Friday, January 29, 2016

A Behenouth of Blizzards, Hello Jonas!

Winter came on Friday. The entire thing, all at once in one weekend. and as a result 90 million people were affected, a third of the American population. It hit the northeast, closing down New York City and D.C. It claimed 19 lives and 11 states declared a state of emergency. 8300 flights were canceled. Referred to as Snowzilla or Snowpocolypse, David Snowie, or just the Blizzard of 2016, it was regarded as a monster by all.
 But in the town of Marshall, I was well prepared. I'd stocked up on necessities, including food for the wild birds and treats for the cats.I'd been to the local butcher for some organic meat, bought red wine and beer, with just a few snack items to munch in front of the TV. Fleeces were stacked ready on the sofa and my snow shovel was inside by the front door. I stayed at home on Friday, working until noon when the first flurries appeared. I'd run out early just to dump all trash and recyclables, grinning as I passed through Main St, the little town was the busiest I'd ever seen it with folks driving in and out, clearing the grocery store, tractor supply and our local bakery of provisions.
My fireplace had as much wood as I could stack on the hearth, plus a bucket full of kindling, and I had plenty more logs by the back door. The tub was filled with water just in case the power went out, and so we sat and waited. About 20 minutes before noon I saw the first flakes twisting across the meadow, I had put out bird seed so the birds could enjoy a good meal before the storm, but before long I was having to throw more out as it was quickly being covered.
Kota sat and watched as the snow crept up towards him in a drift against the door. I was still throwing out seed and nuts every 45 minutes or so, and pouring hot water onto their water dish. I had a steak stew bubbling in the crock pot, something I could easily heat up on the wood stove if need be.
That evening, after a long chat on the phone with Janice, I went to bed with one last look out the windows. There was only about 7" on the flat areas with a few drifts and I secretly wondered if the weather forecast was wrong and this was all we would get. I dozed off leaving the curtains open and slept deeply despite the gales raging round the house.
 Next morning Rosie Lee woke me up and I lifted my head to see this. Leaping out of bed I rushed to the window. It was a white out. Good morning Marshall!!  It looked to be about 15" with drifts undulating across the meadow. The birds!! I hurriedly pulled on jeans and boots, jacket and gloves and raced out with my shovel. A couple of birds were already waiting for me and flew back and forth as I cleared a 2" deep drift from some of the patio. I placed down a saucer of water, scattered seed and nuts then went back to bed with a big mug of tea to watch the fine white flakes twirl and twist to the ground. I could barely see my neighbors across the hill.
 The wind was still fierce and as I sat sipping my tea I knew I'd have to keep clearing that patio throughout the day so I was getting stressed out from every half hour throwing out fresh bird seed and adding warm water.
 Many of the larger birds sat in the trees which thankfully, because of the high winds, were not getting loaded with snow, and therefore branches were free for bird claws. The juncos were good at finding the seed under the snow but I could see the others were struggling, so I donned jacket and gloves again and went out to build a tunnel using a pallet and a tarp.
I managed to construct a long tunnel that actually stayed secure throughout the storm. Throwing plenty of bird seed and nuts inside with a plate of water, it must have looked quite welcoming because within minutes birds had hopped inside, to eat in peace, and I'm sure, to also enjoy the shelter.
During the afternoon I received an e-mail stating that Fauquier County had announced all secondary roads were impassable, so up on our hill we were now totally cut off. It was a strange feeling to be so isolated but I wasn't bothered as I had plenty of supplies. Cabin Fever would be the only thing I'd suffer from. I kept my phone plugged in to maintain a constant full charge, it could only be time now before we lost power on the hill.
I lay on the sofa watching old movies on TV with Kota and Rosie Lee, enjoying the safe sanctuary from the storm. A large bowl of stew and dumplings with a bottle of red wine was for dinner and we all spent the evening as lazily as we had the afternoon.
By Sunday morning there was about 3" of snow and I had a pretty tough job pushing the screen door open so I could get outside. Once again I shoveled a clear spot on the patio and threw down more food for the birds along with fresh water. It was great to see them enjoying their breakfast, this time with no fierce winds or snow pummeling them. Dark-eyed juncos,white-throated sparrows, mourning doves, cardinals, Carolina wrens, crows, tufted titmouses, blue jays, and a red-bellied woodpecker. Word must have got out as a flock of red-winged blackbirds came to visit too, a bird I'd never seen here at Meadow House before, especially since we don't have any large areas of water nearby. But they had a meal and then left.
The snow outside was beautiful with the sun shining down, sparkling as though dusted with glitter. The gales had created interesting striations across the smooth surface and I was itching to get out and take photos. I managed to push the front screen door open,  squeezed out, staggered a couple of steps, and stopped. The snow was up to the tops of my legs, there was no way I was moving forward any further.
So all my shots were taken through the glass screen door or windows. It was a weird feeling looking out across the fields, knowing that I wasn't going anywhere until someone came and plowed us out. But I got fed up by Monday morning and pushed out towards Stuart, clearing all around him and creating a space that I could back into and turn around. I then cleared another 20ft or so down the road and then gave up. It was hard work.
 But before I went back indoors I did manage to snap these paw prints. I think they belong to our resident skunk.
Peoples' senses of humor shone throughout the storm. I loved this video which became a huge hit on Facebook. And there were many superb photos, particularly from those who could get out and walk about. I loved the one above by Christopher Jobson in NYC, and this gallery of NYC photos. 

