Sunday, January 24, 2016

At the Tail End of the Storm

This is the winter storm as it appeared about 8AM Friday morning.  Heavy rains in Georgia and Florida as snow fell from western Tennessee into Virginia.  Eastern Kentucky got the worst of it at this stage as indicated in the darker blue regions were the snowfall was most intense.  The following pics are how the storm played out in roughly 8-hour intervals.  The blue is snow, the pink is ice, yellow is heavy rain, and green is lite rain.
Jonas only arrived at DC after I left work late-Friday afternoon.  Eastern North Carolina was getting a lot of sleet.
Heavy thunderstorms along the North Carolina coast caused local flooding as it fueled the storm's snowfall.  Our small amount of snow began to fall as the storm swirled into Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Jonas roared onward into New York City and glanced Boston before finally going out to sea late Saturday afternoon, dumping up to 40 inches of snow in several places about 100 miles west of DC.  We got a few flurries at this point.
Winter Storm Jonas (a name attributed to the storm by The Weather Channel) roared through this weekend.  Beginning Friday the storm dumped massive amounts of snow on parts of eastern Kentucky where 15-18 inches fell before moving on toward Baltimore and DC with 50-70 mph wind gusts but the heavier snowfall was a bit west of there.  About seven inches had fallen in DC by sunrise Saturday, with the snow storm still engulfing the region.  Jonas hit New York City before finally moving out off the eastern coast by about sunset Saturday.

I confess that weather is a hobby of mine.  It might seem kitsch or at least uncool.  But weather interests me, especially historic weather moments that I am part of in the Now, united with other Americans as only weather can unite, the great equalizer.  I watch hurricanes and storms on various internet sites and have a general awareness of weather patterns, since I have enjoyed this as a hobby for decades of my life.  

Jonas is not the biggest snow to ever hit this region, but it does rival some historic past snow storms. We caught the tail end of the storm here.  So our little bit of snow was connected with the vast weather system of snow fallen on 85 million people affected by the storm.

But we southerners are snow wimps.  About 4PM Friday my boss told me that the rain (about an inch had fallen all day with temperatures in the upper 30’s) was turning to slush and to dismiss my department and go home early.  It was still mostly steady rain as I drove home in my trusty Subaru. Just as I turned up my driveway the rain stopped completely and immediately transitioned into snow.  

By the time I pulled up to the house and got out of my Subaru it was snowing more heavily.  The wind was completely still at this point.  We were in a large band of wintry mix on the backside of the massive monster so the winds had not started yet. It was 36 degrees and the snow fell in large fluffy flakes like cotton falling slowly, silently straight down out of the sky. It was beautiful.  The only sounds were of birds, no breeze nor traffic.  Each flake melted the moment it hit the wet warmer earth.

That lasted maybe 5-10 minutes then the rain started in again.  We did not get any snow that actually started laying on the wet ground until about 6PM and then it was just a dusting, but it covered the top of the Subaru and our roof. Darkness came and temperatures were at 34 degrees, still above freezing.  You could hear water dripping through our gutter system from light melting on our roof.  Still no wind. That was a good thing because it allowed the small accumulation of ice on the trees to melt so that by 8PM when it started snowing more persistently and temperatures dropped below freezing there was no added weight from ice on branches.

My only anxiety was about trees falling in the storm winds that I knew were coming from internet weather reports.  That is a common way to lose power in the countryside where I live, trees falling on power lines.  It has happened many times since 1993.  A couple of days before Christmas we got 7 inches of rain in 48 hours and have not had a dry spell since. The inch of rain we got before the snow began made the ground soft and mushy.  About 2AM Saturday morning the snow stopped and wind gusts of up to 30 mph hit.

When I woke up and had my first cup of coffee Saturday morning we had about a half-inch of snow on the ground.  It was 26 degrees with the trees swaying in a steady 10-15 mph wind.  This was the complete opposite, of course, to that wondrous silent snow moment when I first arrived home Friday.  We had some flurries later in the morning and the winds were relentless.  At times the wind kicked the snow around in a crazy motion, gusts up to 35 mph, like a blizzard.

But, of course, we were on the tail end of Jonas.  At that same moment it was still snowing in DC and Baltimore.  Jennifer and I enjoyed an aimless and quiet morning with coffee and our iPads.  We dropped the heat settings in the house and added extra clothing layers to help the heat pump keep us warm.  We lost power for about 10 seconds at one point, which of course caused us to touch a flash of dread.  We were prepared with a small propane heater as backup if necessary but fortunately that was the extent of the outage.  Jennifer took Charlie for a walk outside.  I took some photos from the car port and front porch after emptying the dish washer.

Jennifer made some incredible white bean chicken chili Friday night.  We wanted to cook it while we were fairly certain the weather would not interfere with the electricity. Just in case.  The chili was amazing and a perfect dining experience for being a spectator of Jonas, especially since she made cornbread to go with it.  Made four quarts and were set for whatever happened next.  

