Return of the Polar Vortex

The big snow appears to be taking a breather but a fresh blast from the Polar Vortex is taking our breath away. The temperature here this morning was six degrees below zero and several places around Massachusetts clocked in a minus 17 to minus 23. With wind-chill factor it felt like 20 below.  By afternoon the mercury had climbed to 23 and it felt balmy. BTW: It was 39 degrees at noon in Anchorage, Alaska.

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front walk with snow pile

Me on the front walk — where’s the street?

The impact of all this cold and snow has been varied.  I feel great sympathy for the hourly wage employees who have been unable to reach their workplaces and will suffer dire financial consequences. Also for the folks who have water pouring into their houses or faulty heating systems letting them down. In this weather, being warm and dry is paramount.

Results Less Dire

But here are some of the less dire results that I have seen:

  • The thermotropic rhododendron leaves are drooping vertically and curled as tight as a pencil—a defense mechanism to protect themselves from losing water.
  • The stores are out of snowmelt, snow shovels, roof rakes and other equipment for moving, or removing, the white stuff.
  • The cat won’t go anywhere near the door just in case we might get the idea to put her outside. (We won’t do that.)
  • Driving is difficult because the huge snowbanks block the line of sight. Drivers have to poke their hoods out into traffic before they can tell if someone is coming. From the other perspective, there are constant surprises as cars pop into the roadway ahead from blind corners, driveways and parking lots.
  • Sidewalks are often a distant memory, buried under feet of snow that forces people to walk in the street. This is dangerous for everyone. If we’re lucky, there’s a path, one snow blower wide, but blocked with chunks of plowed ice and slippery with frozen slush.
  • Enormous icicles two- and three-stories high drape from houses and buildings. Some places look like they are peering out from behind giant monster teeth.
  • Bird feeder with snow and fat cardinal

    Bird feeder with snow and fat cardinal

    The birdfeeder is crowded with bright cardinals and bluejays as well as juncos, titmice, and chickadees. My neighbors have reported seeing bluebirds but I have not. I can’t reach the small birdfeeder up by the stone wall to refill it because I don’t have snowshoes and that’s what it would take to make it up there without sinking to my waist.

  • In contrast with last year, when wild animal tracks marked the snow everywhere and deer were bedding down behind the unit next door, the snow remains relatively unmarked: no deer tracks, no fisher cat tracks, no coyote tracks. The wild critters are holed up in dens and deer yards, waiting until the snow is either hard enough to walk over or low enough to walk through. Only one adventurous bunny has come over from the golf course with his stomach dragging through the fluffy snow.

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Signs of Spring

path to the birdfeeder

The path to the birdfeeder

We had one mild day—Sunday—when the sun was out and the temperature hit 40 degrees. It felt like summer.  Snow melted and icicles dripped. It gave us a very narrow window to scrape the driveway clear and clean up the paths—which are more like canyons. Then the vortex returned and froze it all as hard as concrete.

Now we are back in the deep freeze, and talking about how hard this winter has been. In fact, though, the worst part isn’t even a month old. The blizzard, code named Juno, occurred on January 27. Until then, it had been a relatively mild and snowless winter. If only it had stayed that way. Friday will mark the one-month anniversary of our first big storm.

We cling to small indicators that spring might actually arrive at some point.

  • The days are longer and it’s still light at 5:00 p.m.
  • Red Sox spring training has begun in Fort Myers, Florida.
  • Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, and the Academy Awards are over.
  • Spring flowers are appearing in the supermarket.

Okay, that’s not much but it’s all we have. Some years March has been a warm and sunny month with crocuses and snowdrops poking up between the few remaining mounds of grainy “corn snow.” That’s not going to happen next month unless a warm front suddenly comes down and sits over New England for a couple of weeks. It could be May before daffodils dare to put in an appearance. And June might arrive before we hear the pop of putters and the whiinngg of drivers from the golf course.

We can’t change the situation, though, so we all just hunker down and try to stay warm and dry.

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