February 12, 2017 by Jean
Maine is currently in what the meteorologists call an “active weather pattern;” and in February that means, snow, snow, and more snow. February is typically our coldest and snowiest month, so snow in February is hardly surprising. But an unusually warm January lulled many of us into thinking that this might be a mild winter like last year’s. Instead, February is starting to look a lot like February of 2015, when we had a snowstorm every 3 days for a month!
It began with a small storm on Tuesday of this week, about 6” of snow. On Wednesday, I spent about three hours shoveling that snow, in preparation for another storm on Thursday. This one was a classic nor’easter (a coastal storm that combines cold, lots of moisture, and winds from the northeast) and dumped a little over a foot of snow here. We had a clean-up day on Friday, followed by more snow on Saturday. Saturday’s storm was a type called an “Alberta Clipper” (because it usually originates in Alberta and arrives here overland from the north and west). These storms don’t usually bring us a lot of snow, but yesterday’s had more moisture than average and deposited another 6” of light, fluffy snow. (If you’re keeping count, that was a little over 2 feet of snow in 5 days.) But, wait, there’s more! We’re expecting another nor’easter, this one a big storm that will pack a punch, today and tomorrow. The National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning for eastern Maine and a blizzard watch for my part of the state. The snow is just beginning this afternoon, but is expected to last more than 24 hours and bring another 18’’-24” of snow. Sunshine is predicted for Tuesday, which is a good thing because – you guessed it – another snowstorm is in the forecast for Wednesday into Thursday.
This is a challenging weather pattern, especially for someone like me who has sole responsibility for the care of a rural house. Winter of 2015, which was my first winter living in Maine fulltime after my retirement and which brought record cold and snow, just about did me in. As winter 2016 approached, I found myself dreading winter for the first time in my life, and I was happy for the reprieve of last year’s mild winter. This year, I feel more prepared for the challenge. I have about a month’s worth of dry firewood stacked in my basement, so I can wait for milder March conditions to bring in wood from outdoors. After my 2015 experience, I know that I’ll need to get my roof shoveled off after this series of storms, and I’ve already begun the research to find someone to do that work. The fact that my back is in better shape these days makes me more confident that I can handle all the shoveling this snow will require.
One of my neighbors on our rural dirt road plows the road and our driveways; my responsibility is to shovel stairs, walkways and decks. After a typical winter storm, I need 4-5 hours to complete all my shoveling. I usually do this in one-hour stints, and preferably over two days. (When we only have one day in between storms, however, I have to work harder or leave some shoveling undone.) Often, I go out and do my first hour of shoveling in the morning, before I shower and have breakfast. I begin by clearing the small deck outside my bedroom. Then I go out the front door, shoveling the front entry steps and the front walkway. This walkway intersects with the walkway to the back (really “side”) door, and I shovel it along with the back steps. If I still have time in my hour, I begin shoveling the flight of stairs that lead down from the main level of my house to the driveway. When I go out before lunch for my next stint of shoveling, I finish the stairs down to the driveway and then shovel a narrow path from the front door to the patio, around the corner and along the front of the house, and then along the end of the house to the heat pump. I clear off the little shed roof that my contractor built over the heat pump unit and shovel out a 1-2 foot clearance around the heat pump. My third hour of shoveling, in mid-afternoon, involves digging my car out from the narrow basement entry space between two retaining walls where I tuck it in out of the way of the plow. Once I have cleared the area in front of the car and along at least one side, I can drive the car out into the driveway and clear the snow off the top. Then I shovel out the basement entry so that it will be ready to receive the car again for our next storm. My neighbor plows a fairly wide area at the top of the driveway so that I can turn the car around and drive out facing forward, but I normally have to clean up the edges of that turning space with my shovel to widen it out after he plows.
These three hours are my essential shoveling, but eventually, I also need to shovel a path up a small flight of stairs and along the walkway through the back garden so that I can shovel off the back deck. In January, when we had a lot of melting between storms, I got in the habit of ignoring the back deck. I knew I had to get it cleaned up before this new snow fell, so I was out first thing yesterday, even as snow was falling, shoveling the path through the garden and cleaning off half the deck. This morning, I went out and shoveled the other half.
One of the challenges of only having one day to clean up between snow storms is that, by the time I get my car dug out, it is late afternoon and there is little time left to get out and do errands. On Friday, I drove into town in the early evening to do some errands and a little grocery shopping. If, as they are predicting, this snow storm ends late in the afternoon tomorrow, I may go out and do my first hour of shoveling in the early evening. That would allow me to get my car dug out by noon on our sunny Tuesday and have an afternoon to do needed food shopping and errands before our next storm arrives.
Sometimes February can seem like the longest month of the year. To meet the challenge of a snowy February, I need to get into the rhythm of snow storms and shoveling and dream about spring.