Wednesday, February 2, 2011

SnowM-G: Notes from the Great Blizzard of 2011

Random thoughts from Snowmaggedon 2011:

Tues, Feb 1, 2:00 PM
Snow was supposed to start coming down about now, but it's clear outside, and the radar shows nothing. Oops, what's that sneaking up from the south?
I was downtown for a couple of meetings this morning and at lunch. Everyone assumed I was going to rush home before the snow started, but I'm in no hurry. I'm supposed to meet a small group downtown for drinks and conversation. They keep emailing asking if it's still on. I took the bus, have my big boots and good outerwear, so why not?

4:00 PM
OK, now it's snowing. People are starting to panic, but I'm in the coffee shop getting work done, and I still see people on bikes outside. No big deal. I'll keep checking the web to make sure the buses are still running, and I'll be good.

5:30 PM
Supposed to meet the group at the Orpheum lobby for drinks, but the lobby is closed because of the Snoop concert. Plan B - Zanders, which has half priced taps and appetizers until 7 PM. Sure, why  not, I'm hungry and I'm not planning on going anywhere.

The two people that show up are both from Fitchburg and both drove. One was downtown, and the other came in just for conversation. I wouldn't have shown up if I had to drive home! Another person didn't get the message of the venue change, so she went home.

I think I'll have another beer, I'm not going anywhere for awhile.

9:00 PM
I guess it's time to head home. The two Fitchburg people had their back to the door, so they haven't been watching the weather, but I can see it's getting bad out there. But I still see the buses going by, so I know I can get home. There are several core lines that all stop within a coupe blocks of my house, so I'll just take whichever one comes first. I assume they will be late, and try to check the real time tracking on line.

Kathryn sees me checking the bus schedule, and insists on driving me home. She thinks it's terrible for me to be standing outside in this weather waiting for a bus. She doesn't know that I'm pretty well prepared, with long underwear, good coat, snow pants in my backpack, and the warmest, most comfortable boots I own. I tell her that I really don't mind, we have great bus service to my house, but she won't hear it. Since she has 4WD and will be going within two blocks of my house anyway, I accept.

9:30 PM
Instead of having her drive onto my street, I have her drop me off on the arterial, and I walk the last two blocks. I can't even see the sidewalk as I approach my house. The wind is whipping the snow around, and I can't tell if it's falling from the sky, or just plowing around.

Normally, I would shovel before going to bed, so I won't feel guilty staying inside late in the morning. I hate being the last person on my block to shovel the walk, but I get up later than most of my neighbors, and like to have coffee and read the news before going out the door. But tonight, I realize that shoveling would be just stupid. It's clear that the wind will just blow it back onto the walk, so I head inside.

After getting inside my nice warm house, I listen to the wind howling and rattling the windows. It really is nasty out there. My old house creaks and groans, but I'm warm and safe. As long as the roof doesn't collapse, I'll deal with everything else in the morning.

Wednesday, February 2, 10:00 AM

When I went out to start shoveling at 10 AM, I discovered the snow had managed to drift onto my (enclosed) porch. The windows and storm door are not airtight, and the wind drove the snow hard against my house and through those cracks.

Quickly found that the dent in the drifts was NOT the sidewalk, it was just a low spot in the drifts.

The plows did my side of the street last night, and I must say, I was impressed by two things human, and one thing mechanical:

  1. My street was actually pretty well plowed. Maybe it's because my street is one that plows use to get back on University Ave/Campus Dr after getting to the end of Old University, but really, I was impressed by the fact that it was pretty clear.
  2. Everyone on my block wisely moved their cars off the odd side of the street, so the plow could get all the way to the curb. Not one person was stuck under a drift on my side, and at 10 AM everyone had managed to get their cars off the even side. (They are supposed to be moved by 8 AM, but with the weather, I expected to have a few still there.)
  3. On the mechanical side, or maybe the force-of-nature side, the plows managed to throw the snow/road gunk chunks almost all the way to the sidewalk. I don't know if they had some sort of special plow to throw the snow up over the existing drifts, but there was dirty chunks within a couple feet of where the sidewalk ended up revealing itself.

