gone by morning coffee break.



When a lot of arctic air pours south from the North Pole, and invades more southern climes with the wolves of winter, it actually gets milder at the Pole, because the exported air must be replaced. Even when the air is replaced by flows aloft, the air warms as it descends to the surface. Quite often the air is transported north by gales that bring warm sectors northwards, and at times these warm sectors can travel over sea-ice before they occlude and are lifted higher up in the atmosphere, where the air cools and then descends.

In other words, the more harsh, arctic weather comes south to the places where most people live, the more milder air is sucked north.  The jet stream becomes loopy, or “meridianal”, rather than being “zonal” and simply circling around and around the Pole.  Rather than calm conditions and extreme cold, the Pole sees more wind and relative warmth.

Besides leading to a completely different pattern in the formation of sea-ice, (a subject for another post), the loopy pattern can so drain the Arctic of its reserves of most-cold air that, for a time, the Arctic has less ammunition to throw at the south. To the south the cruel arctic outbreaks may slacken, temperatures may moderate, and there may even be thaws. People are tempted to think Winter is over, when it is merely reloading.

Such a reloading is shown by a plunge in the temperatures up at the Pole, as calm allows the cold to pool and reach its coldest temperatures of the Winter. We can see this in the DMI graph of temperatures surrounding the Pole, and also their map of what those temperatures are.

DMI2 0120B meanT_2015

DMI2 0120B temp_latest.big

It is important to remember two things, when the air gets down below -30° (-34° Celsius) at the Pole. The first thing is that it is difficult for air to get any colder, due to the fact the water under the ice is around 28° (-2° Celsius) and is constantly radiating heat up through the ice. The second thing is that the air-mass’s temperatures can get colder, as soon as the air moves south over tundra and taiga that have no such warming-from-beneath, and instead have snow-cover that allows radiational cooling, and the air also experiences very little sunshine, this deep in the winter.

Even though the statistical end to dropping temperatures is reached around now, and statistically temperatures start to rise from now on, as spring approaches, some of the coldest arctic outbreaks can pour south from Poles as chilled as the Pole is now chilled.

Therefore it is wise to be wary of the second half of winter. When these super-cold air-masses charge south, and meet up with the first springtime warm air-masses coming north, they can generate some of our deepest snows and wildest storms.

As an interesting side thought, I’ve always wondered if the so-called “January Thaw” may be a period like the slack waters between a rising tide and a sinking tide. It is the time between temperatures getting colder and temperatures getting warmer, and a reflection of that change may be seen in a calm, but it is a calm that allows the Pole to get very cold.


On his blog at Weatherbell Joe Bastardi noted that a major North Atlantic Storm looks likely to crash into Scotland, and in its wake alter the pattern over Europe, which could become colder and snowy. Here’s the GFS map of the storm on Thursday morning: (Dr. Ryan Maue map from Weatherbell.)

Europe 1 gfs_mslp_uv10m_eur_13

The UK Met map shows the same situation, Thursday morning:

UK Met 0113 21579599

Last year such a storm always seemed to bring a surge of warm air up from the Azores all the way to Finland, but this year not only is the warm sector cooler, often with it’s sourse region Greenland (moderated by cross-Atlantic travel), but the warm air doesn’t penetrate so far north before the storm’s cold front, (with air from Iceland)  catches up and occludes the warm air up off the ground.  In this case the north side of the storm’s east winds will be tapping into very cold air parked over Scandinavia and eastern Siberia.

Europe 2 gfs_t2m_eur_1

By Friday the storm is winding down a little, and crashing into Norway.

Europe 4 21581442

There is much less warm air over Scandinavia. Where has it gone?

Europe 3 gfs_t2m_eur_17

I think at least some of that arctic air has been sucked east and then south, into the storm. The much milder waters of the northern tendrils of the Gulf Stream, heading up towards Barents Sea north of Norway, warm that frigid air right down at the surface of the water, but a couple of hundred feet higher up that air remains extremely cold, and is curved around and down towards Scotland.

By Sunday the storm has moved on northeast of Norway, and the map shows isobars straight from the Pole to London.

