Collecting Snow for Sochi

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Morning view out home office

As we woke up this morning, the last of more than 13 inches of wet snow was still coming down. This is the first significant snowfall in the Cap region since 2010.

     Deeper in the frontFeb2014-1650

Impressively deep on the patio, it seemed even deeper out front.  It seems we’ve had at least 15 inches so far, and perhaps as much as 20.

15 Inches/40cm of snow

I saw lots of neighbors shoveling, but virtually none of them actually tried to drive anywhere today. Most of the cars looked like they had no business going anywhere.  Even the Jeeps decided to stay put.

Across the street

Hovering around freezing all day, the snow subsided a couple inches. The landscape company was out with shovels, blowers, plows, and even a Bobcat, and the neighborhood is pretty clear. I walked the several blocks to our town center, almost totally deserted, but still softly playing jazz music.  Everything was closed but the Harris-Teeter.

Even Jeeps stayed put today

While I stopped in the backyard to chat up Krypto, asking for his help to locate some missing snowballs,  I noticed a family shoveling their Honda out, hopping in and slowly driving across the slippery pavement.  I didn’t think they’d get very far, but it turns out that they were only driving 500 yards to the town center where they own a Vietnamese restaurant. So there are now two places open.

Buster in his cape

A light snow started falling at dusk, the beginning of a second wave of frozen precipitation apparently caused by an ‘energetic upper level disturbance.’  Quite. Another 1-3 inches is expected, although this particular pattern has a history of heaviness, with continued red-bordered warnings from the National Weather Service.

Looking down on the patio

Given the dearth of the white stuff in the sub-tropical location Russian city chosen to host this year’s winter Olympics, more than one wag has suggested that we collect and ship the stuff to the Black Sea. If this storm does deserve a name, it might as well be Snochi. Maybe Krypto can do something about taking this snow to where it is really needed.

Let It Snow

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Cabin and Car During Jan 25 Storm

I don’t ski, and my last two experiences with ice skating went horribly wrong, but for some reason, I really like snow. We’ve had some concentrated winter experience during the last week, more than fulfilling my appetite for the white stuff.

Township Road before the plow

Last Saturday, another visit from the polar regions transformed our little valley into a snow globe.  4.5 inches (11cm) of new snow  just before noon when I took camera, coat, and my aptly named Snowy River out for a blustery walk (see location above during July flooding).

Looking across the swamp

A single pair of tracks outlined the center of our township road, which hadn’t been cleared.  A heavy wind was blowing the snow across our swamp (see creek above during July flooding).

Before the Snow Plow

Our driveway seemed to be Subaruable, but it gave the entrance to the Hollow a much more remote feeling than its had since we started building the cabin.

Pine tree during Jan 25 storm before the wind

We don’t get as much wind in the Hollow, so our trees were frosted with snow for most of the weekend.  The roads were covered, but we didn’t see a lot of plows.  Later Saturday afternoon Elizabeth took a walk out to the township road and met one of the neighbors plowing it with his Polaris.

Neighbor plowing township road

. After another inch or two of snow over Saturday night, we gingerly drove down a lightly plowed driveway Sunday morning, starting what turned out to be a surprisingly long drive to church.  With greasy unplowed roads, we never got out of 3rd gear.

The Mighty Killbuck

Our return home was easier, not because any of the roads had been cleared, but because we weren’t driving through heavy snow fall.  We stopped along the state highway to watch the ice floating in the Killbuck.  In July, the spot above was impassable because of floodwaters (see the couple on the ATV).

Plowing the Driveway

I’d taken a quick swipe down the driveway on Saturday, but on the theory that you can never spend too much quality time with your tractor (and anticipating 20 below zero temperature), I cranked up the reluctant Diesel after work on Monday and thoroughly plowed the driveway from the cabin to the township road.

Well-Plowed Driveway

It takes a gentle touch, driving slowly, with a hand on the hitch height control, and a foot on the brake, to avoid making a big mess out of the limestone.

Base of our Driveway After Plowing

After cleaning up a quarter mile of private driveway, I decided to clean up about 3/4 mile of the township road, which is a lot easier to plow, because there’s no gravel.  That left a bunch of snow in front of our drive, a satisfying opportunity for some front end loader work.

Christmas in the Cabin

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

There is something about celebrating a holiday with your family that establishes a place in your heart as a home. Although we’ve owned Heiser Hollow for 4 decades, perhaps the lack of heated bedrooms and showers had always discouraged us from overnight trips in the winter. Now that we’ve finished the cabin, this year seemed like a good time to spend Christmas in the woods.

