There is a growing hubbub locally, regarding a shot of pure arctic air coming straight towards New England. I’m feeling a bit smug, for I have been insinuating as much for two weeks. I’ve been one of those sour old men who scowls when the weather is lovely, and who seems like a wet blanket on any festivities. Sorry about that. But allow me to defend myself.
For one thing, I’m not really scowling. My eyes are just bad. What I’m actually doing is peering. I’m scanning the horizons for thunderheads, because, for the second thing, someone’s got to be on guard while the rest of you party-animals whoop it up. Thirdly, if you really want to bum-out a party, remind everyone that someday we’ll all die. I’d just rather it be later than sooner, so I’m always watching for the next problem, (and the next problem may be that I get thrown out the door.)
Muttering various things about cross-polar-flow and direct-discharge-of-arctic-air may not be a way to be the hit of a party, so I try to do it wearing a lampshade on my head and tap-dancing on a table, which seems to be a TV weatherman’s way of getting attention. But extreme cold can be serious, though it is rare south of the border. People north of the border in Canada, or up in Alaska, know extreme cold can kill, and are less liable to take it lightly.
In New England things have to line up just right, and Hudson Bay needs to be frozen over so its waters don’t warm the winds from Siberia. The winds have to come from the north, so the Great Lakes don’t warm them to the west, and so the Atlantic doesn’t warm them to the east. Also coming straight from the north tends to align them with the north-south undulations of the landscape (which makes rivers run mostly southwards, and lakes like Lake Champlain long and skinny, north to south.) By coming down long valleys the winds avoid bopping over hills, which would have a warming effect and turns cold winds into watered-down, east-coast versions of a west coast Chinook. But, if the winds avoid all warming and meet this north-to-south criterion, they become what old-timers called, “The Montreal Express”.
Often, but not always, such a discharge of arctic air is on the west side of a departing storm system. The current scenario is of the rarer sort, where the outbreak is primarily due to the configuration of an upper air trough.
The chief discussion among meteorologists seems to be whether the Great Lakes can generate enough uplift with their unfrozen waters to make the trough “U” shaped, which will make the discharge less direct, or whether the trough will be “V” shaped, which is most direct and a worst-case-scenario. Then there is a brief but nearly total breakdown of those southern powers that ordinarily keep the north in check, and ordinarily push back against the north. Instead, the north pours south, as if a dam had burst.
It isn’t the cold that kills you as much as it is the wind. A roaring wind can make temperatures behave far colder than they actually are. You can walk about in a minus-ten calm without fear of frostbite, but when winds howl frostbite can occur with nasty speed. And, should you be foolish enough to be caught out in such a wind, with no shelter to flee to, death can soon follow.
For this reason, the local weather bureau is doing its best to scare everyone indoors on Friday night and Saturday. I’d obey, but I’ll have to go out to feed the goat and chickens. You’ll seldom see an old man move faster.
In the meantime, we watch the blob of Siberian cold moving slowly down the west coast of Hudson Bay
And we look at a map that ordinarily might not seem all that threatening
And, to be honest, I’d ordinarily be more worried about that small low over North Carolina coming up the coast and blowing up into a surprise snowstorm, though currently any snow it makes looks like it will be light and stay south of us
But, like I began this post by saying, I’m always scanning the horizons and scowling. Actually I should stop that. Instead I should be praying for survival. We humans are basically hairless creatures designed for warm places like the garden of Eden. How did we wind up in a landscape that wants to kill us?
But then I consider the smallest winter birds: The titmice, juncos, nuthatches, chickadees. How can such minute balls of fluff survive in these bitter blasts? They are not much bigger than spit, yet they survive where spit freezes before it hits the ground.
Cruel winter entertains a kindly mood.
I walk at night without a scarf, as eves
Drip and icicles shorten. Still, I brood
As moon carves bluet sky to dawn. Thaw decieves
My skeptic side. Day brings the chickadees
Out from hiding, daring to hop on twigs
Exposed, though last week a bitter breeze
Could have killed them. They flit and do their jigs
And sing their lie, "Spring soon," and I wonder
How such diminutive fluff balls survive
The cold. Did our Great Creator blunder?
With winter huge, can small warmth stay alive?
Yes, they do, and it fills me with hope
For this world's a big chill and I'm a small dope.
Of the many variables affecting the creation, movement and dispersal of sea-ice, the super-storms of the northern Pacific and Atlantic have recently grabbed my attention, perhaps because the storm that made headlines off the coast of California was unusually far south, and made me wonder if unusual things were occurring elsewhere.
Not that there is much that is usual about “ordinary” super-storms. They do not get much press, because they largely live and die far from where most people live, but they are well worth watching, for they are more powerful than hurricanes and typhoons in their totality, though they lack the ferocious winds of a tropical storm’s central eye-wall.
They are strongest when the contrast between arctic air and the warm waters brought north by the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic and the Kuroshio System in the Pacific is at its greatest. They can grow with shocking speed, called “bombogenesis” by some, and sometimes fill and vanish nearly as rapidly, while other times they and their closely associated secondary and tertiary developments wobble about as features for weeks.
Because the Pacific is larger than the Atlantic, and the Siberian tundra creates crueler cold than Canada, you might think the Pacific super-storms would be larger, but in fact the Atlantic storms hold the records for lowest pressures. In some ways this makes sense, because the clash between cold and warm is crowded into a smaller area. In any case, such massive storms influence the currents and winds entering and departing the Arctic Ocean, and in this regard the Atlantic has greater power than the Pacific, at greater depths. In fact Bering Strait is so shallow that it dries up every ice age, and most water that is chilled and sinks in the Arctic departs via a deeper channel through Fram Strait. But it is the shallow currents bringing warmer water into the arctic which are most affected by the churning of super-storms, and are what originally drew my attention away from the sea-ice, southward to the storms.
One fascinating current is the WSC, which brings warm and saltier water into the Arctic equation through the east side of Fram Strait. It is complex because its warmth makes it more buoyant than colder water at the same time as its salinity makes it less buoyant than fresher water. Therefore, as it cools, it arrives at a point where it becomes less buoyant than the sea it is entering, and at that point it stops riding atop the sea, and takes a shallow dive, sliding beneath the arctic waters like a playing card sliding in to a deck. It can be followed as a submerged current a considerable distance, all the way around the Pole, even to where it exits on the west side of Fram Strait, though it is subjected to a number of variables which can change its course and even threaten its existence. It is a difficult task for scientists to measure its whereabouts because in some ways it is like attempting to follow something that wanders like an upper air jet stream, but you can’t measure it with a weather balloon, and instead have to drill through thick ice while looking over your shoulder for 1500 pound bears. Data is scarcer than most would like, and “funding is needed”. But one variable which effects the WSC is every, single superstorm that blows up in the Atlantic.
The WSC is fed by a northern tendril of the Gulf Stream which in effect bounces off Norway and proceeds north-northwest to Svalbard. If a super-storm is to the west southerly winds hurry this current on its way, but if the super-storm is to the east its northerly winds balk the current, and also chill it. This can make a considerable difference in the nature of the current as it reaches Fram Strait, and can cause the current to take its dive earlier or later than usual. Without measurements, one indication of where the current is taking its dive is where the sea-ice at the surface melts. When the WSC is at the surface the sea-ice melts away with a rapidity which astonishes me.
