Snow, Snow and More Snow


February 12, 2017 by Jean

snowy woodsMaine 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.

snow shovelingOne 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.


23 thoughts on “Snow, Snow and More Snow

  1. Jean R says:

    I thought I had a lot of shoveling when it snows, but you’ve got me beat. My driveway is plowed but I always make sure the first thing I shovel is the sidewalk from the drive to the front door, in case I should ever need to call an ambulance. Then I have a side deck and dog area to get at followed by a back deck so I can feed my birds. I shovel with fire safety in mind, too, making sure all my doors and deck gate can open. With all your shoveling, I hope you are remembering not to have any drink with caffeine in it an hour before or after shoveling. A full glass of water before shoveling also help protect the heart. I can’t wait until spring!

    • Jean says:

      Jean, I think you are imagining my snow shoveling as much more strenuous than it is. Because our February temperatures are typically cold, most of our snow is light, fluffy stuff. I use a small, inexpensive plastic shovel that weighs almost nothing and keeps me from trying to pick up too much snow at once. So this shoveling is like the kind of workout where you lift very light weights, but with a gazillion repetitions. Thanks for the suggestion about shoveling first for safety access. This morning, when I went out to shovel after our fifth storm in 9 days, I did the two entry areas and the steps down to the driveway first and did the front deck afterward.

  2. Diana Studer says:

    I am daunted. That sounds like an extreme level of fitness!

    • Jean says:

      Diana, This isn’t as strenuous as you are imagining. More like going for a long walk than running a marathon. Nevertheless, I’m not feeling any need for other forms of exercise these days. 😉

  3. Bernie says:

    I barely got through half of your blog finding myself utterly exhausted!
    I’m so impressed by your incredible work ethic! We had one day of snow so far this winter in the PNW with snow accumulation at 4″. Everything was closed !!!! Schools cancelled, garbage collection delayed, but it was beautiful! That’s enough snow for the winter here!
    Ready for spring!
    I can’t imagine a winter in Maine!
    Wow, just wow!

    • Jean says:

      Bernie, I think our snow is a very different experience than yours. Our local meteorologists have been providing lots of education about what they have jokingly been calling the “fluff factor” of snow. The shape of snowflakes and the consistency of the snow depends on the temperature of the column of air the snow falls through. At temperatures around freezing (say 32-34F), you get heavy, wet stuff and what would be 1″ of rain becomes 5″ of snow. At the temperatures (teens) for most of our February snow, the equivalent of 1″ of rain becomes 20″ of snow. So in terms of weight and the amount of liquid, your 4″ of snow would be about 16″ here. Still, this many feet of light fluffy stuff in a little over a week has been challenging!

  4. Sue McPhee says:

    All I can think to say after reading this blog is an old expression: “Oh my achin’ back!” I do hope you’re taking good care of yourself throughout this ordeal, especially your back. (Of course, someone like me would have a primary concern for your back!) 🙂 But, overall, it is over-the-top taxing for our bodies to do this. (Perhaps you might be considering getting some help with the shoveling as well?) Stay safe. I think about you often and have been concerned about you throughout this challenging winter.

    • Jean says:

      Sue, I don’t lift much weight on my shovel at a time, so I haven’t been having any trouble with my back. Occasionally, I start to get a little aching in the neck. My biggest problem has been irritation of a tendon in my elbow — a close cousin of tennis elbow that I’m calling “shoveling elbow.” 😉

  5. Brenda says:

    I cannot believe you do all that shoveling. Kudos for you and your fitness, but, yikes. Have you thought of a small snowblower or hiring someone to do it?
    It’s hard to tell how much snow we have from this latest storm, there is so much wind and drifting. Good luck and take care of yourself.

