Monday, January 06, 2014

Notes from the North Pole

If you haven't heard yet, we're getting some interesting weather here in Western New York.

Yes, it's January, and that's been known to happen at this time of the year - even though we've been a little spoiled when it comes to winters in the past few years. We're in the midst of our first blizzard in 20 years, which some people in the Sun Belt might not believe.

Admittedly, it's cold everywhere in the eastern two-thirds of the country. Supposedly it is in single digits in Tennesee, close to freezing in Florida. As for Fargo, where it was 99 degrees when we were visiting there in August, it is 120 degrees colder than that now. Yikes.

Out-of-towners, though, might not understand it when I say that I have almost as much anxiety before the storm as I have when it arrives. That's because no one can predict exactly what might happen. When Indianapolis had a foot of snow arrive on Sunday, the front came through, did its business and moved on. Simple, at least from this viewpoint.

Here we have something called lake effect snow. Oversimplified version - cold air passes over the open waters of Lake Erie, picks up moisture, and then dumps it in a band on land. There are only two places on earth where this happens - the Great Lakes and the Caspian Sea. No word on how the snow plowing business there is right now. It's pretty good here. Someone once said lake effect snow was like turning on the water to go through a hose without grabbing the end. It starts spraying everywhere in no particular pattern.

We've known for a couple of days that bad weather was coming. Weather experts have been talking about historic conditions with wind chills that would feel at home on Mars. Since Lake Erie hasn't frozen yet, lake effect snow was to be expected here.

But where?

That's where the anxiety comes in. I've only had to sleep at the office once in the 19 years I've worked at the News. There was gridlock on the roads one day, so I threw my car in a parking lot, walked to the office, put out the morning paper, slept on the library floor, got up at 7 a.m., put out the afternoon paper, and got a ride back to my car. Trust me, it wasn't a romantic moment.

While watching the forecasts of more than three feet of snow in spots with 60 mph gusts and sub-zero temperatures, the question came to mind: will I be back sleeping on the library floor at work Monday night? And there was no answer. As weatherman Don Paul explained, it only takes a five-degree shift in the wind direction to turn the snow band from going right over my house to a few miles south and completely out of my way. In other words, there's a five-degree difference between chaos and normal.

I watched the local newscasts and the Weather Channel today (I'm still getting used to them naming winter storms), and left early for work. I was doing fine until I could see my place of employment, when a giant traffic jam developed because of the closing of the Skyway - a main waterfront path to the Southtowns, and one that frequently closes in bad weather. It took about 20 minutes to make those final two blocks. But I made it, and you'll have a newspaper tomorrow - provided a truck can get out of the building and get it to you.

The snow bands supposedly are now south of the city, and will stay that way for several hours at least. I'm kind of hoping that the lake effect snow will head for ski country and stay that way, where it is welcomed. That's in part because my snowblower is a little cranky, and I'm not anxious to shovel by hand in frigid temperatures and high winds. Then again, who am I kidding? I don't want to go outside at all if I can help it.

On the other hand, if I make it through Tuesday, I'll have two days at home. And it's supposed to start to warm up a little by then, which would be nice.

But that's a big if. Let me get through tonight and Tuesday, and we'll celebrate Wednesday when it gets here.

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