However all sorts of other variables need to be kept in mind. For example, melting the sea-ice adds cold water to the WSC which reduces its temperature, and also its salinity. Also the current is drawn north not merely by powers pushing from behind, but also it is sucked north by the fact polar water is sinking and water must come north to replace it. Varying such pushing and pulling will also alter the current, which affects the sea-ice. As is often the case with meteorology, if you focus on one thing you are likely missing another; (hopefully it is not a 1500 pound bear.)
When I last posted about sea-ice a powerful high pressure lay just south of the Laptev Sea, while the remnants of one super-storm dissipated in Barents Sea as a second super-storm exploded in Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland. Cold air was being recycled from west Siberia to east Siberia, creating a pool of air so cold records were set in places, as a second, smaller pool developed over the Canadian Archipelago.
In terms of the movement of sea-ice, the most noticeable feature (to me) was the divergence of isobars towards the Pole, with some heading south towards Fram Strait and some continuing across the Pole towards the Central Arctic, which created a split and some interesting leads of open water (which swiftly froze over). Also we noted the export of coastal sea-ice was largely from the Kara Sea, with the Laptev Sea (usually the largest exporter) relatively calm, and the high pressure actually rotating around and crushing ice up against the coast of the East Siberian Sea.
Four days later the situation had changed. The super-storm off the coast of Greenland retained its strength and wobbled east to become a Barents Sea Blaster.
This movement of a super-storm tends to drive south winds up into Barents Sea, compressing the sea-ice and crushing the edge northwards, while north winds howl down through Fram Strait bringing sea-ice south along the east coast of Greenland. But the divergance persists, and a cross-polar-flow developed from Siberia to Canada. Canada has quite enough cold air and doesn’t need imports.
The warm air shows up as a spike in the polar temperature graph, but the heat is swiftly lost to the endless night.
The crushing of sea-ice north in Barents Sea may at least partially explain the flattening of the sea-ice extent graph, when it usually continues to slowly rise in January.
The south winds eventually transported warmer than normal air into western Russia, as the rest of Russia remained below normal.
It is important to remember that, while the anomalies look red hot or even white hot, fifteen degrees above normal is still frigid when “normal ” is minus thirty. What passes for “warm” in Siberia is nothing I want to see crossing the Pole and heading my way. However the pattern persisted. Three days later saw the Barent Sea Blaster weakening in the Kara Sea, but a new superstorm brewing up in its wake down in Denmark Strait, and the cross polar flow continuing to transport Eurasian cold to North America. My only hope was that a powerful Aleutian super-storm might press north from the Pacific, create a counter cross-polar-flow, and blow all that sub-zero air back to Russia where it belongs.
The cross polar flow, and bit of a counter cross-polar-flow close to Bering Strait, were definitely effecting the sea-ice. For one thing, polynyas formed on the north coast of the Laptev Sea for the first time all winter, even as air below minus forty poured north, freezing the polynyas over in a matter of hours. (In the map below lilac to white indicates the thin ice on leads and polynyas, while the dark blue and very light blue indicates the pressure ridges, which were formerly jumbled up against the shore, being pushed out to sea. Some are over six feet thick, and are handy tracking devises that show how the sea-ice is moving, as winter progresses.)
The counter cross-polar flow has been interesting to watch, for it has robbed a surprising amount of sea-ice from the northwest coast of Alaska and crushed it against Wrangle island and the northeast coast of Siberia. (West of there, along 160 E, is a thick tendril of multi-year-ice reaching towards the Pole which will be interesting to watch.)
Lastly, all the sea-ice flushed south through Fram Strait and down the east coast of Greenland is doing something relatively rare. It is attempting to create an ice-bridge across Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland.
However I am not as interested in the movement of the sea-ice as I am in the transport of Siberian air over the top to Canada. I look to today’s map, hoping to see it stop…
Alas. No such luck. The storm which was in Denmark Strait has crossed to be a Barent Sea Blaster, and, while it (and its secondary) my not qualify as a super-storm, it does keep the flow going from Eurasia to Canada. Furthermore, that big blob of high pressure has high pressure because it is very cold, and cold air sinks, and presses down, making pressures higher. Let’s see how cold it is:
That is -30 degree air, (-22 degrees Fahrenheit). It is moving over a sea of water above freezing, so the water is warming it, or it is chilling the water, but in any case it is not getting colder…until…it gets on shore in Canada. Canada can home-grow its own cold, for even below the arctic circle the sun is very low at noon, the days are short, and during the long, starry nights the snow-covered ground loses heat you’d doubt could even exist in such a wintery landscape to outer space, and the air will drop to that magic number -40, which is the only time Celsius and Fahrenheit ever agree about anything. And then…
…And then, just south of Canada, is me. But it can’t possibly come this far. We’ve had the nicest January. I can walk outdoors after dark without a scarf. Even the tiny birds, which cold can kill in minutes if they don’t flit about with amazing care, avoiding wind and shadows, have been fearless. And last time I checked the long range forecast I saw no….but those computer models have a hard time seeing cold air, because it presses down so flat it sneaks beneath their radar. Let me check again.
Oh, bleep. There it is, next Saturday.
(The high temperature of 6 translates to -14.4 Celsius, and the low temperature of -14 translates to -25.6.)
The computer could be wrong, for it is still six days away. Or it could be worse; when cold air like that dives this far south it can generate a super-storm off our coast and bury us. It will be interesting to watch as it develops, but, as others look west for our next storm, it does demonstrate a reason I watch the Pole and look for things coming “over the top”.
It is an old, local, gallows-humor to say, when winter becomes especially obnoxious, “Have you surrendered yet?” You hear it at the local market, when someone walks in with a sour expression, having a bad-hair-day. Oddly, the soured expression usually vanishes and a grin flashes. It is as if the one accosted feels strangely recognized, and less alone in their misery. (You figure out the psychology. I’m too tired, having had to deal with so much slush and heavy snow my expression is likely soured, and also I’m having a bad-hair-day.)
Winter has a way of coming up with some new angle, some twist you have never seen before. I suppose that is one thing that keeps the dreariness from being too dreary: One looks about with interest for a new annoyance that was never expected.
This year the wonder is a strange lack of wind which has allowed the snow to build up on the boughs of trees to levels I haven’t seen before. Or, perhaps I once saw it, when I was young and could afford skiing, and rode ski-lifts to the tops of mountains where the rime could really build up on the spruce and fir trees, but they are trees designed to simply bend and curl over and endure the weight.
This is not the case for trees at lower altitudes. Eventually they break, and once you start to hear the cracking, sometimes like the report of a gun, coming from the woods, you start to notice the lights flickering, and perhaps make ready for the power to quit by filling a bathtub with water and lighting a candle.
My last local post described the storm that left our Childcare without power for nineteen hours. It did little to remove the snow from the trees, for the usual blast of northwest winds didn’t follow its passage. Instead the trees looked beautiful, and also dangerous.
