Dear readers, you’re about to be treated to another entry about the weather here in Boston. We’ve got our fourth consecutive weekly Big Snowstorm, two of them blizzards. Winter Storm Neptune (snowstorm 4/blizzard 2 if you’re counting) has been unfolding before our very eyes this weekend.
I wish I could claim that I’ve turned the snowbound days into productive work activity, but it’s only partially true. The weather geek in me keeps an eye on the TV weather coverage, even if it’s becoming repetitive. Snow here, snow there, snow everywhere — and plenty of wind gusts, too. This is, after all, a weather pattern of historic proportions, and we’ll be talking about it for years. Hey, this ain’t nothin’ compared to the big ones back in ’15……
The local transit authority announced that the subway, buses, and commuter rail will be operating on, to put it gently, adjusted schedules on Monday, after being shut down completely today. My university decided to hold classes, which means that a lot of students, faculty, and staff will be having somewhat adventurous sojourns into downtown Boston. I’ll be among them!
I’ll also have a little soreness in this middle aged body tomorrow, thanks to my largely futile efforts at snow shoveling today. Fortunately, I was able to hire a couple of guys who were earning extra cash with a snowblower and a snowplow truck. They did in a few minutes what would’ve taken me…never mind…I wouldn’t have finished. That said, even the snowblower had trouble pushing through mounds of snow where the sidewalk was supposed to be.
I did manage to watch some TV, including the latest episode of The Americans, one of the best one hour dramas around right now. I also watched an ESPN streamed college basketball game featuring my undergraduate alma mater, Valparaiso University, overcoming a half-time deficit to beat Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the latest win in a surprisingly strong season. VU’s basketball team wasn’t much to speak of while I was a student. But its fortunes have improved considerably since then, to the point where VU now ranks among the better mid-major Division I hoops programs.
As I finish off this blog post, I’m missing a 40th anniversary special for Saturday Night Live. It realize that it’s an iconic Generation Jones television show, premiering in 1975. SNL has had its moments — for me “Da Bears” skits and Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin impersonations are brilliant — but overall I find its humor misses as often as it hits. Maybe I’ll catch it another time, perhaps during a future snowstorm.
Even my dearest friends who read this blog are probably tiring of this, but I must write again of the weather! Here in Boston, we’re getting pounded with another 20 inches or so of snow, our third major storm over the past 15 or so days. The city is once again in shutdown mode, and the white stuff keeps piling up.
This is the third Monday in a row that my classes have been cancelled, and for me the novelty of snow days may be forever gone, er, at least for a while. Anyway, I decided that this would be a good day to go to my office and get some work done. Encouraged by online postings that my subway line was experiencing only “moderate delays,” I bundled up and trudged over to the subway, a/k/a the “T” (shorthand for Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority).
You see the electronic sign in the photo above? I’ve noticed something about it, in any kind of weather. When it ticks down to 3 minutes, time according to the T stops in its, uh, tracks. It may stay at 3 minutes for a couple of minutes, maybe 5 minutes, maybe a bit longer. This time, however, it stayed at 3 minutes for over 20 minutes, with no public address announcement informing us of extended delays. I got the message and decided that riding the T today was not a prudent option.
I’ve spent most of my life in parts of the country where snowfall is par for the course, but I cannot recall being hit in three successive weeks with storms that, standing alone, would be regarded as the signature event of a more normal winter. This has been a remarkable stretch of weather, and I’m sure we’ll be sharing stories of the winter of 2015 for many years to come.
Well folks, we’ve set a local record for the most snowfall in a week, with over 35 inches here in Boston. Last week’s blizzard was topped off by another very heavy snowstorm that tapered off on Monday night. The mega-mound pictured above is a typical sight right now all over the city. Everyone has run out of places to put the stuff, so building up is the only viable alternative.