Late morning on Saturday the winds remained strong but the flurries stopped and the clouds started breaking up just a little bit.  The sun teased us, bursting out for a few seconds now and then. We brought our bird feeders inside briefly to let them thaw out.  They were hanging frozen by the cold gusty wind.  The birds went crazy after we sat them back filled with fresh seed.  Lots of cardinals and blue jays about.

We enjoyed homemade waffles and scrambled eggs for a late breakfast on Saturday.  Jennifer played music off her iPhone via a portable Apple speaker system we own - Motown for awhile and Stevie Wonder if possible but some Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd in there too.  Our plan was to binge-watch Northern Exposure.  We were well into Season 3 after blazing through the first two short-seasons of the great show from the 1990’s, beginning around New Year’s Day.  We were both big fans of the show back in the day.  It won six emmies the year before we moved into our house.  We definitely watched it on free TV here for a couple of years though we lost interest in it before its sixth season came long.  So now some of this is going to be new Northern Exposure to go with all the great moments I remember about this bold, clever and humorous TV series.

DC got hammered and the snow kept coming.  The top snowfall as of 11AM Saturday was 28.5 inches at Redhouse, Maryland.  There were two dozen similar towns reporting 20+inches and snow still falling.  Our half-inch and cold strong winds were, like southerners as a people in winter time, wimpy by comparison.

So we watched a couple of episodes of Northern Exposure after a late lunch.  Afterwards I ventured outside for the first time.  I wanted to crank the Subaru and let it defrost. Meanwhile, I walked down our driveway through the sharp steady frigid wind.  It was 31 degrees.  I wanted to check the mail and the condition of the road.  There were limbs and branches everywhere along the driveway. The wind did not let up.

The road was in good condition for driving.  So Jennifer and I bundled up and drove over to visit with my parents.  “We waited to get out until it warmed up to freezing,” I joked with my dad.  We took them a quart of Jennifer’s amazing white bean chili.  My nephew and youngest niece were there.  I goofed around with them for awhile before Jennifer and I left and headed into town.  

We noticed that there was considerably less snow in town.  It was just a true dusting of it there.  But the sharp gusty winds caused a lot of evaporation even though temperatures remained below freezing.  So, perhaps 2PM was no longer an accurate depiction of how much snow fell in town. We did some grocery shopping and picked up a couple of items at the local Home Depot before heading back home.  The wind was biting as we walked through those parking lots.

But we didn’t get more snow.  Anxiety over a thin sheet of ice and half-inch of snowfall seems comically panicked to the many millions who bore the brunt of Jonas.  We caught only the tail as it whipped around northwest to southeast in frequent gusts of cold air.  Back home, Jennifer and I drank a little while listening to some great jazz music over my iPad and Apple TV from a station in France. We also checked out House Speaker Paul Ryan’s live web cam of the snow from the Capitol Building. That was pretty cool.  We never got back to watching Northern Exposure.  So the viewing “binge” was a wimpy effort for Saturday.  Long-time readers know I am not in to watching TV that much.

By this morning the winds and clouds were gone. Not just here but in DC and New York City as well. The East Coast was quiet and pummeled from Kentucky to New York. Reports on total amounts varied in the early morning media. I walked outside with my first cup of coffee and watched a full moon set in the clear west.  It was 24 degrees but perfectly still, no birds, no traffic, no neighbors.  It took several minutes of exposure before I began to feel chilled standing as I was coatless and in my sweat pants and sweater.

Of 85 million people affected from my house north only about 250,000 lost power, which is an amazingly low number considering the amount of snow and the strength of the sustained winds.  The deepest reports of snow accumulation were 40-inches in some outlying areas of Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland including Harper’s Ferry.  

The storm was originally predicted to only skirt New York City.  Instead it hit the city head-on as it went out into the Atlantic, giving NYC its third largest snowfall in history, almost 27 inches. Central Park itself got 26.6 inches, a record-breaking amount for that large portion of Manhattan.  The Baltimore-DC area was buried under about two feet of snow.   

Jonas is an historic storm, it connects collective human experience with the past, with now dead people amidst now forgotten winter storms.  Its winds and snowfall amounts would have devastated my home and everyone around here. Atlanta and Chattanooga and Birmingham are not equipped like Baltimore and Philadelphia and NYC in terms of snow moving equipment.  For Jonas, I’m not sure any of them had enough to stay ahead of the snow.  I wish the best to my fellow countrymen as they dig out their collective lives.  

Today was sunny, clear skies, scant breeze.  It got up into the mid-40’s which melted virtually all the snow.  I went for a run and did household chores. Mid-afternoon I got my chain saws out and cut some trees and branches for the first time in 2016. Jennifer helped me haul all the branches into the ditches in our woods.  Branches lie everywhere on our driveway and trails, had to be picked up, trivial tokens of my land on the edge of something vast and hazardous.  I looked toward the northeast and breathed a sigh of relief.  The true fury of Jonas was elsewhere.

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