Such heavy snow is sticky and great for making igloos, but perhaps such igloo-construction is unwise, for a man of my advanced years. In fact I know it is, for I was barely able to creak out of bed the next day, and headed for the aspirin bottle even before the coffee pot. Ahead of me my schedule foresaw there was heavy slush to clear up from the front walk of the Childcare, and I decided after that I would lean against a tree and watch the kids play. That may not be much of a curriculum: To not be at involved at all, but I could always say the woods were too dangerous to walk in, with burdened limbs crashing down.
But for play the children wanted to sled, and fresh, heavy snow is not good for sledding. The sleds just sink, making a sort of crater on the hillside. One must pack down the snow, but small children are not all that good at packing, it turns out. So I had to show them, slowly and laboriously tramping a wide path up the hill. I attempted to involve them, but their footprints tended to wander off and not stick to the planned route. Apparently it was too boring to pack a straight path.
I consoled myself by remembering my cellphone has a gadget that counts how many steps I take in a day. But it turned out this odometer thought I must be cheating, to take such short steps. All my tromping didn’t count as steps, to my deep disappointment. All I got was more weary than ever, as the kids got some slow sledding over the wet snow, as the long day ended.
There was still plenty of ice glinting in the treetops, as yet another storm approached.
It was another slushy storm. You could tell it was going to be hard to forecast where the rain-snow line would set up. They were forecasting a burst (or “thump”) of six inches of heavy, wet snow, changing to freezing rain and then rain, which didn’t sound good. The lights had been blinking all day, even without any added snow. But there was nothing to do but watch the storm come rolling east through the Ohio Valley on the weather maps.
The question was how soon the coastal development would develop, and how far north the warm air would surge, and how strong the “cold air damming” would be, and whether any sneaky cold air would creep under the warm air from the northeast as the coastal low “bombed.”.
Ordinarily such stuff fascinates me, but I was pretty achy, and the way the lights were flickering messed up my laptop’s ability to stay on the sites I tried to look at, and my weary brains had trouble staying in focus as well. After a easy-to-make dinner of hotdogs and beans I glanced out the window and saw it was snowing to beat the band, and then thought I’d lay down for just a bit to digest greasy hot dogs, but utterly konked out. (Just to show how tired I was, I left a lone beer on the table, with only a single sip of it swallowed).
I awoke at 3:30 AM and thought it might be wise to undress for bed, but then remembered I hadn’t put wood in the fires. Blearily I hobbled about, attempting to avoid clattering and clanging too much, as my wife has been as weary as I, and she was softly snoring. The power had been off, and the digital clocks were blinking on various devises, but we have some clocks that are battery-powered, which is how I knew it was 3:30 AM. The fires had burned down to embers, and it took time to get them going again.
At some point I went out on the porch for a couple logs. The air had a mildness unlike what I expect in January, and a quick glance down the steps showed that roughly three inches of snow (7.62 cm) was swiftly wilting under steady rain. The changeover had come earlier than expected, which I was glad to see. Hopefully the snow would shrink, and flow down the drains without the floods we had in December. I prefer snow melting to shoveling the stuff.
The lights flickered again as I glanced at the radar before heading back to bed. There were no warning signs of cold air and snow sneaking south as a backlash, and instead signs that a “dry slot” would end the rain earlier than expected. (I am located in the orange heavier rain, between Lowell and Keene.)
That “dry slot” did me a favor, for I overslept. I know when I oversleep, because it isn’t pitch dark out. I leapt out of bed, threw on my clothes, and rushed to clean the slush from the walks at the Childcare before the customers arrived. The morning was mild, and I had only to wipe the wet snow from my windshield, without needing to scrape at any frost. Yet there was still ice in the trees, and in fact the morning was sparkling, with the trees shimmering silver.
It is important to drink in that silver shimmering, for all too soon your eyes must drop to what you must shovel.
I did the front walkway, and no customer was inconvenienced, because the fact of the matter was most everyone in town was behind schedule, because the power outages messed up everyone’s clocks. Also the constant surging and blinking of the electricity supply messed up other switches in modern conveniences. I faced a freezer and a water pump that had quit. But fortunately I had five young men arriving at my Childcare and five snow shovels, and, rather than sullenly waiting for the school bus, they made some money shoveling the Childcare’s emergency exits. They trooped onto the school bus richer, as I, only $20.00 poorer, watched the snow slide off my “snow-shedding roof” and undo some of their work. Though they broke a couple shovels, they were a good investment, for they did free up my time, allowing me to get the freezer and pump working again.
(All I did was un-jam the switches; I don’t know how power surges manage to paralyze such devises, but working them once undoes the damage: With the freezer I only needed to turn the dial until it was “off”, and then, with the tender fingers of a safe-cracker, turn the dial in the “on” direction, and the freezer abruptly hummed and worked. The pump involved exposing and physically manipulating a pressure switch, but with the same effect: The pump started humming, and faucets gushed water again.) (Few things are so disconcerting as an empty faucet.)
I had proven I can function to some degree without coffee, but I was not happy about it, yet at this point there appeared, from the shimmering glitter of the sunshine, an angel. It was my wife, with a steaming extra-large coffee she got at the take-out window of a local coffee shop. Abruptly all seemed right in the world.
“Not so fast”, said this winter of slush. As I abandoned my wife to a small crowd of merciless children, driving off to do a quick errand, the coffee fueled a brief euphoria. The sun was shining off the wet road as if I was on a highway to heaven, but just then a tree branch chose to unload about ten pounds of slush and ice, down, down, down, and smack dab in the center of my windshield. I only slightly indented my Jeep’s roof. Why the windshield’s glass wasn’t cracked I cannot say.
This shock brought me back to earth, and reminded of a poem I wrote at age sixteen called “Thaw”, and also of being aged fourteen and a time I threw a snowball which plastered the center of a windshield of a Cadillac, while I was out “raising hay” during a January Thaw with a close friend, and how we got chased a long way through winter woods by a huge, burly man who looked a little like he might work for the Mafia who came exploding out of that Cadillac. In both cases the message seemed to be, “Don’t get too cocky; winter isn’t over yet.”
If I get the time (which seems unlikely) I’ll expand the above paragraph into a post about what life was like for a teenager in the 1960’s. But for now I’ll just be an old man in the 2020’s, and end with a sonnet:
The thaw made snow get heavy. The forest
Lost what was limber, and tall trees lumbered
Like ships wallow when they're sorely distressed
By freezing spray: Boughs burdened, so some bird
Alighting pressed the final, fatal straw
And a crack like a gun's shocked the cowed glades
And a crashing and thudding maimed a flaw
On many a fine tree, so summer's shades
Will know pockets of light, but summer is far,
Far from my thinking. Winter's just begun
It's onslaught, yet has done so much to mar
My peace of mind that I now want to run
To warm taverns where jovial drinking
Scoffs at the way the slush has me thinking.
On a different site a commenter made me laugh by pointing out that, in terms of weather, “average” weather never happened. Surely he was indulging a bit of hyperbole, but it derived power by being so close to the Truth: “Average” is a theoretical number created by a reality which almost always is either “above” or “below” the theoretical number.
The theoretical number around the hills where I live in New Hampshire sees temperatures drop to a winter rock-bottom where the “average” high is 29 degrees and the “average” low is 9 degrees, which gives us a “average” mean temperature of 19 degrees, (-7 degrees Celsius).
