Much to the chagrin of most of my friends in New England, I love a good snowstorm. Seeing those first flakes start falling from a steely sky makes me feel like a giddy 5 year old, even at the ripe old age of 63. Granted, I’m staying in a place where there’s a generator to ensure that I still have heat and lights if the power goes out, and my landlord plows out the long driveway on the property.
Therefore, I don’t have to worry about being unable to take a hot shower or fix a hot meal, and I don’t have to risk a massive heart attack shoveling a ton of heavy wet snow, perhaps two or three times during a really big storm. So, I do understand my friends’ bitterness when we hear that a big blizzard is on the way. Still, it IS winter, this IS New England, and we hadn’t experienced a significant snowstorm so far this season, so when the weather forecast predicted a foot or two of snow for Saturday, January 29, I couldn’t hide my absolute glee.
Perhaps it’s also the media’s fault that people seem unable to enjoy a good old-fashioned blizzard these days. Until a few years ago, we’d hear the weather report, and if it said we were in for snow, we might have put some gas in the car, picked up some bread and milk at the store, and taken it all in stride. But these days every storm is taken as a sign of the coming apocalypse. New England has always experienced the occasional “nor’easter” (pronounced NAW-EASTAH, of course), a major storm that impacts the coast with heavy winds that blow in from the northeast, bringing high tides, powerful waves and a lot of either snow or rain. But in the past few years the media have been warning us of an incoming “bomb cyclone”, which is described as a winter hurricane that causes rapid atmospheric pressure drops and hurricane force winds and gusts. There is some ambiguity as to what the actual differences are between a nor’easter and a bomb cyclone, but a nor’easter makes me think of battening down the hatches, heating up some soup or hot chocolate and sitting by the fireplace. A bomb cyclone invokes images of mass panic, hoarding at the grocery store, and sitting in one’s bomb cyclone shelter while contemplating the purchase of a Toyota Prius in a feeble attempt to reverse global climate change. Whatever new name there is for it, it’s snow, folks. Keep calm and build a snowman!
Most older New Englanders still reminisce about the famous “Blizzard of ‘78”, an early February storm that dumped 27 inches of snow on southern New England. I have extremely vivid memories of the storm; I was at my university, classes got canceled mid-day as the snow piled up rapidly. Worried that I might not be able to make it home to my apartment 20 miles away, I accepted an invitation from a classmate to go to her place, which was much closer to campus, and ride out the storm there with her and her mother. When I look back at all my life decisions, that was one I would have changed if I could go back in time. Let me just say that you never really know how odd anyone is till you are snowed in with them for two days with no electricity, and I was so uncomfortable that regardless of any obstacle, I was determined to get away. Because these folks lived on a side street that hadn’t been plowed, I had to excavate my car from three to four foot-high snow drifts, and then dig a path down the block wide enough to allow my car to make it to the first major street that had been cleared. I was not exactly a fit or athletic young man, but I worked like my sanity depended on it (perhaps it actually DID) to make my escape. It took me the better part of an afternoon to clear that path, and although there was a statewide ban on driving for three days after the storm, I cautiously navigated the snowy streets trying to avoid police cars. I sighed with relief when I reached the well-plowed interstate and successfully reached the blessed silence of my tiny studio apartment, with only mild symptoms of PTSD to show for the experience.
But I digress. This blizzard/nor’easter/bomb cyclone was a whole different ballgame. I sat in my comfy Lazy Boy recliner watching the snow swirl and listening to the wind howl outside. I made pancakes, binge-watched some TV shows, and played endless games of Words with Friends on Facebook. At around 10:00 AM I ventured out to clean some of the snow off my car, even though we were only a few hours into a storm that was to rage all day long.
Later in the afternoon I went out again and took a very strenuous walk, as by now the snow was 15 or 16 inches deep with a lot of drifts. Every step was an effort. To get from the driveway into the road, which had been somewhat cleared, I had to get past huge piles of plowed snow, sinking hip-deep into the cold, wet mess, causing me to fall down and momentarily wonder whether I could get the strength and leverage to get back up. At this point, snow was coming down at the rate of two or three inches per hour. The way the wind was gusting and blowing the snow around, I pictured myself just being buried in a drift as night descended and not being found until the spring thaw. Yes, I have a vivid imagination. But soon I was back on my feet, walking the road a bit and taking some photos before retreating to my cozy apartment and making some chocolate chip cookies. Yes, indeed, a much more pleasant experience than the blizzard of ’78!
In all we received 22 inches of snow here in Little Compton, Rhode Island, with closer to 30 inches along the northeastern coast of Massachusetts between Plymouth and Boston. The next morning was cold, only reaching 25 degrees or so by mid-day, but the sun was shining, and the blue skies set off the snowy landscapes beautifully. My landlord had plowed the driveway, allowing me to get out to the road, and so after breakfast I set out for an 80-mile-long drive through a dozen small towns in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts to take photos. It was spectacular; because of the freezing temperatures, snow and ice clung to tree branches and bushes and didn’t melt, so everything sparkled in the sunlight. It was a fantastic day.
In defiance of the typical “snowbird” pattern, I will be leaving New England in mid-March for Florida, and while I am looking forward to a couple of months spent on her warm, sun-kissed beaches, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the cold, crisp winter days here in New England. After living so much of my adult life in San Francisco, California, where the “change of seasons” means fog vs. no fog, drought and fire vs. floods and mudslides, it’s been great to get back to my New England roots and enjoy the whole gamut of what the seasons have to offer. Fall will still always be my favorite time of year, especially in New England, but there’s nothing like a well-placed bomb cyclone to bring a smile to my face!