Europe 5 21586106

The temperature map shows it much warmer over Scandinavia, but much of the cold air seems to have been gobbled up by the passing gale and swung down to milder climes, as nearly all of England is below freezing, as is much of Germany, France, and even Spain.

Europe 6 gfs_t2m_eur_33

The question now becomes, “Is this a brief visit of north winds, or could it be more lasting?”

I hasten to add that the above maps are from the virtual world of computer models, which can be false prophets. They have been particularly bad this year, when it comes to seeing cold hit Europe. My personal theory is that they are based on a zonal flow, where storms and air-masses are well behaved and move around and around the earth, and the models have a hard time with loopy “meridianal” flows, where cross-polar-flow brings storms and air masses over the  top.

In a most general way, I would describe the pattern this winter as heading from the Atlantic right up to the Pole, and then rebounding south to Siberia. I am watching to see if the pattern repeats. If it does repeat then the gale, after moving north of Norway, will slouch south into Siberia, and the east winds north of it will bring fresh Siberian cold back to the west, to Europe.

Lastly, I’ll watch to see if the pattern then gets stuck, and “locks in.”  If it does, a repeat of the January and February of 1947 might be seen in England.

If I get time tomorrow I’ll look up an elegant description of that winter in James Herriot’s book, “The Lord God Made Them All.”  If my memory serves me correctly, that winter was mild to start, and they had a green Christmas in Yorkshire, and it wasn’t until late January that times grew hard. If I find it I’ll update this post with his testimony.

UPDATE:   (from Chapter 16 of “THE LORD GOD MADE THEM ALL”)

“…That was in 1947, the year of the great snow. I have never known snow like that before or since, and the odd thing is that it took such a long time to get started. Nothing happened in November and we had a green Christmas, but then it began to get colder and colder. All through January a north-east wind blew, apparently straight from the Arctic; usually after a few days of this sort of unbearable blast, snow would come and make things a bit warmer. But not in 1947.

Each day we thought it couldn’t get any colder, but it did, and then, borne on the wind, very fine flakes began to appear over the last few days of the month. They were so small you could hardly see them, but were the forerunners of the real thing. At the beginning of February, big fat flakes started a steady, relentless decent on our countryside, and we knew, after all that build up, that we were in for it.

For weeks and weeks the snow fell, sometimes in a gentle, almost lazy curtain that remorselessly obliterated the familiar landmarks, at others in fierce blizzards. In between, the frost took over and transformed the roads into glassy tracks of flattened snow over which we drove at fifteen miles an hour…”

This is a fine description of what occurs when a pattern stops swinging between two extremes, and simply “locks in”. It is a rare event, but history does repeat itself, which is why we study it.


By next Wednesday, this is how much snow the American GFS model sees will have fallen on Britain. (Click to enlarge.)

Europe 6 gfs_6hr_snow_acc_uk2_28

Remember, these maps are fiction until verified, and also show how much snow falls, without showing how much melts. Lastly, they are based on a one-inch-of-rain-makes-ten-inches-of-snow formula, and gloppy snow may create lesser amounts, while fluffy powder may double the amounts.

If this forecast verifies, then poor Dr. David Viner is going to again be sorry he ever said, “Children aren’t going to know what snow is”, back in  2000. The “Snowfalls Are Now Just A Thing Of The Past” headline will haunt him to the grave. However he did get a lot of speaking engagements and money out of making a total fool of himself, and some people can count their cash and have no  shame:  http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/snowfalls-are-now-just-a-thing-of-the-past-724017.html

It remains to be seen if the pattern will “lock in” or not.

The above snowfall-map was produced by Dr. Ryan Maue, and lifted from Joe Bastardi’s blog, at the Weatherbell site. (I feel compelled to promote the thousands of maps and excellent commentary I get at that site, for the price of a cup of coffee a day, because I lift ideas and maps from them so often.) Besides studying the action-and-reaction of the current maps, they are historians, and have done well by finding situations in the past that resemble our current situation, and using such analogs to point out what is probable and what is not. They have been suggesting arctic blasts and snow is probable for Europe since September, and currently they are making the study of history look wise and any sort of lazy dependence on computer models look foolish. The models didn’t see the current snow and cold coming, nor did they see the cold and snow that proceeded it.  If you put all your faith in computer models you are likely to wind up looking like Dr. David Viner.