In other words, if things were “average” then we should go through a prolonged period in the depth of our winter when temperatures do not rise above freezing. But they almost always do. It is so noticeable and even predictable that it has its own name, “The January Thaw”, and people expect it, as if it was an “average” thing to occur even thought it is not “average”.
This year the “January Thaw” has been especially prolonged, so you could say it has been longer than “average”. (Around this point the word “average” is starting to look a bit tattered and dog-eared.)
Several times the temperature 29 degrees Fahrenheit (-1.67 Centagrade) has not been our high temperature, but our low temperature. This has given us mean temperatures at least ten degrees above “average”. However 29 degrees is still cold enough to make snow. Such snow is not the light, dry, drifting powder-snow one expects when mean temperatures are 19 and “average”, but rather is heavy, dense and wet stuff local folk call “glop.”
It strikes me as a bit amusing that having temperatures more than ten degrees above normal at times, in the depth of our winter, has not given us the snow-free landscape where, according to several Alarmists (who apparently copy each other), “our children will not know what snow is any more.” Instead we have glop. Glop is snow so heavy plows sometimes break down trying to push it around. And, as I run a Childcare, I can tell you children know all about glop. Would you like to know what they, who have not been educated at liberal colleges, know?
If so, then allow me to describe our last glop-storm.
Sunday should be a day of rest, but I was physically active, for an old coot pushing seventy, cleaning up from our last glop-storm and making ready for the next. As I huffed and puffed, loading firewood on the porch, I had to stop and catch my breath, and attempted to look picturesque, by pretending I was merely scanning the skies and sniffing out changes in the weather. And because I did that so often, I actually did notice the changes, which were so subtle and beautiful it made me want to quit the work, and go write a poem.
The north winds behind the prior glop-storm had brought temperatures down to nearly “average”, but those winds shifted to the south and you could feel the north relenting. The cut of the wind relaxed into a sort of softness. I felt the next storm surely must be rain, but the forecasters were sure we’d get snow.
What they somehow knew, and I didn’t, was those south winds from a storm to our west would shift to northeast winds, as that primary storm to our west occluded and basically vanished from the map, and a secondary “coastal development” took over.
In the map below you can see the secondary has taken over, and the only sign of the primary is dashed orange lines, and a curl of clouds.
I was impressed by the forecaaster’s skill, as snow began falling as I went to bed Sunday night. The forecast was for six-to-ten inches by morning. (School had already been cancelled, though we keep our Childcare open, as we are needed.) But the rain-snow line was very nearby to our south, and I was well aware how difficult it is to forecast what amounts to a difference between 32.1 degrees and 31.9. I was not particularly surprised when I awoke at two in the morning, and saw rain out the window. Apparently the primary low, which didn’t even exist on maps any more, pushed just enough warmth north to switch the snow to rain, as the radar map showed.
The radar showed purple, indicative of freezing rain and sleet, and my thermometer read 32, so I knew this was not the sort of rain that melts snow much. When I went to open our Childcare at 6:45 it was still 32, and the windows of my Jeep were suggestive of freezing rain and not rain. As I shoveled the front walk I noticed the snow had a crust on top, more like freezing rain than wet rain. Temperatures might be thirteen degrees above normal, but the glop was still glop.
The forecast insisted the rain would change back to snow as the secondary low grew stronger and moved over Cape Cod into the Gulf of Maine, but I was in no mood to send children out to get wet in cold rain, so I had to endure innocent darlings totally trashing the Childcare indoors.
The children were excited to see the rain change back to wet snow out the window…
…And I confess I was glad to get the children dressed in their body-armor snowsuits and out the door. I hoped to put them to work rolling snowballs, which they adore, but we were disappointed to discover the crust of ice that freezing snow put on the snow made rolling snowballs impossible. However the snow was very sticky, and could be shoveled to the sides of our igloo-in-progress.
I was doing most of the work, as the children were persuaded by a cynic in their midst that a roof on a snow-fort was one of those silly ideas adults have, like tooth fairies or Santa Claus. I didn’t mind. Occasionally I had to break up snowball wars, but mostly they did their thing, (which seemed to involve making paths), and I worked on the impossible roof. But I did notice the kindly south winds, and the the southerly movement of low skud, shifted around to the north, as the storm headed by to our east.
One thing that seemed odd was that there was no increase in the winds. The trees were still white with the burden of the last glop-storm, and more burdened by freezing rain, and now were being further frosted by wet snow, but there was no wind to blow the white from the boughs. The flakes were big and wet, as the passing low created bands of snow. (If you want to show off your meteorological jargon, call the bands “mesoscale”.)
We were short-handed, but, because school was cancelled. a high-school-aged “intern” showed up to make some extra money, and this meant I did not need to bring the children in for lunch, and put all their wet snow suits in the drier, and get them settled down for nap time. Rather, she did all that, while, huffing and puffing, I could stay out and complete the igloo, which, because the small cynic doubted me, had become a thing my old ego deemed important. It was likely unwise to huff and puff so much at my age, but I managed to finish the job.
Rather than noticing my masterpiece, please notice the woods in the background, burdened with glop. From those woods, as I worked in the child-free silence of falling snow, I heard occasional loud cracks, like the report of a pistol, followed by crashing and thumping, like large limbs falling to earth. This is not a good sign.
We lost power at our Childcare around 2:30, when the children were just rising from their naps. The place was still warm, and it was not particularly hard to dress them to go out and play again. I’d rushed off to attend to other details, but was glad to hear the kids were very impressed my igloo had a roof, and my wife took a picture for our website of seven small children sitting within. Then I rushed back to watch kids play in the dwindling light of the ebbing day, (made especially dark with no power), as one by one their parents arrived to pick them up. Nearly every parent had an adventure to talk about, describing trees down across highways, and losing power at workplaces.
I spend so much time with small children, dealing with the way they think, that I have come to value the all-too-short time I get to spend with actual living and breathing adults. Perhaps it is because I am coming from a different perspective, but it strikes me adults have no idea how amazing they are. A tree can close a highway as they go to pick up their child, and they just make a joke out of the experience. They find their way around the obstacles. They lose power at a workplace, yet get their job done. They don’t like glop, but accept it as “average” and get on with life.
But for Alarmists, glop is a disaster. Rather than above “average ” temperatures causing less snow, glop creates snow so heavy and dense it shuts down schools.
The storm was heading off, just a feature on my “fisherman’s map”:
But the glop took time to clean up. Arriving at work at 6:45 this morning to shovel the inch of overnight snow and salt the walks, I discovered the schools needed a two hour delay before opening. Also we had no power at our Childcare. But we opened, with a wood-stove’s fire upstairs to warm the children, and with snow melting in pots on that stove to use, if we needed to flush the toilets. Power came back on at 9:30, so we never needed to flush toilets with melted snow, but the point I want to make is that glop didn’t stop us.
Actually, when the sun snuck briefly under the cloud deck at sunrise, the way glop bent a pine’s up-reaching boughs down like a hemlock’s was downright beautiful.
