Sunday, November 16, 2014

What’s Up with the Weather

I guess growing up in Florida with the mild winters has spoiled me. I remember one January morning when I was nine or ten, stepping out of my back door and looking up at the usual blue skies with the sunlight streaming through the camphor trees overhanging the driveway made of strips of old shingles thinking how cold it was at 45 degrees. I really thought that was as bad as winter could get. Boy, what a sheltered life I was living.

Those were great winters, even one warm enough to go swimming on Christmas day. It rarely got to freezing and when it did, we would leave the sprinkler running in the front yard so we can see real ice on the ground. On days when the yards glistened with a coating of frost, we would squint our eyes in the early morning sunlight and pretend we were looking at a coating of snow. In my eighteen years growing up I never saw real snow, not even once. Every now and then, George Winterling, our local weatherman would tease us by telling us that the Weather Bureau was forecasting a chance of snow, usually in the pre-dawn hours. Just like Christmas, we would try to stay up all night to see it fall. But, alas, the forecast was a tad big optimistic. It didn’t matter much, just like Christmas, we never could last the night.

I finally saw my first snow my freshman year at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. But snow was usually a rarity occurring once every 5 years or so. Then there came 1973, the year of the great South Carolina blizzard, which paralyzed the city for days on end. Then came ice storms which brought trees down on the neighborhood power lines and transformers popped off in the night like fireworks. The days that followed these winter storms came with no power. It seems that the power companies made the major repairs that affected large groups of customers first and then the neighborhoods later. Our circuit has twenty or so customers, so they always came last to fix out outage. Thus I became to understand the dark side of winter storms.

Left: The Good Snow from January! Finally, I learned that winter storms are just like people, some good and some bad. An example of a good storm was the one that came in the evening of January 28, 2014, covered the area with about 4 inches of light powdery snow and was completely gone from the roadways by noon on the 29th. No isolation, no power outages, just beautiful snowfall and pictures taken under… you guessed it… blue skies and bright sunshine. Yes, we really know how to do winter down here in the south.

But lately, I’ve noticed that the snow years are coming more and more often. No longer every 5 years but every two years and now, it seems like every year. Last year we had two winter storms, snow in January and ice in February. Who can forget the famous Polar Vortex that swept down from northern Canada and plagued the US last winter? To be completely honest, the polar vortex swirls around both the north and south poles constantly, but last year, there were waves sweeping off the northern vortex and that is why we felt them as far south as the Gulf of Mexico.

Left: The Bad Ice from February! This year, in November, the northern polar vortex has taken a cue from "The Terminator," Arnold Schwarzenegger and has announced “I’ll be back!” Yes, right here in my home town, on November 1st, snow fell. I didn’t see any at my house but there was as much as 3 – 4 inches on the western edge of the metropolitan area. This is the earliest snow has fallen here since they have been keeping meteorological records. This coming week, the next wave of the polar vortex is coming visiting. Just how many winter storms are coming to visit this year, more than the two we saw last year? I just hope they are good snows, not bad ice storms. Oh MY!

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