(Note: During his video on Weatherbell this morning Joe Bastardi showed some model forecasts that now have come around and even may be going to the other extreme, for they now show the cold and snow “locking in” over Western Europe for three weeks. {Remember, models are fiction until they verify.) Three weeks may not seem like a long winter, but I know from experience even ten days can seem like an eternity when you are slogging through hardship.  And, if the pattern does “lock in”, it could extend out even further into the future, or “back off” into but a brief thaw, even as it “reloads” for another round. It might be time for some in Europe to heed the old adage, “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”)


http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-30804065  (Picture from Scottish game park.)


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.

20150113 satsfc

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.

20150113B satsfc

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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.




This is just a quick note. I’ll update later.

It only got up to 9° (-13° Celsius) yesterday, despite brilliant sunshine, but then last night it only fell back to 6° (-14° Celsius) before the clouds and slightly less cold air in front of an Alberta Clipper began moving in. This morning I look out at the dark before dawn and see a swirl of powder, and it is up to 15° (-9° Celsius.)

20150108B satsfc20150109 satsfc


A wild and windy wall of whirling white-out whooshed through this morning, giving us a swift 2-3 inches and making a complete mess of the morning commute. I clearly showed how virtual the world of administrators is, because yesterday there was a two-hour-delay to the start of school, with brilliant sunshine, because the administrators were in awe of the warning about the wind-chill, but today there were no warnings and everyone headed off to school at the ordinary time in conditions which, for roughly an hour, were like those of the worst blizzard.

One mother dropped off her child at the Childcare at the same time both mornings, as she works at a hospital where there is no such thing as a snow delay. If anything, snow brings more business to hospitals. Some elective surgery might be postponed, but a lot of illnesses and injuries don’t wait on the weather. So this woman simply had to get to work.

I liked her spirit. She just accepted the weather as something she had to deal with, and plugged on with, if anything, a bit of a ho-hum attitude. She was more annoyed about other drivers than the weather.  You can’t do anything about the weather, but driving is something people can do something about.

What people did was to creep along between 15 and 25 miles per hour, which seemed quite sensible to me. The core of the clipper, which seemed much like a strong cold front, included gales that came in blasts, and made the snow blinding. Then, just about the time the last child was delivered to school, the snow let up, as the clipper moved past.

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At 11:00 the snow has stopped and it is up to 20° (-17° Celsius) for the first time in days. TYhe blast of cold air behind this clipper shouldn’t be as bad as the last one, as it will come towards us over the Great Lakes, and though they are freezing up fast they still have a lot of open water.

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You can see the slightly milder air in the lee of the lakes well in this Dr. Ryan Maue map from Weatherbell below, which shows the Canadian model’s forecast of the situation 30 hours from now (which incidentally is the time of the Patriot’s playoff game.  Folk around here are deeply concerned about the passing of quarterback Tom Brady being effected cold and wind, and not so worried about their pipes freezing.)

20150109 cmc_t2m_noram_6




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.

20150107 satsfc

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.

20150107B satsfc

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 —Fasting—

The wind is roaring up in the pines this morning, but it still hasn’t gotten all that cold. I’ll go get some sand at the Town Garage and spread it at the Childcare in an hour, not because it has frozen but because it soon will freeze.  The map shows the second cold front sweeping down through the Great lakes, and the radar shows the lake-effect snows already blossoming downwind. Temperatures are likely to go down as the sun  comes up. (Click maps, or open to new tabs, to clarify and enlarge.)

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It is a very cold looking map.  Not only are isobars showing a direct discharge of air from just south of Hudson Bay, where temperatures are touching -40°, but the associated high pressure over Nebraska is not a loner, but followed by further high pressures coming down the Canadian Rockies. Cold is likely to make the news this week.

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(Click this Dr. Ryan Maue map from the Weatherbell site to enlarge, and then click again to enlarge further.)