    • Jean says:

      Brenda, A week ago Monday, while I was doing grocery shopping, I ran into an acquaintance from my town who asked, “How do you like this winter’s weather?” I replied, “I wouldn’t mind a little less ice and a little more snow.” The next day, our snowmageddon began. Be careful what you wish for!
      The snow blower idea has come up before, but the topography of my property, with a walk-out basement at driveway level and the main entrances to the house one story above the driveway, does not lend itself to snow-blowing. (I’d have to carry the snowblower up and down a flight of stairs to use it, and I’d still need to shovel the stairs.) Sometimes I daydream about having a garage built, which really would reduce the amount of snow clean-up.

  6. Melanie says:

    Shoveling has a nice soothing rhythm and will keep you strong! It seems very much in keeping with your self-reliant and independent character, Jean.

  7. Dr Sock says:

    Jean, until I moved to my current location five years ago, I too lived in places with very snowy winters, and needed to shovel after every storm. I always gave priority to my driveway and whichever sidewalks were necessary to access the car. And, like Jean R above, I made sure every door could open. However, I made no effort to keep the deck shovelled off. It was buried in snow from the beginning of winter to the end. If I needed to go anywhere in the backyard (e.g., woodshed), I tramped a path rather than shovelling.


    • Jean says:

      Jude, I have two reasons for clearing the decks. Both of them have doors to the outside, so clearing them is in the spirit of making all exits accessible (especially since the winter heating season is also the season with the greatest risk of house fires). The front deck is only two years old, and I have always cleared it since it was built. It’s very small and, even after a big storm, only takes about 15-20 minutes to shovel off. For many years, when I was away for work from mid-January to mid-March, the snow just piled up on the back deck; but I found it did do some damage — both moisture damage to the door and moss growing on the deck. Now that I’m retired and have the time, I find it easier to just keep it shoveled (although it is my lowest priority and hasn’t been done yet after the last two storms).

  8. GARY says:

    This weather was the worst timing for me. I had surgery on February 3rd and it seem like it hasn’t stopped snowing since. I’m on a weight restriction so I have to pay someone to plow my driveway and shovel the roof. these last ten days has cost me a lot of money. Talk about Murphy’s Law.

    • Jean says:

      Oh, Gary, that is bad timing. This weather has made me realize that if I end up having carpal tunnel release surgery, I shouldn’t do it in winter, when I need both my hands to deal with snow. But, of course, we don’t control the timing of non-elective surgery. When I had major abdominal surgery one year in December, it snowed the day I came home from the hospital and then just kept on coming. I wasn’t allowed to do any shoveling. By the time I was allowed to drive, six weeks after the surgery, my car, which had been sitting by the curb for all those weeks, was actually frozen into the ice. The friends who dug it out for me deserved Good Samaritan medals. I’m hoping, as I’m sure you are, that we are done with the snow for this year.

      • GARY says:

        Yes I am, and I’m a snow lover too. I just paid a crew to rake my roof today. One tend to forget how independent you are until you can’t do your normal tasks. This was non-elective surgery and this is the second time I’ve had major surgery during the winter. Mother Nature can have an ironic humor with her timing.

  9. Ellie Leight says:

    A garage really would be a very smart investment, and a one car garage should not come at a terribly huge cost. It would have so many uses besides just for the car. There are affordable kits out there that someone with just basic knowledge of building could probably put together. Something to think about.

    • Jean says:

      Ellie, It’s great to hear from you. How are you doing in all this snow? Thanks for the tip about the garage kits; I had no idea such things were available. And, you’re right, I just looked at them online and they’re very affordable.

  10. Ellie Leight says:

    Hi Jean, I read your blog all the time and find it very interesting. I’m doing quite well considering the deluge. I do have a big snowblower and have found a young man who lives on Empire who comes over and clears my drive after the storms. He even puts bags of pellets on my front porch so I no longer have to go to the garage and scoop them into buckets. The snowblower is great because it shoots the snow far back from the sides of the long driveway so that the banks don’t get built up so high. One year when I was having a plow truck do the job the banks were so high that I could see little around them and had a tough time seeing the traffic when pulling out into the street. I did so enjoy the beauty of the newly fallen snow on all the tree branches after the last storm. Winter can be so gorgeous at times.

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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