It is important to remember Glop is beautiful, because our local forecast is for more of it. Tomorrow night we are suppose to get a quick thump of a half-foot of snow, turning to heavy rain, which will turn snow to slush, which will freeze as solid as iron as winds turn north afterwards.
If “above average” gives us so much winter, what shall happen when things swing to “below average”? For surely things must do so, in order for “above” and “below” to average-out into the “average” (which hardly ever happens).
One major reason I shifted from being reluctant about being vaccinated for the China Virus,`to adamantly refusing to being vaccinated, was the death of Robert Felix on June 10, 2021. He suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, but had the painful affliction under control with medications, however, after getting “the jab”, his arthritis flared out of control and he swiftly was confined to a wheelchair and, soon afterwards, died.
I felt a great sense of loss, because, although we’d only met “on line”, he had been very kind to me. On several occasions I fear I, being at times an offensive person, offended him, and that never sits well with me; I don’t like offending people who have been kind. I sent some apologetic texts, but wanted to meet with him personally at some point. Abruptly he was gone. What was unspoken seemed it would be forever unsaid.
When I thought about it, I decided I was being selfish. It was all about me. Death is a gateway to further life, (I believe), and Robert’s destiny was to move on. The best I could do was to honor his memory and keep alive the good work he did.
Robert got in trouble with politically correct Alarmists because, rather than thinking we should be worried about Global Warming, he felt we should be concerned about a climate cycle bringing a return of Ice Age conditions. He had studied the subject and wrote a book.
I tended to offend Robert by clumsily joking he was as biased towards cold as Alarmists were towards warmth. He had every reason to take offense, for he was very different from Alarmists, in that he was not guilty of B.S.
Everything Robert did was, in my opinion, sincerely devoted to Truth. Unlike certain “climate scientists”, he never (that I ever saw) compromised on Truth to get a grant or endowment or advancement or the cheap fame of media attention, and Robert likely “blew his chances”, by offending bigwigs on a regular basis. I just hope the bigwigs felt as small as I felt, when I stepped on his toes.
Even when I had offended my friend and he was not in the mood to talk with me, I always visited his website “Ice Age Now”, because it was a treasury of information concerning a topic the media avoided and avoids like the plague: Places on earth where it was colder than normal. The media always focused on where the planet was (and is) experiencing a hot spell. The media completely neglected the fact these events tend to balance out, and temperatures ten degrees above normal in one place will be balanced by temperatures ten degrees below normal in another. “Ice Age Now” was like an antidote to such one-sided reporting. The fact of the matter was that, where Al Gore stated, “the planet has a fever”, it was the media that had the fever, and Robert Felix was the cooling cure.
Robert was and is irreplaceable. His website should be a treasury of historic information, and I find it a bit suspicious that so many wrenches have been thrown into the works of what should be part of the public record. It is hard to access his site, and to a suspicious codger like me it seems someone does not want his memory to even exist.
However, though I cannot match his ability, it seems one thing I can do, to honor his memory, is to, (in a much smaller way than Ice Age Now did), note that there are places colder than ever seen before, right now, on our planet. The very fact such places exist are possibly more indicative of a coming Ice Age, than of Global Warming.
Therefore it leapt out at me, grabbing my attention and making me immediately think of Robert, when I saw that both Iceland and China were getting headlines for cold, while browsing through Tony Heller’s website, “Real Climate Science”.
Having spoken of places where it is very cold, I would not want you to think I was one-sided. After all, when temperatures are below normal one place, they are balanced by temperatures above normal in another place. And one “other” place happens to be right where I live in New Hampshire. I will now show the results of temperatures far above normal, at a Childcare I run.
I should hasten to add that ordinarily, in mid-January, our snow is usually powder, which sifts dryly in the wind. It is useless stuff, in terms of making snowmen, or igloos, (or pasting a teacher in the face and knocking their glasses off with a snowball as a “joke.”) Temperatures must be ten degrees above normal to make our snow sticky.
However snow is snow, in terms of “albedo”.
“Albedo” is a magic word for Alarmists, for it measures the ability of a surface to absorb sunlight, or else bounce it back to outer space. Snow has a huge ability to reflect sunlight to space without absorbing much heat. Alarmists assume temperatures ten degrees above normal will make less snow, and therefore the planet will reflect less heat, and get hotter and hotter and hotter until the oceans boil.
However the above picture shows the result of temperature well above normal. It doesn’t look like less snow to me. Furthermore it is not light and fluffy powder snow, which quickly shrinks under bright sunshine until a foot is like an inch of wet felt, but rather it is heavy, dense snow about as light and fluffy as cement. (You will have to trust me about this, as I’m the poor old man who had to huff and puff building that igloo.) Snow that dense snapped the branches of trees and knocked out the power at my Childcare from lunch until the purple darkness of closing. Furthermore, if the sun ever shines again, (and lately I’ve had my doubts), you’ll want sunglasses just as much for this cement-like snow as you do for powder snow, but this sort of solid, cement-like snow does not wilt like powder snow does. It just sits there and seems to say, “I will not melt until May.”
Well! Who would have thunk it? Snow produced by warmer temperatures is harder to melt? If that doesn’t infuriate Alarmists and get you shadow banned, they are not paying attention. For if warmer temperatures produce snow more difficult to melt, then maybe Robert Felix was right.
Maybe it is time for the Alarmists to all rush over to the other side of the boat, for when the snow says “I will not melt until May” perhaps, just perhaps, it is also ininuating….
It seems a bit too early to be putting much faith in models, but there is a lot of murmuring going on about the fact some models are showing a “warming event” in the stratosphere in early February. Here is the current condition, with the Pole cold and warming around the periphery:
And here is the forecast for February 5:
These are anomaly maps, and show the Stratosphere over the Pole swinging from twenty degrees below normal to over twenty-five degrees above normal.
This “warming” expands the stratosphere, which means it presses down on the troposphere beneath. The cold air at the Pole is, in a manner of speaking, gets squished south. And who is to the south? We are. What we shall then see, (if this happens), is that the “warming event” is not the slightest bit warming, for us poor mortals miles below the stratosphere, but rather rather is a “tropospheric cooling event” which dumps the North Pole in our laps.
I fear this will heap insult onto injury, for already it is looking like the more populous parts of the northern hemisphere will be moving from benign warm anomalies (which currently are kind to our energy supplies) to more stressful cold anomalies, by the end of January:
With models already showing China, Europe and most of North America below normal, we do not need the Stratosphere making us even colder. So I hope the forecast is a bust.
So maybe there might be some good in extreme cold. There’s an old saying, “It is too cold to snow”, and I must admit above-normal temperatures are not helping my neighborhood escape snow. I suppose it is because in the depth of winter temperatures it can be above-normal and still below freezing. Here is what “above normal temperatures” looks like in my backyard this morning.
We have six to ten more inches of “above normal temperatures” forecast for tonight, which ought make Monday morning even more grouchy than usual.
Usually our storms depart with strong winds in their wake, but this one was amazingly windless. Here is a picture of the pine boughs bent down over my woodpile this morning:
That picture points out some trimming I need to do, but my wife and granddaughter put me to shame, for rather than grouchy they go out for a walk to appreciate the beautiful way the world is changed. Where I see the wires they see the trees.