On Christmas eve, Elizabeth and I drove to a local tree farm, cut down a spruce we particularly liked, and threw it in the truck bed, in the hopes that the new tree stand would actually work.  It turns out that even with an emphasis on acorns, wood, straw, and other ornaments either made from or depicting natural things, we had more than enough baubles to hang from the tree. We included 3 ornaments that Mom made from scratch when she and Dad were first married, the cardboard  “Santa’s Breeding Farm” ornament that I made in the 2nd grade (or 12th—the details are dim), some early work by Kirk, and what may well have been the highlight of our short time in Indian Guides, three glass balls with paint dribbled on the inside.

Kirk drove in from college, and Mom & Dad drove across the county, and lacking any convenient attachment points near the chimney, we hung our stockings with care on the bannister.  After a couple of drinks, we all nestled snug in our beds.


Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Cabin in the Snow

Having long lost any significant enthusiasm for shoveling the stuff, my relationship to snow is somewhat conflicted. Yet, in my heart, there remains an inescapable excitement at the prospect that enough might fall to actually cover the grass.

Driving in winter weather is no longer as adventurous as it used to be, even with the assurance that comes from a Subaru.  Before setting out across the Continental Divide for a multi-week stay at the cabin, Elizabeth and I very carefully checked out the weather reports, timing our trip to arrive between Alberta Clippers.  The small amount of snow on the lane was no problem for all wheel drive.

After the First Plow

Our arrival was immediately followed by several cold, but very still, days of beautiful snow.  I’d attached the blade to the Kubota’s 3-point hitch during our last visit, and I was eager for an excuse to actually plow the snow off our long gravel drive. Tilting the blade sideways so that it would direct the snow to the edge of the drive, I gingerly backed down the edge of the drive, creating a very satisfying wave of snow, curling in front of the blade.  I used the blade backwords, so it wouldn’t dig into the gravel under the snow.  Its easy enough to reverse the blade, I decided to drive backwards so that I wouldn’t compact the snow with the tractor tires.

After about 30 minutes, I’d cleared a a turnaround area at the top of the meadow, I’d sort of cleared the newest part of the drive, leading up to the cabin, I’d cleared the longer and older part of the drive, and I’d used the front end loader and blade to clear the end of the drive at the street, and in front of the mail box.  That’s where I encountered one of the neighbors, plowing the township road with his ATV, so I helped him out, taking 2 high speed, and backwards, swipes all the way up to the paved road, and down to his driveway. By then it had become too dark to plow (maybe its time to repair the mice-eaten headlight wiring).

Overflow Pipe in pond.

Naive enough to think that FedEx might actually drive up our slippery slope to deliver my replacement iPhone, I got up early on Tuesday morning, and with new found plowing confidence, spent another 40 minutes perfecting my technique.  FedEx left the delivery in a plastic bag, tied around the mailbox. But I did end up with a nicely groomed driveway, with two relatively low lines of snow professionally and neatly piled along both sides of the lane.  I was able to enjoy that for about a week, until the last of the snow melted. It wasn’t exactly Nemo, but for me, it was a nice snow.

Bilingual Sign at Rhode's IGA

Cold start last January

Saturday, November 5th, 2011
We put the first stake in the ground into the frozen ground on a cold Friday in January that dawned at 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius) and never managed to get above 22 (-5.5 C).

We climbed up a hill  overlooking the pond, pushed some brambles out of the way, and Sam the Builder pounded a pair of stakes into the ground, indicating the future front two corners of the  cabin.   A further stake or two suggested where the front of the porch would end up.

Then we chose approximate locations for the new driveway, up from the meadow to the new cabin, and the accompanying barn. At that point, we were still envisioning a 24×36 polebarn.

After that, we stood around stamping our feet waiting for Sheldon the Excavator and Glen the Septic Engineer, wondering if that truly was the optimal building spot, if it was too far from the pond, too far from the well, or too steep a hillside. We didn’t expect that it would be another 6 months before we saw Sheldon again and finally removed the stakes.

Once we were done with Sam and the Subs, we gratefully hopped back into the car and drove back to the Comfort Inn in Millersburg, stopping along the way to capture a couple of snow shots.

It turned out that this would be the first of two snowy visits stays in Millersburg.


[If you want to see all the entries for the cabin building project, they start here. The next Building the Cabin entry continues last winter’s preparation activities with Beating the Bounds.]

Memorable weather during our first year back in the US

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Last February, I started this post about weather extremes.  I planned on finishing as soon as the weather settled down.  Six months later, I’m still waiting.

Living in England for so long, we found that if anything, the English tend to be especially preoccupied about the weather, which does have a tendency to change without warning in England.  When asked by the English how I like their weather, I used to to reply that I like English weather better than American weather, because it lacked the uncomfortable extremes.  This was usually not an acceptable answer, apparently being received as yet another example of American braggadocio. Totally disregarding my social need for climactic parity, 18 months after our return to the US, the weather continues to be a lot harsher than I remember from my first 40 years here.