 These 2 newspaper memes made me howl too. But I soon got tired of reading about so many complaints on Facebook. Complaints about the weather, or about VDOT, or about how arduous the shoveling was. It had been an adventure which in our neck of the woods didn't create any huge issues that couldn't be overcome with some hard work and patience.When I did finally get off the hill, I was very impressed at how quickly the roads had been cleared. But I didn't see that until after Monday evening which was when our neighbor with his big tractor came and cleared the hill. 
His first attempt on Sunday afternoon was unsuccessful, he couldn't get started on the steep gradient so Matt and Kit had to clamber down there and clear part of the hill manually so he could get a grip on the surface to start plowing. But as he progressed slowly up the hill he had to change course and make his way across the lower field, to finally emerge onto the road next to my house; the snow had been too deep on the road to try and clear from below. But he'd kept pushing and dumping bucket loads to the side as the sun dropped, his headlights piercing the dark as he worked relentlessly to free us from our confines. He had no enclosed cab on his tractor and declined my offer of a cognac laced coffee, but he ensured that each of us on the hill had clear access from our houses down the hill to the main road before he left. I later found out he'd been clearing neighbors roads since 8:00am and it had taken him a whole day to clear his own road before he came to us. A local hero indeed.
It was dark when he finally left and I'm sure all of us on the hill breathed a huge sigh of relief at finally seeing a way out of our homes. The next morning we were all up and outside shoveling the remaining snow off the road. The sun shone brightly and really helped with the clean up but the dreaded lower slope was in the shade and clung to its perilous slippery coating. I managed to chip a path through to the main road so that one side of a vehicle could get a grip going up the steep incline but I wasn't prepared to try out Stuart just yet. I was exhausted and was very glad when Bill came to collect me in his Suburu and run me into town.
I guess we won't be getting mail delivered just yet!
My little track down the hill, but I still slid even though I drove down slowly late Wednesday morning to go to work. My colleagues cheered at my arrival and Kevin 'high fived' me, it really was nice to be among folk again.  Mail was also delivered to Marshall Post Office Wednesday morning, so after picking that up in the afternoon, and dumping off trash, I felt things had got back to normal.
It seems strange driving down Main Street with no vehicles parked anyway on the road. These huge walls of snow flank the whole town, some of them over 10 feet high. But again, I'm really impressed with how quickly the clean up operation has progressed.
So...when's the next one?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Slight Sprinkling of Snow