Maybe if I write a sonnet my mood will become less sardonic.
The storm was wondrously calm. Not a flake
Was blown off a twig, but instead they clung
Where they fell, and made all a frosted cake
Of white. It was a soft snow which stung
No cheeks; a warm snow which made for wet roads.
There was no skidding; no irksome whining
As tires spun; but still boughs bent under loads
That became a burden. Who is designing
This gentle start to an ordeal? It's like
A soft quilt is tucked up under the chin
Of man not ready to die, who'll strike
The quilt away and shout, with a brave grin,
"Not so fast, Wily Winter! Seducing
Can't hide the storm troopers you're loosing!"
(Oops. Started poetic, but I guess I slipped back to my sardonic side, there at the end.)
The storm was calm because the primary low kicked ahead energy along the “triple point” where it occluded. I call such energies “zippers” because they tend to follow where the cold front catches up to a warm front, “zipping up” part of a storms warm sector into an above-the-ground occlusion. When such “zippers” reach the right conditions they “bomb out”, and swiftly have pressures far lower than the primary low, and in fact the primary low and its occlusion may become a minor, “secondary cold front” in the circulation of a gale, in which case the pines roar and the snow is blown from the boughs. However in the case of the last storm the secondary low was slow to form from the “zipper”, and there was very little pressure difference between the primary and secondary low, so the snow drifted down with little wind. The “zipper” gave us a burst of heavy snow either side of midnight on Friday morning, and then as the remnants of the primary low followed we got another twenty-four hours of light snow, ending after midnight Saturday morning. The first burst gave us roughly five inches, and the lighter snow gave us two more.
In the national map below you can see the weakening primary storm lagging behind over us as the secondary strengthens out to sea. (Also note California is drying out as the big Pacific gales are further north towards Alaska.)
But what interests me is that we got snow and not rain. Some of the computer models were seeing rain, as they don’t handle sneaky cold very well. The models are programed to see the atmosphere in terms of small cubes of air, but sometimes the cold air creeps close to the ground, “under the radar” as it were, and the models don’t see it until it is upon us. That is why I have been noting, for over a week, that the “fisherman’s map” I like to look at seems to always have “heavy freezing spray” to our north.
Now here’s what makes me sardonic. If enough cold air can creep down to give us snow when the anomaly maps show us in a cherry red warm spell, with maps looking like this:
What will happen if the models are correct and the cherry red turns to frigid blue in ten days?
I’ll tell you what will happen. At our Childcare children will make pristine, new-fallen snow looking like this:
Look like this:
And maybe we’ll even be able to complete an igloo before it melts away. That’s our third attempt, starting to rise in the distance in the picture below. (Only the walls; the snow wasn’t sticky enough for a roof, yet.) (This picture does a fairly good job of showing a sort of snow-blindness that occurs when the sun is hidden but the sky is bright, and light snow is falling. One’s ability to see contrast between dark and light fades.)
Next storm due Monday, and perhaps another Wednesday night. Feeling sardonic yet?
We have been enjoying a mild January, however often this has been followed, in my experience, by some wild weather. I won’t regale you with garrulous tales, and simply will post a picture of the cold building up in Siberia.
For Americans, -62.7 Celsius translates to -80.86 Fahrenheit.
Air this cold tends to build over land, and not the North Pole, which is a sea, and radiates “warmth” (if you can call salt water below the freezing point of fresh water “warm”) up through the thin skim of sea-ice that covers it. The Pole has trouble getting below -40. Siberia, on the other hand, has no trouble at all. It generates the coldest air in the northern hemisphere.
Cold air sinks, (the opposite of a hot air balloon that rises). Air this absurdly cold sinks like a rock and, because solid earth gets in its way, it tends to spread out. In cases where the spreading comes in contact with warm and humid air from the tropics, the clash can generate amazing storms, and the western sides of such storms consist of strong, north winds which pulls the Siberian air further south. An “arctic outbreak” occurs.
Who will get it? China, due south? Or will it head east across Bering Strait and down the spine of the Rocky Mountains to make North America shudder? Or will it be like Tolkien’s Mordor and make Europe rue the east wind? Some years it does all three! And meanwhile the North Pole can actually be above normal, and Alarmists can fret there is not enough sea-ice to the north, as the Yellow Sea freezes in China and Chesapeke Bay freezes in Virginia.
In any case, don’t drop your guard. This winter’s a long way from being over.
After a cold blast between Christmas and New Year’s, January has been gentle. Plenty of thaws and only a couple of light snows. Oddly, this has not made me happy. Instead I’ve become aware how dull midwinter is.
Last year there were too many calamities and disasters to attend to, for me to notice how dull it was. That is one good thing about storms and frozen pipes. However this winter, though it started out like that, became merciful. It seems almost an oxymoron to speak of a “generous January”, for January’s the high tide of starkness, or perhaps low tide of bleakness. No sap stirs.
Perhaps the boredom began because the thaws melted the little snow we had at my Childcare, and wreaked the snowmen, and spoiled the start to an igloo we planned to make ten stories tall, and even erased the fun of tracking animals in the snow. In any case, the tricks we’d devised (to avoid seeing how bleak and stark January is) simply didn’t work anymore, and one couldn’t help but look around and just think, “Yuk.”
Of course this presents me with an immediate challenge. If God is in everything then there must be a poem in every thing. Could I find a sonnet in anything so incredibly drab and dull?
It seems there comes a time every winter
When monotony triumphs. Sing an ode
To the sheer dullness, Oh my soul! In her
Majestic way Nature mines a rich lode
Of gray, so lands and skies slump to the edge
As silver with no shine. The world's pewter.
Brown leaves are ashy, and even the sedge
Has gone gray. Snows fell, but the thaws neuter
The bridal veil, and trails become trackless,
And, even outdoors, cabin-fever's blindness
Sees nothing of interest. Confess,
Oh my soul, that you doubt life holds kindness.
Strangely, when you moan this midwinter mood
You mouth manna which is poetry's food.
There. Did it. To me even a poor poem seems to be at least an effort at enlightenment.
To me making such an effort seems important, as the media and most politicians seem to be working very hard at being unenlightened. I don’t need to go into details about their dishonesty, hypocrisy, and unabashed lust and greed. They are the January of our age, and to witness their monotonous gray one only needs to turn on the news.
For my mental health I often turn off the news, and withdraw to my time machine, and travel back to the time of the true Enlightenment. Then I sit back and watch the Founding Fathers of our nation. They too were up against powers of gray, but rather than beaten down they uplifted.
It’s obvious why the denizens of the Swamp loathe them and want to discredit them, and it’s even sort of funny when Founding Fathers are described as rich, old slave-owners in white wigs. They were basically kids, up against the most powerful tyrant then alive. Jefferson was the “old man”, at age thirty-two, and Madison was only twenty-five, and Monroe was eighteen. If captured they could have been summarily hung or beheaded, for treason. Monroe nearly bled to death from the wounds he received in the Battle of Trenton, after crossing the Delaware with Washington on Christmas morning, 1776. Life was not roses for those men. Jefferson packed up books and important documents and rode away from his house exactly five minutes before the British cavalry arrived, hunting for his traitorous hide.
