Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Winters in New England

My American friends, there is no reason to read this post. It's really for my readers from other parts of the world, especially South Africa, where the only snow is on the escarpment or made by machine at Tiffendell.

I've had a lot of questions lately about the snowy winters we get here, so I thought I'd share as I didn't have a clue about it until I lived here, either. I must start by saying this year has been a doozy for snow, we've been here 8 years and its never snowed this much. Or so much during the week! This is the first year a place where I've worked has closed the office due to a snowstorm.

I'll start with a pic of my back yard from last year, February 2010. It looks like a wet, heavy snow (see how it sticks to the trees?) but you'll see that compared to later pics, there isn't that much snow. Click on the images to see bigger.

And now for pics from this year. My apologies for dark images, but the sun is going down at 5:15, which is just about when I get home. This was the back yard earlier tonight, Feb 2 (um, that blue thing is a bin for recycling. Upside down in the snow).

How it works is like this: for days you'll hear about an impending snowstorm on the news. The day before, the weather guys will give you an idea of what to expect. I've found an average snowstorm here to be between 4 and 6 inches (10 to 15 cm), that's snow on the ground (if its windy, you get drifts, which can be a lot deeper because the snow blows into a spot where its trapped and it builds up). We'll sit inside and watch it fall, so beautifully, or if its a mean snowstorm, marvel at the wind and the speed of the snowfall.

When the snowstorm is over (or if its a long snowstorm, when its about half way done as well) we'll go out and shovel. Since last year, we don't shovel, we snowblow (thank goodness!). Snow on the driveway or on your car makes it hard to drive so you have to remove it.

We're lucky we have a driveway. That means that we have a safe place to park the car when the city's snowploughs (that's snowplows, American friends!) come charging down the street to move the snow off the road. They are known to smack the side mirrors off your car if it is in the wrong place. But we are lucky because New Englanders are used to this and the roads will be virtually useable throughout a snowstorm, even if it is dangerous. None of the English thing of being housebound for a week (sorry, England, not meant to offend!). (Found this great image here)

On the highways, there are bigger snowploughs. They form these impressive diagonal lines across the highway, the first one moving snow sideways, which the next one picks up and moves to the next guy... very impressive to see, and very inspiring if you happen to be out on the road (even if you are on the opposite of the highway!) (Image from here)

But back to shovelling! Right. When you shovel snow, you literally have a shovel and you shovel the snow from the driveway onto the side. That's why you see big snowbanks on either side of the driveway. If you use a snowblower, it kind of looks like a lawnmower, and you push it forward the same way but it sucks in the snow in the front then shoots it out a chimney at the top with enough velocity to land on the snowbank you would've shovelled it to, if you were shovelling. It will even do this with a set of keys. We know this for sure. As does a set of our car keys.

Below is my hubby with our snowblower. You can't see flying snow because the chimney is pointed forward, I think, in the second two shots.

Right, so he snowblows the bottom of the driveway while I clear off the cars. That means I turn the car on to warm it up, and turn on the heater, as well as the heating elements in the rear window and side mirrors to melt snow and ice. Then I use a scraper/brush thingie to wipe snow off the car, or scrape ice off of windows. Then, when he is done, we move the cars into the area that is clear of snow, leaving the snow that was once on the car on the driveway. Then he snowblows the area that is still full of snow while I go and shovel off the front porch and stairs. We do have neighbours who live upstairs, and they help out but I'm trying to keep the story simple here!

Once the drive is clear, he puts away the snowblower while I start to shovel a circuit in the back yard for the dogs to run around in. The poor things get cooped up a lot in winter, although we try to walk them twice a day, in winter the walks are shorter. Especially when snow melts a bit in the day, then freezes again at night and becomes a nice icy patch to slip on. There is even something called black ice, which is very hard to see and very easy to slip on! The dogs seem to do ok, they have four legs for balance, and as they are both hounds and short-haired, they have little jackets.

Back to shovelling. We finish clearing the driveway, then go in, grab some breakfast, maybe, then shower (clearing is sweaty work!) and then off to work. You can totally drive in the snow, but you just go slow. The biggest problem is sliding and you can do ballet moves all over the road if you get too carried away. We drove back from Connecticut after Christmas last year, which usually takes 2 and a half hours but in the snow it took more than double that just because we went slowly, and tried to stay in other people's cars' tracks and off the slippery snow.

If the snowstorm is still going during the day, we can also work remotely from home and avoid driving altogether. I do live only 15 minutes from work, so I usually just drive.

So this year has been extremely snowy. You can see in the pics above. Here are more pics from today and yesterday. Yesterday we had 6 inches of snow during the day (while we were at work) and then a small break last night, and then 4 more inches this morning early, which then turned to frozen rain. Which is lighter than hail. But freezes on the ground and makes the world one giant ice-rink. And sometimes takes down power lines, and thousands of people can be without electricity, and sometimes without heat.

Here's the car yesterday and today (slightly higher snowbank on the side of the driveway)

Here's the back yard with a place for the dogs to run (can you see the space?)

And here's the pics from the front of the house. Everyone is legally obliged to shovel off their pavement (sidewalk, American friends!) so pedestrians (people walking their dogs!) can get by.

And lastly, some pics of the ice today. Brrrr.

The most impressive thing I've seen since I've been here, is driving out West from Boston on the highway in the summer a couple of years ago, and looking into the woods on the side of the road... and noticing how the trees looked liked a giant had walked by and leaned down and dragged his fingers through the treetops, breaking the tops, causing them to hang down, some littering the floor of the woods. This was the result of an ice storm that moved through one winter a couple of years ago, and the ice had got so heavy on the trees that they had snapped...

So after all that, I hope you get a better idea of what its like to deal with snow on a weekly basis (as it is right now, biweekly basis!). And, that all being said, I do still love the snow. Its beautiful. And a hell of a lot nicer than the frigid temperatures we get when its too cold to snow.


WendyP said...

Hi there South of Saraha. I chanced upon you blog quite by accident via 'I want that' and boy am I glad I did. Beautifull, BEAUTIFULL! Doubly so for me because at this mo I have a very adventurous son travelling from Aspen to St Louis and exactly what he is describing is what I am seeing in your beautiful visuals. Thank you so much. Doesn't make this crazy mom any less anxious but .... thanks. WendyP SA

kbd said...

WendyP, thanks for the comment! The snow has been crazy this year, so your son chose the best time to experience it! Don't worry about him, most places in the US are organized and ready for this stuff, he'll be fine.