I don’t own a car, but I’m told that the roads are a mess, despite valiant efforts to keep them plowed. My travel lifeline, the subway, is in a constant state of delay, with the area transit system’s dysfunction and aging rolling stock conspiring against us. This means long waits on the subway platforms, some of which are open air, only to find trains packed with passengers when they do arrive.
Though like most any teacher or student, I enjoy the occasional snow day, this is getting out of hand. At my university, our “spring” term started on January 20, but one of my classes has met only once because of numerous class cancellations. I’ll have to schedule a couple of marathon make-up sessions, which is not ideal but the only realistic alternative when you’ve got a mix of full-time and part-time students with myriad work schedules and other obligations.
In any event, it appears that people are dealing with the weather as well as can be expected, and sometimes with good cheer. The New England Patriots’ remarkable Super Bowl victory on Sunday has helped to lift spirits above the snowdrifts. (Full disclosure: I’m a diehard Chicago Bears fan, but I enjoy rooting for the Pats as well.) And as someone who grew up in Northwest Indiana, this has been an occasion to wax nostalgic with friends from the Midwest over blizzards and snowstorms of the past.
We’re looking at a bit more snow later this week, so it appears that these mounds are going to be with us for a while.
We’re in the midst of a major blizzard here in New England, and the Greater Boston area is getting plenty of its share right now. I thought I’d share a few views from the area surrounding my home in the neighborhood of Jamaica Plain.
The snow and wind started to pick up substantially after midnight. As you can see below, I got into the spirit of things, venturing out to survey the scene and take a picture or two. I also exchanged a hello with a guy driving one of the snowplows. If my neighborhood is any indication, the City of Boston has done a very good job plowing the streets.
I woke up this morning to news that the snow and wind will continue through much of the day, as expected. The snow certainly piled up during the time I was asleep.
Most of the city will be shut down today. The subway is closed. Most of us will be waiting out the rest of this storm, wondering if things will be cleared up enough to have a semblance of a normal day tomorrow. My university closed as of 4 p.m. yesterday, and while “snow days” are fun, we’ll probably have to make up missed classes later in the semester.
Among the things I don’t understand: Why is there a run on bread, eggs, and milk when a blizzard beckons? OK, bread I can understand — you can eat it even if the power goes out. But eggs are pretty useless if you can’t cook them, and milk is, well, what makes it so much more important during a blizzard? Anyway, my favorite neighborhood store, the City Feed & Supply, will be open for business soon, and I’ll be there.
I had one of my periodic tornado dreams last night. It was, as these dreams tend to be, vivid, dramatic, but not at all scary.
In this dream, I was at some type of a program, hosted in a multi-level, homey-type building, when I looked out the window and saw funnels lowering toward the ground. Even though one of the tornadoes passed directly over us, there was no real damage and no one was hurt.
I have been fascinated by tornadoes since I was a child growing up in northwest Indiana, and I’ve been having variations of these dreams for as long as I can remember. As I wrote here last spring, in recent years I’ve even gone on storm chase tours to see the real thing. One of the most exciting days of my life was the first day of my first chase tour in 2008, when our group encountered a single supercell in northern Oklahoma that spawned multiple tornadoes throughout the afternoon and early evening.
Anyway, back to the tornado dreams. I know what some people might say: These dreams have a deeper meaning. I did a quick search — “dreams about tornadoes” — and found what I largely expected, such as an entry from DreamDictionaryNow.com asking if I am experiencing “emotional upheaval,” “destructive behavior,” or “sudden change.”
In my case, these dreams haven’t correlated with acute emotional episodes of my life. However, if there is a consistent theme in them, it’s that I’m girded for, but not frightened by, a tornado coming toward me. In fact, I’m utterly captivated. So maybe these dreams are telling me that I’ve got more capacity for change than the comparatively stable life of a professor might suggest.
Of course, my tornado dreams may be more transparent than that. The look and power of these storms have had a hold on me for decades. Maybe that fascination simply follows me into dreamland.
