Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Winter Storm Trifecta

A light winter dusting on a nearby knob on Hopeful School Road (don't you love the name?) from winter 2008--sometimes this is all that is needed to cancel school around here but the hills are far more plentiful than snow and ice equipment. Usually, snow lasts a day or so if we're lucky.

I don't often blog about weather as some might regard it as boring. However, growing up in Ohio and then New England I have found it an intriguing part of my life and endlessly fascinating. I could talk about weather all day (much to my husband's distress, especially when I insist on watching Weather Channel for far longer than I probably need to in a given "weather event.")

My father would go out on our small suburban lawn and study the skies before a thunderstorm (as we lived with the threat of tornadoes, even though the only three I've ever seen--all remnants of funnels--were in New England). Our chimney was even struck by lightning (a story that has acquired a fantastical spin in the retelling.) Dad was as attuned to the weather--and things astronomical--as he was geography and map-reading. I expect it was because he liked to know where he was at all times and what was coming next. He was also an expert itinerary planner but one change in the plans, and, well, it could be hard for him to regroup. Perhaps that is why he was so fascinated by weather: it was something that could not be planned. For example, every summer we'd head up to the Cog Railway in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He wouldn't buy tickets unless the conditions were perfect and the summit of Mount Washington was visible from below. Anyone who lives or visits the mountains knows that the top of a high mountain is rarely clear. So, as it never was "ideal" on the summit on the one day of the maybe seven years we attempted to "summit," we never went up the Cog Railway.

First came the ice...yesterday morning and for most of the day.

Here in Kentucky, wind is a big factor in shaping our weather. It blows from the west from the expansive Midwestern plains and across western Kentucky. Our hilly knob region in the south central part of the state, which comprise the furthermost western foothills of the Appalachian chain, are the first to catch it. Sometimes weather patterns will split and go around us: either up the Ohio River valley or blasting on into the higher Appalachians from the south. We most often get the warm, tropical moisture surging up from the Gulf but rain, too, can evade us and head north and around, as it has for the past two summers. Tornadoes and wind storms are not uncommon here and twisters will hop around the hills, as they'll do in New England. But sustaining winds can blow for long periods. The wind can blow light or strong and sometimes howl around the double-wide like a banshee. While springs are long and lush, summers long and hot, winter is like four months of November weather most anywhere else: barren, desolate, no foliage, and all extremes of weather but nothing prolonged or lasting.

Our new chicken house fared the ice, rain and snow quite well (a blog about this new structure very soon...)

Susan Allen Toth writes about that wind in Leaning Into the Wind: A Memoir of Midwest Weather. "Our wind blows in soft tickles, short brisk puffs, and shrill witch calls. It can be hot or cold, loud or soft, light or heavy. It pokes, flaps, and bristles." If you don't know of Toth's writings, she is also an Anglophile which is how I discovered her. [Her quest for England in several travel memoirs--and many visits--echo my own and my reasons for wanting to be there for a year in college.]

Weather, too, is a character in the unforgiving landscape of the plains of Willa Cather's fiction. This passage could as well be describing Kentucky weather, too:
The dust and heat, the burning wind, reminded us of many things. We were talking about what it is like to spend one's childhood in little towns like these, buried in wheat and corn, under stimulating extremes of climate: burning summers when the world lies green and billowy under a brilliant sky, when one is fairly stifled in vegetation, in the colour and smell of strong weeds and heavy harvests; blustery winters with little snow, when the whole country is stripped bare and grey as sheet iron...It was a kind of free-masonry, we said.
Willa Cather, My √Āntonia

As our boys go to private school, it rarely has snow days. Here everything stops with an inch or two of snow or they will even cancel school for cold weather (in the teens). This winter has been especially cold for Kentucky--but still balmy by New England standards.

We'd been watching news reports of a big ice storm heading our way and it did not disappoint. The boys had two snow days in a row, we had a day of ice, then a night of driving rain, and about thirty-six hours later it ended today with a strong snow storm that left us with a good inch or two to remind us that it is winter. Fortunately, we only lost power here for about six hours yesterday. I probably couldn't have taken much more of that as we have electric heat (but gravity-fed water, fortunately). My Internet, being from a satellite provider here on the ridge, will go out when there is driving rain (and ice) and I figured once the storm cleared I would have it again.

I have renewed admiration for my New Hampshire friends and family who survived the worst ice storm in decades last December. Some were without electricity for two weeks, some also without heat or phone. Forget about laundry which had to be trudged to the nearest town with power. Imagine hauling water from the brook to flush your toilets or to heat on the wood stove just to do dishes? Well, I can't but one does go into survival mode when one has to do so. As I observed from emails, blogs and phone calls from people in New Hampshire, the art of survival can also take up a lot of time. And it's stressful. Just six hours without power and I was a bit of a cave bear. After two weeks, I'm not sure what I'd be. [I imagine my husband could offer a few guesses...but at least I made a good dinner when the power came back on!]

Today a quick dumping of a few inches of wet snow after a night of driving rain--the sustained cold temperatures predicted for the next few days will guarantee that it sticks around for a while.

When we build a farmhouse eventually we want to be off the grid as much as possible: our own gravity-fed spring water (in abundance here), a back-up generator, an outdoor wood stove to heat house and shop, an indoor wood cook stove for the kitchen for warmth, cooking and back-up heat. Having "survival systems" in place assures the ability to cope well. Of course, it goes without saying that we'll have a root cellar, several pantries, and a canning room in the cellar, too.

Amish homes, and Old Order Mennonite homes like this one belonging to some friends of ours in Kentucky, have a cellar full of canned goods from their summer gardens. They will can just about anything from fruit to hamburger.

Our Mennonite friends are not phased by the weather: they not only see it as God's will but most of them (and the Amish, certainly) are already off the grid and can easily weather most storms sent their way. The bins of bulk food in their pantries and rows of canned goods in their cellars rival most small grocery stores. If a barn burns or blows over, within a week or so a "frolic" has been scheduled to rebuild it. Their sense of community is something we all long for and some of us are fortunate to experience in our lifetime in different ways. Sometimes it takes a storm, or a tragic event, to build community. Or, as we all saw on January 20th, something much greater than all of us: a collective coming together for good, for change, for hope.


Faith said...

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Catherine said...

Thanks, Faith! My first award...I'm honored. Glad you are enjoying it here.

All best, Catherine