Joe Bastardi and Joseph D’Aleo have been warning this cold was coming, even last week when the computer models were showing last weeks cold fading away and a nice warm-up starting now. Therefore I have been taking no chances, and behaved as if it would be a real job to stay warm this week. I’ve gotten extra wood and a couple bags of coal, and yesterday I behaved as if the slush would soon turn to stone, and stay stone for a long time, and therefore I should remove as much as I could while it was still mobile stuff.

I hinted to my middle son and youngest daughter that it might be nice if they got some exercise by pushing some slush off the drive, but they were too busy being spiritual to help.  Spirituality, this particular Sunday, involved fasting.

I myself don’t see what is so spiritual about fasting. It seems to make people more crabby rather than nicer, and also it makes them too weak to help a dear old Dad push slush.  Nothing, in my opinion of yesterday, is quite so spiritual as pushing slush off a driveway.

Pushing slush is also a good activity if you are in the mood to grumble and grouse. It is a bit like singing the blues, in that you go on and on in a sort of misery, and wind up feeling better.

I had a lot to grumble about, because after church I was informed some people considered me a bully. I was astonished. Me?  A bully? However some felt I had been too hard on our ex-pastor, who dramatically resigned after the Christmas service. I suppose I might have been kinder and gentler with the man about the fact our congregation had dwindled from a hundred down to only forty, however I figured facts are facts and we should face those facts. A lot of the sermons were about a thing called “accountability,” and suggested if we did not hold each other “accountable” we were guilty of a sort of sloth. So I held the pastor accountable. Apparently I wasn’t suppose to look beyond the congregation to the pulpit.

Anyway, as I pushed slush around I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. “Sometimes you can’t win for trying.” If I didn’t speak at church I’d be slothful, and a bit of a coward, but if I did speak I was a bully. Things seemed hopeless, especially when I went over to the childcare and saw the entire lot covered with an inch of slush.  I walked across pushing the shovel, and looked back at a single stripe of wet sand on a vast expanse of yuk, and just about quit on the spot. But I kept on going, back and forth and back and forth, grumbling all the while.

It slowly grew dark as the sun set behind the dismal overcast, yet it didn’t get dark. The nearly full moon was shining above the clouds, and the overcast was lit by a muted glow. After taking all day to nudge above freezing, milder air was finally gusting in, with some puffs surprisingly mild, and the next cold again. Back and forth and back and forth I went.

I wondered if any of the parents would appreciate my work, when they dropped off their kids in the morning. I was doing it for them, so they could walk on sand, and not glare ice, or slush covered with a skim of ice. Probably they’d be in too much of a Monday hurry to notice. That’s how it goes, sometimes. All around us are signs of people caring, but it goes unnoticed.  The very shirt on my back was made by someone in Asia caring. Back and forth and back and forth I went, with my mood slowly improving.

I thought about my kids fasting, and how that theoretically denies the self. Sometimes it in fact gets one very focused on the self, especially the stomach, but in theory it is the spirit refusing to be ruled by the flesh.

Then I thought about pushing slush. In a sense that is putting pleasure aside, and putting the self aside, to focus on making walking easier for others, and therefore is a sort of fasting.

So is speaking the truth, even when people call you a bully for speaking. You put your own comfort aside, and accept a decrease in personal pleasure, to do the honest and truthful thing. It is another form of fasting.

Perhaps that is what spirituality is about. You become forgetful of your self, and busy loving others. You are not doing it for the recognition, and may in fact wind up feeling like Rodney Dangerfield, but there is a glory in it, for suddenly you pause, and look back, and the entire entrance of the Childcare is free of slush. The job is done.

I headed home in a much better mood, seeing the moon start to peek between the hurtling overcast, and the branches toss in the sky over the road and the moon-shadows dance in the street. Pushing slush seemed a great thing, a sort of spiritual therapy or yoga, conducive to revelation.

As I walked into my happy  home I started to tell my wife about my revelation, and after listening a while she said I sounded like the fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah. Curious, I looked it up, and saw exactly what I was glimpsing had already been seen, 2700 years ago.

Some things never change, and, along with human grumbling, one of those things is Truth.