What impresses me about the Founding Fathers is their ability to be high minded even when up against the low minded. Jefferson and Adams were not brought down to the dirt by the fact King George wanted them dead. Rather they spoke of poetic stuff like “Liberty.”
Jefferson especially seems in some ways like an absent-minded-professor, wandering with his mind in the clouds through an earthquake, hardly aware of what makes others scream. But it wasn’t that he was unaware of the unpleasant details; it was that he thought beyond those details.
Jefferson dreamed up many excellent ideas he was never paid a nickle for, nor did he even dream of charging for such thought. Ought one receive royalties for writing the Declaration of Independence? Jefferson didn’t seem to think so, but was troubled by the fact he was in debt. He was a man of the enlightenment enough to take steps to make his plantation more profitable, perhaps shifting crops from tobacco to wheat or starting a nail-making industry, and he did see profits increase, but then his mind would go wandering off to some other project, such as starting the University of Virginia, which he made little money from, and while his mind was off in other areas he would fail to notice a dramatic downturn in the price of nails which made his nail-making industry less profitable. By the end of his life he was a man who had done a lot of good and had amassed a lot of debt. By his death he was, in modern terms, five million dollars in debt. This makes him very different from Nancy Pelosi, whose net worth is currently 125 million.
Perhaps that is why the so-called “Swamp” seems to hate the Founding Fathers. The Founding Fathers truly served, while a modern politician only serves themself.
Be that as it may, I doubt I’ll get anyone to loan me five million dollars, so there seems little chance I can wind up so deeply in debt, as fun as it might be to do so. (Of course, with the Swamp printing money it doesn’t have, the National Debt has reached a point where I think my household owes a million dollars, so perhaps I will reach a debt of five million, after all.) But I tend to prefer a more pragmatic existence where I pay my bills. And therefore my mind often wanders off to the doings of Ben Franklin. He was very pragmatic, in his own enlightened way.
Not that Franklin didn’t think about high minded things like Liberty, and even fool around with unknown powers such as electricity, but he also pondered about very down-to-earth subjects such as how to heat a home. The “Franklin Stove” is one result of such pragmatism; it was far superior to a colonial fireplace, when it came to delivering the heat of burned wood to the house, rather than seeing it rush up the chimney and be wasted.
However his thinking didn’t stop there, and that is where I start to feel I can join him in his enlightenment. Like me, when he watched his fire burn, his mind went wandering and wondering, just like mine does.
One true conclusion he arrived at was that smoke was actually fire-that-hadn’t-caught. It was a wasted chance to heat the home, escaping up the chimney. He then dreamed up the idea of “afterburners”, or “scrubbers”, 200 years before people worried about smoke polluting the environment. He felt that nothing but steam and perhaps a trace of ash should exit a chimney, and every bit of smoke should be burned within the house, warming the house.
What he then did was to go upstairs and knock a hole in his chimney, stick in a grate, and enclose the hole with a metal door. The next time he had a fire downstairs he scooped up a shovelful of red hot wood coals, took them upstairs, and laid them on the grate. Then he likely shut the door almost all the way, but kept it open just a crack, to see what happened when the smoke passed through the red hot coals. Apparently the smoke did ignite, passing through the coals. The wasted smoke was no longer wasted.
However then, Ben being Ben, his pragmatic side kicked in, and he likely did some sort of “cost analysis”, and decided all the work wasn’t worth it. (If it had been worth it, every chimney in Philadelphia likely would have had a Franklin Gizmo in the flue.) Instead it seems Franklin focused on burning the smoke in the stove even before it started up the chimney.
And that is where Franklin’s thinking, 250 years later, splices into mine. Why? Because I too have had to focus on unburnt smoke going up my stovepipes and chimney. Why? Because such smoke can build up on the inside of a chimney as deposits of creosote, which does two bad things. First, it can block the flue to a degree where the stoves smoke, and second, if the creosote ignites the resultant chimney fire can burn the entire house down.
This might seem a good reason to heat with electricity, but the problem is that such electric heating is prohibitively expensive. Propane was affordable when Donald Trump was president, but Fraudulent Biden’s anti-fossil-fuel agenda has made propane prohibitively expensive as well. Therefore I have resorted to wood, which we have an abundance of in my area, although heating with wood involves a lot of work, which is why people gave it up for fossil fuels.
Besides lugging the wood from the woodpile to the stoves, which I tell myself keeps me in shape, (cursing softly under my breath), one must also care for the flues, which is downright dangerous for an old codger like me. However a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do, even if elderly. Anyway, I have to live up to my grandfather, who cracked a vertebrae falling out of an apple tree he was pruning at age 86. (My grandmother was so mad she sold his ladder before he got home from the hospital.)
Therefore, due to Fraudulent Biden, I’ve been doddering about up on ladders and atop the peak of the roof, with chimney sweep brushes and heavy sections of stove pipe, making sure my flues are safe. I never even once fell and cracked a vertebrae, so I guess you could say I got away with it, this year. So far we have saved quite a bit of money, by burning wood. FJB
However this has gotten me interested in the creosote I collect when I clean the flues. I say collect, because I do not throw it away, which I suppose more normal people would do. Instead I find myself remembering Benjamin Franklin, and see the creosote as unburnt smoke, which should have been burned and should have heated the home. Could it not be used as fuel?
Besides reminding me of Benjamin Franklin, the creosote I collected also reminded me of a Mark-Twain-like humorist who wrote very popular cartoons for newspapers until just before I was born. Named E G Webster, on Thursdays he often wrote cartoons which seemed to apply to my interest in creosote.
Now my wife and I tend to vary, in terms of what we think is important, but we agree a warm stove is a nice thing to have in cold weather. However the ashes it produces, plus the spiders, centipedes and pill bugs that come in with the wood, do not fit my wife’s idea of a cozy hearth. In fact, back when propane was affordable, I thought she’d be glad to be done with the wood stoves altogether. To my surprise she didn’t like warm floor registers as much as warm stoves, so we didn’t quit wood altogether. But she does like the area around the stove kept clean, while I tend to turn it into a Ben Franklin laboratory. Not that I have any test tubes, but I do have ongoing experiments.
One experiment involves avoiding creosote building up in the stove pipe or chimney, (so I don’t have to dodder about on the peak of a roof at my advanced age). To achieve this aim it is best to have a blazing fire. However Nature conspires against this aim, by driving rain or snow into sheltered woodpiles, whereupon even dry wood behaves like a sponge, and becomes sodden stuff difficult to light, and very liable to just sit and smolder, producing lots of smoke but little heat or fire, and clogging your chimney with its smoke.
My way of avoiding a smoldering fire, and achieving a hot fire, largely involves bringing the firewood inside and heaping it high by the stove, so that it dries out before it goes into the stove. But I don’t always keep up with this task, and sometimes must bring in wet, snow-covered wood from the porch, and put it right into the fire, in which case the fire needs some help. The help tends to be stashes of various sorts of kindling which produce a brief blaze beneath the wet logs, which I hope gets the sodden wood to quit smoldering and start blazing. Birch bark is best, (but if you have used up every scrap of kindling you have, corn chips are a good, greasy emergency-substitute).
