winter back again
2010-04-29 04:51:50.000 – Mike Carmon, Staff Meteorologist
Drifting on the Sherman Adams Building
This past Monday, in my current residence located in Burlington, VT, I sat on a bench overlooking Lake Champlain, under the sun, with temperatures pushing 70 degrees, thinking, ‘Winter’s officially over. Summer’s here.’ Little did I know I’d be eating those words less than 24 hours later.
I awoke Tuesday morning to a temperature hovering just below 30 degrees and heavy wet snow descending from cloudy skies. Although I knew snow had been forecasted for Mt. Washington and the valleys of the White Mountains in NH, I didn’t think for a minute there would be any significant winter weather at my home after the string of five warm and gorgeous days. Especially considering April is waning and May is fast approaching.
Reality can operate very abruptly sometimes, and that’s the avenue it seems to have chosen this time. Yesterday’s shift change was predicted by all of us weather-watchers to be iffy at best, and it did not disappoint. The latest blast of winter weather coated the valleys with anywhere from 6-12 inches of snow yesterday morning before transitioning back to more spring-like rain. The heavy wet snow coated the Auto Road from top to bottom, causing the snow chains to reappear on our truck’s tires for the trip up to the Snow Tractor, located halfway up the road. Snow was falling at a moderate to heavy rate throughout the trip, which, when coupled with freezing fog, made for extremely poor visibility conditions that have become all too familiar to us on shift change day.
We arrived to find the summit much whiter than when we left it just one week ago. Skies littered with swelling cumulus clouds and thunderheads were replaced with freezing fog and blizzard conditions.
When asked by many an edu-tripper, tourist, friend, or family member about my most harrowing experience during my time here, I have long expressed the story of when I retrieved the precipitation can in winds gusting to 110 mph and visibility less than 100 feet. It was 12:30 AM, and it was during the week I was training to become an observer. My experience in these types of conditions was very limited, so I was particularly shaken (although exhilarated) by this trip. I’ve certainly had plenty of experiences since then that have come very close, but I’ve failed to match that same feeling in the gut of my stomach-until yesterday!
My 6:30 P.M. (EST!) trip to the precip can was the culprit. Winds were not particularly mind-boggling (sustained around 70 mph, gusting to about 77 mph), but the problem was lack of contrast-not a single landmark was visible as a result of the 21 inches of new powdery snow being blown about by winds just shy of hurricane force amidst thick freezing fog. The color white was what I saw-looking up, down, left, right, forward and behind! I knew it was time to start counting the amount of steps I took away from the Sherman Adams Building.
Those steps, however, became more and more challenging, as the snow depth rose with each one. The snow reached my ankles, then my knees, then my waist, until I finally descended into a drift that reached up to my chest! For a 6’2 individual, this was quite a new experience, and one that lasted a good 5 minutes, leaving me astonished at not only the vertical but horizontal extent of this monster snow drift. I fervently scanned for the precipitation can that was my ultimate destination. It felt like I had gone too far, but I was almost sure I was walking in the right direction. Could I have missed it?
Well, my sense of direction was nearly right on. I discovered the problem when I turned back for a brief second and caught a fleeting glimpse of red-the very top of the can holder. To my utter amazement, the can and its holder were completely buried in a snow drift! This was a first for me.
Because of the complete lack of contrast, the struggle through chest-deep snow with an akward-sized metal can in hand, accompanied by nearly-hurricane force winds, this ordeal will forever stick out in my mind as one of my most harrowing precip can trips! And it’s quite a far cry from the jogs in sunny and warm weather I was taking just three days ago.
Mike Carmon, Staff Meteorologist