Six years ago this month, I was embarking on one of the great adventures of my life: A week-long storm chase tour, sponsored by Tempest Tours, a professional storm chase tour company.
Okay, so maybe I exaggerate, but not by much. You see, ever since I was a kid growing up in NW Indiana, I had harbored a fascination with tornadoes. When I was very young, a tornado touched down in our town of Griffith, Indiana. Mom had my brother Jeff and me safely huddled in the basement. (I don’t know if we actually were huddled; it just sounds like the thing to do when a tornado is passing over one’s home.) Fortunately our home was not badly damaged, although I remember being bummed that our swing set was blown over!
Ever since then, tornadoes had this draw upon me. Well into my adulthood, I would have dreams about tornadoes (and still do). When I read a newspaper travel section piece about a storm chase tour written by novelist Jenna Blum (a bestselling author and now among my dear friends), I tracked her down and asked her whether this was all legit. She was effusive in her praise of Tempest Tours, so I
saved up my money got out my credit card and signed up for their “Memorial Day Week” tour in May.
Our group of 20 or so converged on a “base motel” near the Oklahoma City airport, and we began our tour with an extended orientation on the art and practice of storm chasing, safety issues, and general logistics. Our guides were honest with us in saying that a storm chase tour cannot guarantee a tornado sighting; after all, Mother Nature is not in partnership with them. (Real storm chasing, you see, rarely involves hopping in a car or van and then quickly running into a bunch of tornadoes.) Nevertheless, they promised to do their best to show us some of the best stormy weather during our week together.
For our first tour day, it appeared that our best bet would be to blast into Nebraska, where the forecasts indicated some promising mischief in the skies for the next day. We loaded up our stuff and hopped in the tour vans for the ride north.
Within around 90 minutes of departing OKC, however, the radar picked up a small front in northern Oklahoma that had produced a supercell, a storm capable of spawning a tornado. And so began our first storm chase!
We had no idea that we had hit a surprise jackpot. This supercell would spawn multiple tornadoes. Our first sighting is pictured right below. I was awestruck; my heart was pounding with excitement.
We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening following this storm and watching numerous tornadoes. It was a singularly memorable day. Even writing about it gets my adrenalin going.
The typical chase day is not so dramatic, at least in the morning. Breakfast is followed by a morning weather briefing. Here, Bill Reid, veteran chaser and our lead guide, previews the day’s chase.
The late morning and early afternoon often involve a lot of driving to position the group for the most promising storm(s) of the day, paying close attention to evolving weather forecasts. Next comes more driving around the targeted area, followed by . . . waiting . . . waiting . . . more driving . . . and more waiting. You spend a lot of time gazing into the sky. It can be a very contemplative experience.
When you sign up for a storm chase tour, you start rooting for bad weather during your vacation. On days when the weather is nicer, or when your group is driving hundreds of miles to position themselves for a stormier brew the next day, you may stop at tourist-type places to see local sites, like the Monument Rocks in Kansas.
Tornadoes are not always easy to see, especially if they’re wrapped in heavy precipitation. Here’s a rain-wrapped tornado going through Kearney, Nebraska. Though the photo doesn’t capture it, we could see sparks of electricity from power lines as the tornado made its way through the town.
It’s not all about chasing tornadic storms. Looking into the sky while you’re in wide open spaces can be an awesome experience. Sometimes the views are simply spectacular. As corny as it sounds, it gives you a new appreciation for nature.
Storm chasing is not for rank amateurs. It’s why I’ve paid good money to travel with, and learn from, some of the best and most safety-conscious storm chasers around. If we needed any reminder of the deadly power of these storms even for those trained in intercepting them, last May a massive tornado in El Reno, Oklahoma caused the deaths of three experienced, responsible tornado researchers, to the shock and grief of the storm chasing community. The risks posed by these storms must be honored.
I’ve been on four subsequent storm chase tours since 2008. Each has been memorable. While I probably won’t be chasing this spring or summer, I’ll be checking the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center regularly and turning on The Weather Channel when the skies get murky in Tornado Alley.
