Sunday, January 24, 2016

All Winter in a Day

This past December was exceptionally mild to the point of being warm, on par with the rest of 2015, which was the warmest year on record. Some plants broke their dormancy and started to bud out. Critters that should have been hibernating were out and about. Even some insects flitted around, doing whatever it is that they do.

Christmas Eve was exceptionally warm, but the warm spell didn't last much into the new year. More seasonable temperatures inflicted themselves upon Northeastern Pennsylvania by mid-January, causing much grumbling.

Early in the third week of the month meteorologists were calling for a weekend storm. "Too soon to call," said some. "Not sure how much, but something is sure to happen," said others. "PANIC!" cried others, and the people panicked.

For some people, panic was a smart move.

The storm crawled its way across the country, building strength, drawing moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. It hit the South first, disrupting air traffic on Thursday in places like Raleigh and Charlotte before gathering more moisture from the Atlantic and looping back in a clockwise Nor'easter punch aimed at the Mid-Atlantic seaboard.

By midday on Friday, January 22, meteorologists had a pretty good idea of what the storm would look like for Northeastern Pennsylvania. It would hit that evening and drop light snow overnight, with the heaviest precipitation on Saturday. The snow accumulation would have a sharp gradient in diagonal bands stretching from the northeast to the southwest; the farther to the south and west east , generally speaking, the more snow you would get.

And so it happened.

Scranton got from a dusting to an inch and a half. Williamsport, where a friend had just had a baby, got nothing. Nanticoke received between four and six inches. Hazleton got over a foot.

The worst of the storm seemed reserved for major communities closer to the ocean, though it may simply be those places that are getting the most coverage. Washington, D.C., already crippled by their lack of preparedness for the light snow that fell on Friday, was buried under and paralyzed by about two feet of snow, as were Baltimore, and Philadelphia, and New York, which had been expected to be spared the worst of it and instead received near-record accumulations. Even Boston, for which some forecasts had been predicting zero inches, got a sizable accumulation. Stone Harbor, New Jersey, where I have vacationed in the past, received extensive flooding from the "Back Bay" - a result of a low pressure-induced "storm surge" coupled with a Full Moon-strengthened high tide.

Not that smaller communities haven't been affected. They have. A man near Lancaster died in his running car, half-buried in snow, where he was either taking a break from shoveling or trying to warm the car up to get it free. It was buried by a passing plow, trapping him inside. He apparently died of carbon monoxide poisoning, which I suppose is marginally better than suffocating or freezing to death.

Is this it for Winter? Here in Northeastern Pennsylvania we have had some of our worst snowstorms later in the season, including and particularly the Valentine's Day storm of 2007. There are some rumblings of another storm lining up for later in the week.

I suppose we will just have to wait and see, and keep a good supply of milk, bread, and eggs on hand. Just in case.

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