Narrowly missing December 2009 snowstorms in England and Virginia, last season’s harsh weather finally caught up to me in Ohio, with a storm compared to the epic blizzards of the late 70s giving me and the Subaru a refresher course in snow driving. The first half of Virginia’s record snowfall started during my return drive on Jan 30. It started snowing during the day on Friday, 5 February 2010, and didn’t stop until Saturday night. The fourth largest snowfall on record for DC (as measured at the airport), everyone in Vienna/Reston feels that this was a bigger snow than the ’96 storm. We had about 28 inches here, which brought motorized life to a near standstill.

Unprecedented snowfall was followed by an unusually warm and short spring. After at least 2 weeks without any frost, I decided to plant my first set of tomatoes 2 weeks early. They did fine, and the frost didn’t return until November, making for about an 8 month growing season. Although there were periods of heavy rain, precipitation was on the low side for the year, and the long hot summer meant that neither green beans nor limas produced any fruit until September.

The entire eastern half of the country experienced extremely violent weather during the summer, with tornado-producing fronts working their way across the continent over a period of days.  We never saw any tornadoes, although we had a number of violent little storms, and I was close to a tornado in Chatauqua, NY (3 blog posts from last July with storm videos).

2011 did not see any DC area records for snowfall, but we did have one memorably harsh snowstorm that snarled traffic for hours, and stranded many people overnight.   Dropping bad snow on top of worse, it hit just before rush hour, creating impossible driving conditions in much of the DC area, which many police and bus drivers were quoted as saying were the worst that they’d ever seen. The heavier snows the previous years had not resulted in as many power outages (650,000) nor had they resulted in 8 hour commuting times.

The blizzard of late January 2011 did result in record snow falls for NYC. They were still shoveling the place out when Elizabeth and I arrived a couple days later to celebrate our anniversary. We’d already spent a very cold January day in Ohio, meeting Sam the builder, Sheldon the excavator, and several other interested parties as we decided exactly where to put the cabin.  This was followed by a miserably rainy day in February while I followed the surveyors around the northern and eastern boundary of our property.  Both of those trips were punctuated by memorably snowy evenings in the Millersburg Comfort Inn, watching the pickup trucks sliding around SR 83.

After last year’s early and short spring, I started my vegetable garden on March 1, and planted my tomatoes and squash early.  The spring garden had a bumper crop of peas, spinach and lettuce, the last of which was pretty much gone by June.  Meanwhile, the country was experiencing its worst ever outbreak of tornadoes from April 25-28.  I watched the Weather Channel in morbid fascination as a deadly tornado raked across the northern side of Birmingham, Alabama. Heroic work by the National Weather Service and local media meant sufficient warning so that the highest ever level of tornado damage was not accompanied by the highest level of tornado fatalities.

Besides all that, it rained. A lot.  Parts of the Mississippi and Missouri river basins saw the worst flooding in almost 80 years, and the Corps of Engineers was forced to deliberately flood some communities to save others. We had hoped to start construction of our Ohio cabin in March, but heavy rains in the central part of the state delayed our start. Photo club friend Tom Shevock and I went on a photoshoot on March 3 along the Potomac Valley.  After a couple hours of pouring rain, we had lunch in Brunswick, MD and called it quits.  It turned out to be the rainiest day in 44 years of record-keeping at nearby Dulles Airport.

In May, it was recognized in Ohio as the worst farming season in over 50 years, and it has continued to rain since then. Although none of the individual floods have approached the violence of the July 4th 1969 flood, Elizabeth has seen the Killbuck over its banks during several spring trips back to Ohio.

July set heat records across large swaths of the USA. Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and previously battered and now fried Arkansas all experienced record high temperatures and set multiple records for highest highs, highest lows, and highest consecutive temperatures.  Northern, VA had what was probably the hottest July ever recorded, and an all time record high of 105 was set at Dulles Airport.  Spending 3 weeks in Ohio, where it was merely well above average, I missed the worst of the heat, but Kirk and Elizabeth reported that the A/C seemed to be struggling.

Although many parts of the country have had noteworthy levels of rain, other parts are suffering unprecedented levels of drought. The US Drought Monitor shows virtually all of Texas and large parts of the south as experiencing extreme to exceptional levels of drought, while a swath from Ohio through Kentucky and Tennessee shows as a drought free area between two abnormally dry areas (what the map does not show is how abnormally wet Ohio has been).  Although we continue to have heavy showers in Northern, VA, it isn’t enough water, especially in all this heat, to keep us from away from the edge of a moderate drought.

The good thing about the weather is that there is always something to talk about.