I take this job seriously, and have been at it for over thirty years, so you’d think I’d have it down and there would never be problems, but often my wife thinks other things are more important than stacking wood by a wood stove, or collections of twigs and birch bark or splinters of firewood. For example, a wedding, or funeral, or sick mother with two sick children. Or countless other things. In any case with attention diverted both fires dwindle down to embers, and the heat in the house drops down dangerously close to 49 degrees, whereupon the propane heat kicks on and we must pay through the nose. For another example, we come home late and just want to go to bed, and I throw wood on the fires but don’t shut down the draft enough, and by morning the fire has only a few coals left.
I have managed to keep the fires going , because I like to be able to tell people, “We’ve only had one fire this winter. We lit it in October.”
However there have been times when the wood is wet and the embers are few and I have only a little birch bark, when the fires definitely haven’t leapt to life, but have smoldered. It was when faced with such situations that I began to play around with creosote as kindling.
I had it in pails and paper sacks, and basically divided into two sorts. The first was from the stove pipe above hotter fires, and was thin flakes of gray.
And the second was much blacker, and from a stove closed down much as weather warmed in the spring, from fires that smoldered a lot:
As I began experimenting I was somewhat surprised my wife didn’t criticize all the bags of black and brown crud around her hearth, but actually demonstrated a keen interest, by asking the exact question I was asking: “Won’t that stuff just evaporate, go up to the chimney, condense, and block it all over again?” I could only answer, “I intend to find out.”
I then found out creosote is pretty wonderful stuff. For one thing, it burns without producing ashes. I guess it is like candle wax. The grey stuff hardly burned, and simply turned to red coals that shrank until they vanished, but seemed to put out more heat than wood coals did. However the blacker stuff was amazing. Likely because it was created by cooler fires, is seemed to possess more “volatiles”, and blazed like crazy for a while before becoming red coals that shrank to nothing without producing ash.
The trick seemed to be to gather together a little bed of wood coals, and then just put a crumb of the black creosote on top. It would melt, start to bubble, and then leap into flame, and then you could add more crumbs. The fire you then created had uncanny ability to dry sodden wood and turn a smoldering fire into a blazing one. I surmise creosote burns hotter than wood does, perhaps even nearing the heat of a coal fire. If I put a big chunk in, the size of the one in the picture above, the fire became wonderfully hot wonderfully fast. This is important to me, first thing in the morning, because then my primary interest is in sipping coffee, and not fussing with fires.
A problem then arose. The fires I was creating were so wonderfully hot I would never again clot a chimney so badly, and would never again create such wonderful creosote. I should treasure my limited supply. Therefore I kept my black creosote in a special bucket, and had the inferior grey stuff in a bag, among other collections of different grades of inferior sorts of kindling and bark. The area around the stove grew a bit cluttered, but I was defeating the drabness of January with the enlightenment of Ben Franklin, whereupon H.T. Webster struck again:
My wife swept in and tidied up. All my various samples of creosote got dumped into single bucket, and all the carefully sorted types of kindling got shoved into the woodpile with the drying firewood.
Two thoughts crossed my mind.
The first was, “Benjamin Franklin never had to deal with this crap!”
Actually the snow wasn’t a surprise to me. Around a week ago I wrote about how the big storm on the west coast, making all the headlines, would possibly “teleconnect” to a sort or reflection off the east coast, and lo and behold, a week later there it sat, stalled and whirling off Cape Hatteras:
As its pressure got down to 978 mb it was not deep for northern latitudes; England gets its hair parted by 960 mb gales most winters; however it was low for a more southerly latitude; we are not talking about the the latitude of London, but rather of the northern Sahara Desert. The storm even had an eye.
The storm seemed safely out to sea, and to be pulling dry air down to buffer us from any moisture, but I never trust stalled storms, nor do I trust the weather computer’s ability to forecast them. So I turned to what I call my “fisherman’s map” of the Atlantic, which tends to hone in on details lubbers don’t care about.
This map charted the storm’s forecast path as curling back to Nova Scotia, rather than toodling off towards England, as they usually do. (On these maps the red arrow shows the forecast progress of a gale over the next 24 hours.) This raised my suspicions, so I studied the “discussions” on various NOAA sites.
“Discussions” are far more interesting than “forecasts”, because you can often see the men think. Rather than the final decision you hear the thought processes that go into making the decision, and this tends to include possibilities and options that to some degree hint at uncertainty. Often the forecaster will state what they are “keeping an eye on” because a change in the observations could or should or would change the forecast.
In this case they were “keeping an eye on” the amount of moisture the storm was able to pump back to the west, and the temperatures of the air being pumped back west. They seemed to feel, “initially”, that the air was too dry, and so mild that any precipitation that fell would be rain. So that was the “official forecast”: A chance of showers in eastern Maine and out on Cape Cod, perhaps mixing with wet snow. The general public was relaxed and suspecting nothing as the Martin Luther King holiday approached. But me? I’m a suspicious old codger.
One thing I noticed was that the above “Fisherman’s Map” noted heavy freezing spray, to the north in Labrador. Besides breathing a prayer for any boats out in such misery, (such spray can capsize a fishing boat, when extreme), I was alerted to the nearness of the cold. I also noted the light blue dots, indicative of sea-ice, had spread as far south as the north coast of Nova Scotia. Although the storm’s warm sector had balmy air above sixty degrees, (16 degrees Celsius), there was arctic air sneaking into the mix.
Then, as saner men likely relaxed and watched Sunday play-off football, I kept a distrustful eye on the radar. Slowly but surely the green of rain approached, turning to the blue of snow the moment it crossed onto land. At first it was “drying up” as it crept westward, but I noticed each wave of moisture was inching further west before it dried. I forget what this is called; “moistening the air column” or some such thing. It was enough to cause me to surrender all thoughts of a relaxed Monday morning. (Our Childcare was open on the holiday.) I’m a suspicious old coot, and prefer to be surprised by good news than bad.
Sure enough, when I awoke in the darkness, early on Monday, it was snowing like crazy, a whirl of white beneath the nearby streetlight. I wondered if the entire storm had shifted east, and rushed to look at the radar.
I was relieved to see the snow was moving down from the north. A worst case scenario would have the moisture coming straight in from the east. As it was, and end was in sight further north, and the heavy snow would be more like a squall than a storm, two inches rather than ten. All the same, I put my boots on with a sigh.
As is often the case with self pity, once you become resigned to whatever it is you feel sorry about, you discover a hidden blessing.
In this case the morning was amazingly quiet. Usually the first sign of snow is the rumbling and scraping of plows, but the night before men had gone to bed after football without an inkling a swift two inches would fall at 5:00 AM. The road crews were caught totally off guard, and were likely softly swearing to themselves as they awoke and looked out into darkness giving way to the deep blue of a snowy morning. Meanwhile my jeep left the first tire tracks on pristine highways of pure white, and then I shoveled walkways at work as the snow tapered off and daylight blued in a silence rarely heard in our Age of Machines.
My employees were late, but then, so were most of my customers. I got to spend a long time talking one-on-one with a small child I seldom talk with. “And I thought to myself, ‘what a wonderful life…'”