Opinion

Be ‘in the know’ about blowing snow

Blowing snow is one of The County’s most lethal weather hazards, cutting visibility on the roads all the way down to hood-of-your-car distance. Cars can appear and then disappear right in front of you.

Luckily, there is a simple observation you can make to know if you will encounter it across the fields, should it happen to be a windy day. Just sample the snow where you live. If it is light and powdery, it will be a blowing snow day. Once in a while, when winds are exceptionally strong, and the snow is very light and powdery, we can get into “widespread whiteout” territory, and no one, unless it is a dire emergency, should attempt to drive in those conditions. Wind-wise, sustained mid-upper 30s (mph) will usually get that going if the snow is fluffy, and 40-plus will most certainly do it.

On the other hand, and here comes a rhyme, if it’s hard on top and there’s no new snow, you needn’t worry, ’cause it won’t blow.

Now, another travel hazard in Aroostook County is black ice. So it would be nice to be able to know if there was a threat for it to form. Well, it turns out that you CAN know, and you do it by watching the sky. If the roads are wet and untreated, and the wind is calm, if the sky is clear late in the day, look out — the conditions will be in place for black ice to develop. And, at this time of the year, with our low sun angle, it can start to develop as early at 3 p.m. on a day with wet roads and temps in the mid-30s. Temperature is measured at 5 feet, but the most rapid rate of heat loss on a clear, still late afternoon-early evening is occurring right down on the surface. So you can have an official report of 34 degrees, but black ice could well be forming right then under the conditions I described, clear and calm.

The thing about black ice is that it isn’t just a driving hazard. Emergency rooms see many patients following slips and falls. People tend to think that won’t happen to them, but it happened to me a couple of weeks ago. Both feet went out and down I went on my back. Got a decent whiplash, too. Getting too old for that kind of foolishness.

Now to some weather that will have already happened by the time you read this. At this writing, Dec 19, there is a significant rainstorm bearing down on The County, its arrival coincident with the first day of winter, Dec. 21. There is going to be a lot of snowmelt as well, as temps surge into the 40s. This will lead to the potential for ice movement on streams, which is something people don’t think about, until I tell them to google on “Felchner Brook flash flood.” You should look at it, too. Have the sound up. Note that you can hear it coming before you see it. You also hear the woman say, “Somethin’s comin’.” It’s a 43-second video.

And also, by the time you read this, a lot of water from our rainstorm and snowmelt will have refrozen solidly. We’ll all need to continue to really watch our step. I know I sure will be. It’s so unfortunate, especially going into Christmas, that it couldn’t have been a snowstorm. It would have been 12-18 inches at least, added to what had been our already excellent base.

Let me close by telling you that Earth will be closest to the Sun on Jan. 3. This is called Perihelion. Six months later, we’re 3 million miles farther away, even though we’re sweating in early July. This is called Aphelion. Perihelion Earth-Sun distance is about 91.5 million miles, while Aphelion distance is about 94.5 million miles. For reference, the moon is about 240,000 miles from Earth, or about 40,000 round trips from Maine to California.

Ted Shapiro holds the Broadcast Seal of Approval from both the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association. An Alexandria, Va. native, he has been chief meteorologist at WAGM-TV since 2006. Email him at tshapiro@wagmtv.com.

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