Return from Down Under

Sunday, February 10, 2013, 22:52 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

No, I haven’t been in Australia, just stuck under an undetermined (and undeterminable) amount of snow.

The Blizzard of ’13, annoyingly dubbed “Nemo” by the hypemasters at The Weather Channel, is history. But the memories—and the snow piles—linger. I couldn’t tell you how much snow fell in my yard. Depending on where on my property you put the yardstick, snow depth by the time the storm ended measured anywhere from a dusting to four feet. That’s because after it fell, it blew around. A lot.

According to the National Weather Service, a blizzard is defined as a storm which produces, for a period of three hours or longer, sustained wind or frequent gusts of at least 35 miles per hour AND considerable falling and/or blowing snow reducing visibility frequently to less than ¼ mile. Those conditions were upon most of New England from Friday afternoon into Saturday. In my location, the cold temperatures produced fluffy snow that blew around rather than sticking to the ground. Winds during the storm blew from the north and, later, the northeast. Add to that the orientation of my house on a hill that slopes downward from south to north, plus the topography of my front yard—most of which was leveled out, thus created a steep slope facing north—and you had Bernoulli’s principle in action. The high winds accelerated further as they hit the hill, picking up the accumulating snow and dumping onto the other side of the yard.

Northwest corner of my yard after the blizzardFront yard after the blizzard

If you’re thinking, “Uh-oh, Den Mother, the other side of the yard is where the driveway is,” then you win.

I had quite a chore ahead of me, beginning with getting out of my house. I have four doors to the outside, and each one had about 18-24 inches of snow in front of it. I’d had the good sense to keep the snow shovel inside the door just to the left of the garage, so I started by pushing the storm door out as far as I could and then wedging my body between it and the door frame until I could reach out with the shovel and, very awkwardly, start shoveling the show out of the way. Once I got my whole body outside, I spent 20 minutes shoveling the snow away from the garage door (which opens out and up, a bad design now that I think of it) so I could open the garage and bring out the snow blower.

Now let me tell you about my snow blower. It’s a beast. Much bigger and more powerful than my little driveway ordinarily warrants, it was handed down to me by my real estate agent when she downsized to a condo, and far be it from me to refuse free outdoor power tools. In the few times there has been enough snow to actually use it, I’ve felt a big ridiculous. If I were a man, I’m sure someone would have accused me of compensating for small genitalia. So you can imagine my shock when I discovered on Saturday that it wasn’t quite big enough.

Digging out (click to view larger)At right is what the driveway looked like after I had taken two painstakingly slow passes down the length of it and realized that not only was the snow deeper than the snow blower blades, but in some places it was deeper than the top of the chute. I put this picture up on Twitter with the comment, “I think we’re gonna need a bigger snow blower.” (The Den Son, right on cue, replied with, “THIS IS NOT A BOAT ACCIDENT!” He makes me so proud.) It was clear at that point that I needed Plan B.

A quick aside to mention that this storm came just a couple of days after the 35th anniversary of the New England blizzard of 1978, a calamity of epic proportions with consequences far worse than this weekend’s storm for a number of reasons, one of which was that there was already a significant amount of snow on the ground from another winter storm a couple of weeks prior. Try to clear three feet of snow from a driveway that is flanked by banks five feet high. My father was in despair over how to clear our 120 foot driveway when a private snow plow operator drove by and offered his services. He started at the street, pushed the snow off the driveway to the left, then backed up and pushed more snow off the driveway to the right, lather, rinse, repeat until he got to the end and had created a corridor just wide enough for a car. So that became my Plan B, except with a snow blower instead of a plow, and blowing the snow only to one side because my neighbor’s driveway was on the other side.

I won’t go into the details of exactly how I handled the situation where the snow blower ended up tunneling under the snow such that when I backed it up, a ledge of snow fell down onto the area that had just been cleared. I also won’t explain the effect of the wind, which was still blowing, from the north of course, thus sending much of the snow back onto me and the driveway. Let’s just say that every square foot of my driveway had to be cleared at least two, sometimes three or four, times, bit by bit, until at last I ended up with this, which I captioned on Twitter as, “Vengeance is mine, saith the snow blower.”

Driveway, cleared.  Finally.

It took 2½ hours.

Before I quit for the day, I decided it would be a good idea to clear the some of the other entrances into my house, in case there’s a fire and I need an alternate means of escape. So I shoveled off the top of my front stoop (below, left) and cleared an arc outside the back door onto the patio (below, right). You can now get out of the house via those doors, but after that you’re on your own. Visitors might consider bringing a pair of emergency snow shoes, just in case.

Front stoop, cleared - the steps, not so muchBack door to the patio

I’d have loved to clear the walkway from the driveway to my front steps, but at the moment there is five feet of snow on it. I predict it will be accessible again sometime in late April.

When finally I was finished, I was cold and wet, my face windburned, ice encrusting the hair that stuck out from under my hat. It wasn’t until I was back inside, shedding my wet clothes onto the kitchen floor in preparation for a warm shower, that I realized I had a hematoma the size of a small potato on my upper thigh from where the snow blower had reared back into me, apparently at a time when my sensory nerves had ceased functioning. Which is probably just as well.

Today, my arms and back ache. It was strenuous work, clearing all that snow, even though the beast did most of the heavy lifting. But that’s winter.

May it soon be over.

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