When I finally to shovel my front sidewalk, joined up with the shoveled sidewalk next door to me, and could therefore access the neighbor's shoveled driveway - i.e. when I could get out into the street - I walked to the other side of the street to chat with my neighbor. I was very envious that the north side of the street had far less snow. Most of the snow seems to have blown over to our side, the south side.

The drifted snow formed beautiful arcs and swirls. I almost hated to throw snow onto that perfect representation of the wind patterns from last night. I guess I'll have to be content to take photos in the back yard instead.

The chickadees are all out, of course. These chirping, whistling, social birds are welcome companions of winter. I saw one come to my bird feeder, poke its beak in, and then fly away. He didn't seem to have gotten anything, and when I checked, the feeding portals were blocked by snow. So I stopped my shoveling, lifted the feeder off its hanger, and knocked out the snow. Since it was down already, I refilled the feeder before putting it back. The chickadees were back within a few minutes, and seemed grateful for clear access to their yummy sunflower seeds. The chickadees are always the first birds to find feed when it is put out, but the sparrows and house finches soon follow.

The small lots and close together driveways make clearing sidewalks and driveways a real challenge. There's nowhere to put the snow, and the mounds next to the areas to be cleared are now over my head. I started creating ramps, to try to slide the shovelfuls up and over the top of the mounds, but even that has been a challenge. I feel like I'm not really shoveling snow, I'm just rearranging it.


Came inside for awhile. I had a conference call, and needed a break anyway. I've shoveled for two solid hours, and only got about 1/3 of the driveway done. There's just nowhere to put the snow, and the windrow at the end of the driveway is probably 2 1/2 feet high and much heavier than the rest of the snow.

I am really glad that I don't have to use my car. Shoveling the driveway is optional, although generally a good idea. When I have left the driveway for more than a day, the chunks of stuff at the end of the driveway seem to solidify into an almost unmovable mass. However, I can leave digging out the car for awhile.

The US Postal Service upheld their motto, and delivered my mail promptly. Yea! That means new Netflix envelopes. Just what I need on this snowy day.

I'd like to go XC skiing or snowshoeing, but unless I plan to walk to the start, I'm not going to do that today. Maybe I'll walk over to Picnic Point.

OK, it's 1:30 PM, and I'm on my way out the door to take another whack at moving the snow around. I think I'm going to need a hot bath, Advil, and some scotch later on today, because my back is going to be hurting. At least I don't have to worry about skipping the gym.

2:00 PM
Time to go back out and do some more work. How am I going to get that snow out of my driveway? I stop picking it up and throwing it, and start pushing it up the driveway and down the sidewalk to a place with a lower mound of snow. All along the sidewalk the mounds of snow are about four feet high, and I'm barely over 5 feet tall myself. I try creating ramps to push the snow up, but the shovel just isn't long enough. I haven't even started clearing the snow around my car.

3:00 PM
Well, it's done. The driveway is cleared, the sidewalk is cleared. Even the car is cleared. If I need to drive, I can, but I think I'll leave it where it is. And every bit of snow moved by hand. I was tempted to post something on my neighborhood listserv, to offer an industrious teen (or adult) a bit of money to clear that tower of snow from my driveway, but I just kept plugging away, and eventually it got done.

My back is going to hurt.

I take some more photos of the snow, but it's hard to get a perspective on how deep it is. I'm tempted to go for a walk around the neighborhood, but quite honestly, I'm really beat. Maybe later.

The sun is shining. It's really a beautiful day. But checking the forecast, it looks like it's going to get really cold. Glad I got all the work done, so I don't have to do it in the bitter cold.

Winter in Wisconsin. I love it. Really. I can't wait to get out on the snowshoes tomorrow.

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