Over the past few months, I’ve included a lot of winter photos to give some seasonal atmosphere to this little blog. Nice pictures, I hope, but I must say, I am really, really over this winter.
Perhaps someone who lives in New England has no whining rights when it comes to wintry weather, but I’ll take a chance and vent anyway. I can’t recall ever being so eager to say goodbye to a season! Every dose of novelty about heavy snowfall, all the hype fueled by The Weather Channel as a snowstorm approaches, even the prospect of a snow day at my university . . . been there, done that. Spring cannot come too soon, even if true spring weather lasts but a few weeks in the Northeast.
This evening, my seasonal spirits were brightened when a longtime friend and college classmate e-mailed me with his annual invitation to rejoin our fantasy baseball league. I am pleased to report that the Jamaica Plain Supercells, which finished 4th last season after winning the league championship the year before, will be making their next run at fake baseball glory soon after our league player draft in late March!
Yup, there’s something good about the pending return of baseball that makes the rest of winter more tolerable. Spring training is starting up, and before we know it, the real-life baseball players will be generating stats that power our fantasy league. As Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks famously said, “let’s play two!”
Big parts of the country are facing heavy snowfalls and blizzard-like conditions right now. My home in Boston is among them, though I’m managing to avoid it because I’m out of town. Regardless, weather like this does push my memory buttons, thinking back to blizzards of days gone by.
Of course, I don’t have to think back far at all to reach the last blizzard, a blast that hit Boston hard last February. I took the photo above the night of the heavy snowfall, just steps from my small condo building. It was kinda fun to be out that night, and I was among a number of hearty souls (including canine ones) reveling in the snow.
The next day, folks were shoveling out of the mess. Fortunately my beloved City Feed & Supply Store, about a 30-second hike from my home, was open to sell provisions, including coffee and hot chocolate:
Three years ago, I was spending Christmas with my cousins in New York when a blizzard hit. We had a great time, including a Broadway performance of La Cage Aux Folles where a spirited cast delivered their best to a half filled house. Here’s midtown Manhattan during the heaviest snowfall:
But big snowstorms experienced as an adult may not compare to their magical quality when you’re younger — especially if it means schools closing!
I remember the blizzard of 1967 that hit Northwest Indiana and other parts of the region. Our Aunty Elaine was visiting from Maui, Hawaii, and she got a proper (if reluctant) introduction to a midwestern winter! Anthony Diaz produced and posted to YouTube this snippet of a longer video on the blizzard:
My brother Jeff and I were grade schoolers then, and if I recall correctly, it meant no school for a week!
I also remember the huge blizzard that overwhelmed America’s Midwest and Northeast in 1978, including the NW Indiana area. I was an undergraduate at Valparaiso University, and the campus was buried by the accumulation.
Most of those affected by the current weather will know by tomorrow morning what this storm has wrought and the full degree of inconvenience attached to it. In any event, keep warm and safe, and enjoy the sights.
Boston’s historic look & feel is one of its most appealing features. Much of the city’s colonial and early 19th century past is preserved for all to see. The photo above, for example, includes the Old South Meeting House, where rebellious colonists planned the Boston Tea Party in December 1773.
When an evening snowfall hits, this quality can become downright Old World, like something out of a Charles Dickens novel. The reference is fitting, as Dickens himself visited Boston twice, staying in the Parker House Hotel, not far from where I took this picture tonight. It’s likely that he crossed this very intersection during his visits.
These blends of atmosphere, sights, and history are among the reasons why I find older cities so appealing. For a brief moment, I can look around and transcend time.
The snowfall we’re experiencing right now has been unexpected in its intensity. It grew into a small storm that led to a lot of early school closings and many cancellations of events around the city. When I got home, I had some shoveling to do, which took a bit of the novelty out of the evening and made me doubly glad that I snapped the photo to preserve the moment.