Our first snow

Friday, December 2, 2022

Temperatures have plunged, holidays are beginning to tick by, and earlier this week we had our first snow. I suppose I am now forced to admit that summer is over. We each have our winter and snow day rituals, and in my case, it reflects a flaw in my character. Our recent snow was relatively light and I was spared the need for shoveling, but I make no secret of my contempt for the task.

I have the same enthusiasm for shoveling snow as I do lawn work, which is to say that I don’t ever look forward to it. I was raised to believe that any such aversions are positive proof of laziness, but I find that I am far less lazy when I’m not exposing myself to conditions that invariably lead to a runny nose. Both pollen and single-digit temperatures seem to have that effect on me, while desks, books and monitors do not.

I also don’t particularly appreciate the occasional passersby who stop to say, “I see they’ve got you working.” I’m not sure why that unnerves me as it does, but it does. I exact my revenge quickly enough by smiling and waving as I mutter profane rejoinders to myself. The happy-hearted fool then goes merrily on his way as I am left to ponder who “they” are and what interest “they” would have in my shoveling snow.

My preferred winter obsession is tracking the weather on a PC in a climate-controlled basement. Winter storms aren’t as dramatic to watch on doppler radar as summer thunderstorms, but the forces that form winter systems are every bit as interesting. Just as macroeconomics is infinitely more fun than microeconomics, tracking global storm patterns is a hoot. Between the warm air coming up from the equator, cold air coming down through Canada, and the occasional lake-effect snows that clobbers what was named the “Midwest” back when Missouri was considered the West, it’s fun to track the low-pressure systems and predict where it will go (and no, “lake effect” storms do not involve Hugh Butler Lake).

Beyond all of that, there still remains a bit of that childlike glee that overtakes me when snow causes schools to shut down. At my age, school closings shouldn’t affect me on that level, but they somehow do. As an adult, I am acutely aware that closed schools and businesses are a huge inconvenience to everyone, particularly parents. Many years ago a McCook School Board member explained the consequences of declaring a school snow day saying, “we’re the biggest daycare in town.” That becomes evident when parents have the choice of taking time from work or scrambling for daycare space. I also think of people with livestock that need to be tended regardless of the weather. In that case, we know exactly who “they” are, and ironically, cattle frequently have runny noses too.

Still, few things compare with the reprieve given when the alarm clock rings, sheets are warm and the wind can be heard whistling. It’s time to start the day, but Rich and Jesse tell us that it’s OK to stay in bed. I still enjoy that feeling. When the days are short, the darkness is long, and the holidays have passed leaving little but the bills behind, it’s a timely reprieve. The shoveling and resulting cardiac distress can wait until the sun comes out, but at that moment, there’s just warmth and a welcomed pause.

So when do we have snow days? Predicting those is the fun part. Between the net, satellites, and interconnected weather stations across the country, we have great tools available now. I have had an evangelical enthusiasm for the NOAA Hourly Forecast since my boating days and it seldom lets me down. NOAA’s hourly page takes a few minutes to find, but once you’re there, they have up to 13 data points presented hour-by-hour in a graphic format.

Weather is very difficult to forecast and our expectations of accuracy are deservedly low, but NOAA’s hourly predictions are accurate far more often than not. Rather than knowing what the high and low temperatures are tomorrow as we do with most forecasts, we can see what the temperature will be at 10:00 a.m., as well as the wind, humidity, and several other variables. If you have a chance to find it, you won’t be sorry. The URL is impossibly long, but if you google “NOAA hourly graphical forecast 69001,” it shouldn’t be hard to find.

Another gem that has recently become even better is the upgraded Nebraska 511 system at www.511.nebraska.gov . The site has a navigable state map that can be zoomed in for any region of the state, or specifically for our little piece of Southwest Nebraska. The map offers road conditions, plow activity, traffic speeds, and at least four webcams in our immediate area.

What I find most useful are the color-coded streets on the map that indicate road conditions. Some of those contrasts reflect local road maintenance efforts, but most tell a story about where the storm went. Was there more accumulation to the North? East? West? The color codes have the answers. The site shows only our short drive south to the state line, but Kansas also has a 511 system if your sphere of activity leans in that direction.

I would be fine without winter. I wouldn’t miss it for a moment, but the place I call home gets it every year. If all that Greta Thunberg says is true, I can stay right here and summer will come to me. Otherwise, I have these little online tools to amuse myself, and every now and then, a snow day.

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