What a difference a year makes! Up here in the North Country, so much of how we gauge a year’s events is weather-related. How much snow, how much rain, how cold, how hot. How much oil, or pellets we used last year verses this year. We seem to never be far from an extreme … good or bad.
Most writers seize the time between Christmas and New Year’s to reflect back on the past year, with an eye on what they are hoping for in the next. Whatever plans I, or we, may have had, as we approach the “New Year’s Weekend,” changed dramatically, with the mention of one word … and, of course, it’s weather-related.
The word is “Blizzard.”
Last year (2015), we had a milder Winter, or at least it seemed, until later in the season. I remember painting during November, and doing concrete work in early to mid-December. The temperature has to be at least 40, minimum, to set concrete properly, and I was working on concrete around December 15. This year … well … different. Here’s an excerpt from a letter I wrote to my Dad, the week before Christmas:
“Well, it’s below zero here, and about half a foot of snow on the ground. Our high temperature today was around 5 degrees, and when I got home from School, it was right at zero. A big storm is coming tomorrow, Saturday. Last night, it was around -15 degrees, and the wind chill was somewhere between 35-40 below zero. At least we don’t need to go up Mount Washington to “feel the chill” and those winds. Still one week to go before “Winter.”
The weather in Northern New Hampshire is, in one way, the same as anywhere else I’ve lived:
You wish the Springs and Autumns were longer. And, regardless of how many Winters you’ve been through, when Winter hits … we always seem to be caught off guard, surprised. Like we’ve never been through Winter before, and we’re just not ready. Up here, there is a time, each year, late-Autumn, when you just, simply, put everything else aside … and, “get ready.” Being people, of course, we wait until the last minute … the day before “the storm.” For me, this means things like putting weight in the back of the truck. I have the front of the pick-up truck bed, against the cab, lined with 5 gallon buckets of sand. Behind them, between the wheel-wells, I have 2 heavy-duty 4 x 4 pallets. Between the pallets and the tailgate, I line the bed with concrete blocks. Heavy, I know, but necessary up here. I’ve had the truck bed “weighted down” for a month now, and I’ve needed it since the first day. We’ve had a lot of ice up here, and I mean a lot. This is due to, yes, warmer temperatures (usually it just snows, and that’s it), but after a “warmer day” with rain, it’s back to normal at night, with freezing temperatures. A lot of ice this year.
One thing for sure in the North Country: Every year is different.
Hey … on Tuesday, it was sunny and over 40 degrees. What does this usually mean?
We’ve lived here for 10 years now, and I can’t remember but, maybe once, the word “Blizzard” mentioned in the forecast, and I think it was something like “Blizzard-Like.”
Well … can’t say that anymore.
Just like I learned to never, again, say, “It’s too cold to snow,” or the old, “Yeah, with small snowflakes like that, it won’t lay much.”
For a couple of days now, heading right out of the Christmas weekend, the forecast for later in the week was, for the first time in my memory, just the one word:
The storm starts today, which, relatively speaking, should be a “piece of cake:”
Periods of snow, accumulating 2-4 inches
No Problem! But, it’s not today that’s the problem … let’s look at tonight’s forecast, and notice the first word:
Blizzard, accumulating an additional foot; heavy wet snow may bring down trees and power lines
NW 29 mph
Gusts: 50 mph
Notice the sustained wind speed is 29 MPH … but, notice the gusts of 50 MPH. Yeah, the low will be 29 … but … of course … it will feel like 5 …
Of course, I looked up the definition of the word “Blizzard,” from merriam-webster.com:
“a long severe snowstorm; an intensely strong cold wind filled with fine snow; an overwhelming rush or deluge; a large amount of something that comes suddenly.”
Then, I looked up the history of the word:
“The earliest recorded appearance of the word blizzard meaning “a severe snowstorm” was in the April 23, 1870 issue of a newspaper published in Estherville, Iowa. Blizzard shows up again during the following years in several newspapers in Iowa and neighboring states, and by 1888, when a snowstorm paralyzed the Eastern seaboard, the word was well-known nationally. The ultimate origin of the word is still unclear.”
By the way, a “good day” up here is a day in which you don’t have to snow-blow the driveway. If you can get several of these days together … it is a “special occasion.” A few short years ago, I remember a big snow storm before the end of October. I think that was the year we broke the all-time record for snowfall …
The Winters here are long, and always seem like they’re never going to end. You seem to just go from one storm to the next, always preparing for “the next one.”
But, this coming storm seems different. So, yesterday, like so many others, I, too, put aside all plans I had (including writing), to get ready for the storm … the Blizzard. Make sure the snow-blower was all gassed up, etc.
What I thought would be a 10 minute job turned into 4 hours. I started the snow-blower (or, “cranked” as I still say it), and pulled it out to the front of the garage, to put gas in. As I tested the augers (the spinning blades), I noticed that the right-side blades weren’t turning, weren’t spinning. Never mind what I said. A rock had wedged itself between the blade and the frame, and had torn off the “shear pin,” which is the bolt which fastens the blades (augers) to the axle. Yes, there are made to break, to prevent damage. Easy enough, I just crow-barred the rock out, and consulted the manual to check on how to replace the shear pin. I’d had this happen before, but couldn’t remember what to do. Simple … just drive the shaft of the old pin out, and replace it. Ever tried to find a center-punch, when you don’t remember where you put it? Never mind what I said. By the way, it was freezing cold, and getting dark. Anyway, I bent a couple of nails trying to knock it out, but to no avail. It just wouldn’t come out. Never mind what I said. The only choice I had was to try to drill through the bolt, to get it to budge. I broke 3 drill bits (never mind what I said), and finally got it to come out, removing it from behind the blades. By the way, it was freezing, dark, and, working with small parts, I had to remove my gloves. Boy! Those blades are sharp! Ouch! You got it … never mind what I said …
I put the new bolt in (I had gotten extra pins last time), and just needed to get an 11 MM wrench to hold the back nut, as I tightened the top nut. You guessed it: Lined up the MM wrenches … so nice … 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14 … Want to guess which wrench was missing? Never mind what I said. I was finally able to use a pair of pliers, and tightened it as best I could. Perfect! So, as I’m trying out the new shear pin, making sure the blades would spin … keep in mind, you have to use the lever on the handle to turn the blades, and you can’t see the blades from there, and the blades stop spinning by the time you run to the front of the machine … Smart me … I use a bungee cord to wrap around the handle, to keep the blades turning while I inspect them. Guess what? The bungee cord broke … never mind what I said …
Anyway, we are as ready as we can be.
Thank God, and I mean this, for having a garage, and for having a snow-blower. And, thanks for the hardware store, which was open this morning. And, thanks for my new titanium drill bits, for my brand new center punch … and, for my brand new 11mm wrench (the last one they had.)
Even with a storm, and even a blizzard coming, we have so much to be thankful for. So much.
I always make it a point to pray for the men on the garbage and recycle trucks. How tough their job is, and it’s always about the weather. I also am thankful for the mailman, and how tough their jobs are. We take so much for granted.
As I was taking Carol to work today, we were, of course, talking about the Blizzard, just ahead. She said what I was thinking, but put it in a way only she can:
“The only blizzard I want to see is at Dairy Queen.”
Well, the closest one is about 30 miles away … and, it’s closed for the Winter.
Blessings to you, and your family.
Now, and always,
Richard. Vincent. Rose.