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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Humans and Heavy Snow

From the Web
Unattributed, which is a shame
because this is so hilarious.
And so true.

Copyright © 2016
by Ralph F. Couey

There are, as you know, four seasons, each with their own beauty and challenges.  Spring brings strong spring thunderstorms and tornados, while covering the world with new life and wildflowers.  Summer is heat and humidity, and is also the time for family and games. Fall is the breathtaking colors of the trees, and the bite of the first frost.

Winter, of course, is snow.  And cold.  Short days and long nights.  But it's also a time of matchless beauty.  Who hasn't been amazed at the diamond twinkles of an untouched snowfield under a brilliant sun?  And there simply is no better time to stargaze.

Winter is different, depending on where a person lives.  If you're lucky enough to live in Florida or Southern California, then you have (comparatively) warm temps, sun, and occasionally rain.  If you're in the mountain west, its months of bitter cold and endless snowstorms.  The midwest and south have their share of snow, but the real worry are the ice storms that destroy powerlines and trees.  In the east, New England is positively polar.  Here in the Mid-Atlantic, Winter is mostly cold and occasional snow, which is usually good because so many people move here from other places, usually people who become complete idiots when there is any precipitation.  

Yesterday, the DC area had one inch of snow.  One inch.  The result was a mess of catastrophic proportions on area freeways.  Area law enforcement logged over 150 vehicle accidents during an evening commute that for some stretched into 6 hours.

But that was only the opening act.  Tomorrow, January 22nd will see the area blasted by a classic nor'easter storm.  The snow will start early afternoon Friday and will fall heavily until pre-dawn Sunday.  Forecasters in describing the storm have used the term "historic."  Snowfall forecasts are running from 12 inches on the Eastern Shore of Maryland to over 30 inches in the suburbs of Northern Virginia.  For the first time in living memory, the entire region is under a blizzard warning.  The effect on a population who couldn't handle one inch of the white stuff has been an entertaining laboratory of human misbehavior.

Officials warned residents to stock food and supplies, not only for the storm, but for the recovery period afterwards.  The last big snowfall, the infamous "Snowmageddon," took nearly two weeks to dig out from.  People took that to heart and swarmed area grocery retailers.  Twitter today was a gallery of empty grocery shelves.  I went to Costco, mainly to buy gas (at a soul-satisfying $1.59 per gallon) and pick up just a few items.  The scene inside was astonishing.  People were going up and down the aisles wearing grim faces.  The checkout lines extended almost halfway back into the warehouse.  Everywhere were signs of panic.  I saw one lady with a flatbed cart full of toilet paper stacked taller than her.  I saw one family with three carts, two filled with cases of bottled water.  One fellow, single I guessed by a hand sans wedding ring seemed to have his priorities straight.  His cart held several bags of chips, three jars of salsa, several packages of hotdogs, and three cases of beer.

Back in Missouri, some wag named storms like this "French Toast Warnings" due to the predilection of people pre-storm clearing all available supplies of milk, eggs, and bread from area grocery stores.  Here, predictably, the items mostly in short supply were shovels and salt.  

This kind of behavior no doubt brings loud laughter from residents of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, folks for whom a 30-inch snowfall is just another winter day.  Despite the humorous aspect, this kind of storm does have some disquieting aspects.  These are, after all, city dwellers, most of whom come from places where a 5-inch snowfall equates to the end of the world.  These are people who, behind the wheel of a car panic on rain-wet pavement.  Now add deep snow to the mix and they become downright dangerous.  The exasperating part is that no matter how many times they are told to by government officials to stay off the roads, they still find a reason to get out there and drive, often in vehicles that have no business driving in snow.

It's not just the storm itself, but the results.  PEPCO, the electrical power company for DC, is legendary for it's inability to keep the lights on during storms, partly because the infrastructure is so old.  After the Derecho that ploughed into the region in 2012, some people in DC didn't get their power back for a month.  And that was with crews from 6 surrounding states pitching in to help.  In the newer neighborhoods in Virginia and Maryland, the power lines are buried, and thus immune from the effects of weather.  

Today, the Governors of Virginia and Maryland boasted about the snow plows, over a thousand, that would be on the roads during the storm.  But even so, after the last major storm in 2010, it took the Public Works crews nearly two weeks to clear enough roads so people could get to their jobs.  

So when people in the DMV area (DC, Maryland, and Virginia) see a bad forecast, they remember what the last one was like and the long-term effect it had on our lives.  So, the paranoia and fear is not necessarily illegitimate.

Handling such a storm means following the advice of public officials.  Stay home, shovel out, and make snow angels.  Watch TV shows or some of your endless DVD/Blu-Ray collection.  If the power goes out, have a plan ready, such as blankets, heavy coats, and when all else fails, back the car out of the garage, start the engine and turn the heat up, making sure to get out from time to time to keep the tailpipe clear of snow.

Myself, I am considered by my government day job to be emergency essential, which means even when the Office of Personnel Management shuts the government down, I still get to go in.  This week I am off on Saturday, but that doesn't mean that my phone is immune from receiving urgent phone calls.  If I have to go in, I have all wheel drive and snow tires and the experience of successfully driving through a 36-inch snowfall in Pennsylvania.  Barring that, I have my own plans, mainly watching out the windows.  I have seen a lot of heavy snow, but this will be my first blizzard that didn't come from Dairy Queen.  Undoubtedly, the word heard most from me this weekend will be "unbelievable."

Today, I went through the garage and gathered snow removal equipment from the dark corners where they've been stored since last winter.  This will not only be our first major snowstorm of the season, it is, for all intents and purposes, our first snowfall of any kind this year.  Talk about being thrown into the deep end.  I will be out there every two to three hours to clear away the accumulation.  The alternative, trying to shovel away 30 inches of heavy wet snow in one effort is scary to contemplate.  

With all the bad possible outcomes, this will be a time of building memories.  "Yes, we survived the Blizzard of '16."  This will be the source of fantastic stories that will be passed down across the generations.  Since our family will be holed up together, we will make it a time of fun and games, knowing all the while that this is not Tibet, and the snow will end, the roads will clear, and the huge drifts will melt.  Even now, as I look at the very extended forecast, I see a string of 50-degree days coming in early February, so this huge storm might be the only real snow we get this year.

Still, it would have been nicer to stretch it out over several storms.
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