On Sunday I packed up my camera and dressed warmly. It was cold outside but I was ready for a hike on the Skyline Drive, and was hoping to see some icy waterfalls. After loading up the wood stove with logs and leaving treats for the cats I set off as powdery flakes twirled and twisted through the air on a brisk, bitter breeze. This was the first snow of the season and I could barely see across to the other side of the hill. The sky was full of heavy grey clouds and I wondered if the weather forecasters had got it wrong with their prediction of a very light snow shower with no accumulation.
As I drove to Front Royal, it seemed to be coming down heavier but wasn't sticking to the roads at all, with only a minimal coverage on the grass and trees, so I was more than a little pissed when I presented my pass at the gate and was informed that the park was closed. The attendant stated that the snow had accumulated over an inch so far 'up there and cars were already getting stuck'. I stared at him in what I hoped was transparent disbelief and drove away.I saw photos later on Facebook of folks who'd just managed to get in before the gates were closed and there was barely half an inch on the road.
So I drove back through country lanes and captured some of the very light snow that was visible on the lower grounds, on tops of seed heads and dusting sides of trees. There really wasn't much at all but I got a few images before it had all disappeared completely a couple of hours later.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Barn for Beer and a Beautiful Bird

On Saturday while on my way to meet up with a group in Maryland, I made a detour first to a large barn in Manassas. Known as the Thomasson Barn, it has stood empty since the 1960's but is now about to be transformed into a brewery.
I had to be quick at this photo stop as I hadn't parked my car in the best of places. There was a large gap in the fence and the field was very boggy but I plodded through and quickly fired off some shots. I was also fortunate enough to have a red vulture sitting atop one of the silos to add to the atmosphere. This link explains about the history of the barn and this link is about what the new brewery has in store for the land. It looks like its taking the same route as many other breweries and looks sparsely industrial. Not my taste but it seems to appeal to many. I'm just pleased the barn is being saved as ever since I've lived in the region and driven past I've been saddened by its demise. I'm also kind of hoping it would have some dairy farming elements added to retain some of its original character but I'll just have to wait and see.
Pleased at having completed my project I then proceeded to the Maryland State Police Aviation Command Center in Frederick where we were being shown their latest addition, a 2013 AW139 helicopter, costing about $15 million fully equipped.
We were here to have our own private tour explaining the purpose of the fleet and for 2 hours our attentions were held captive by the crew of this chopper. It stood gleaming before us with all doors open so we could look inside at the controls and extensive equipment that it carried.
The high polish of the paintwork made me smile and I was very careful not to add any of my own paw prints to the finish. I remembered my times as a firefighter when we would spend hours washing and polishing our pump engine so it gleamed and sparkled on every turn out, and appreciated the work gone into this helicopter. I also knew that despite the comments I heard of how they polished the machine for us, I knew this wasn't true. This chopper would be lovingly buffed up after every use. These crew members were very proud of this bird.
One of our gang looking like he's hanging by his neck! I had no idea what he was actually doing...
One of the crew lifted the nose cone to show us the vast workings of the radar and cameras that sit underneath, a huge mass of wiring that I could only assume would be a nightmare to work with. This huge chopper cannot land on soft ground as the camera sits only about a foot high from the ground when stationary. Also the revolving 'eyeball' under the nose has infrared vision to see at night.
I kept taking photos of their helmets, I loved their design.
Showing us one side of the engine. A maintenance man is assigned to just this location to attend to the helicopter. It's checked, (preflighted), twice daily, once by him and once by the pilot.
The hook that attaches to the hoist, the main piece of equipment used for rescues.
I felt very fortunate to have had this private tour and was even a little envious of the residents of Maryland, knowing how professional and experienced this crew,and how advanced their equipment, was. I even asked about the possibility of an EMP attack and was surprised to hear that the chopper could still be flown without using its electrical components. But, the pilot would only have in the region of 4 seconds to make the switch to manual override!
There are 10 of these helicopters covering Maryland and here is a link for more technical details, I would never remember those!
Our tour was only supposed to last an hour yet it was over 2.5 hours later that we started to leave. The crew had supplied a wealth of informative facts and had answered all of our questions. They had been humorous and extremely accommodating, I'd have no compunction at all at having these guys as my rescuers. Maryland is in very safe hands.