I have been living in this old farmhouse for nearly 10 years now, and this will be my last winter here. The farm is about to be split up and sold, and I will get a few acres off of it to either build on or sell. It has been a hard winter, cold and snowy, and the forecast warns of a blizzard to come this weekend. As I wait, I reflect on my previous battles with winter here. Ten years ago, my grandmother had moved out of the house earlier that year at the age of 93, leaving it vacant after moving on to a retirement home in Virginia to live out her final years. I had fond memories of this old house, of cows and chickens and Sunday dinners as a kid growing up nearby in the suburbs of Baltimore. In my younger adulthood I visited her every couple of weeks to cut her grass, do minor repairs around the house, and take her shopping.
My mission that day was to check on the old house, to make sure the heat still worked, the roof was sound and there was no damage from a recent heavy snow. Most of Grandma's things were still there as well, and she made almost weekly requests for them, and I would drive up from my rented townhome in Glen Burnie to see if I could find them. On this chilly day in early March, the temperature hovered in the lower 20's, and I looked forward to getting into the warmer confines of the house. I opened the door to find the house nearly as cold as the outdoors and the furnace not working. While waiting for the furnace man to come, I looked around at the neglect, the fences unmended, the trees fallen into the yard, the gutters coming loose, and the driveway unplowed. I made the decision that day to move up here, and after discussing the situation with my dad I started to pack away some of Grandma's things and haul my own up here.
I almost felt like a pioneer up here the first summer. I began by planting a large garden like I remembered as a kid, and started to get the house shaped up, including setting aside a room for my ham shack. I had more energy than I had in years, and the commute to my night job was fairly easy, despite growing from 10 to 35 miles each way. As summer faded into fall I was looking forward to harvesting a bumper crop of pumpkins and sweet corn, and being able to talk away the winter in my ham shack with a tower filled with an impressive stack of antennas when the first of two events nearly led me to reconsider my decision.
I had an accident in the yard while digging a footer for my radio tower. I fell and tore up my knee pretty bad, needing to wear a brace for several weeks and eventually have arthroscopic surgery to the knee. The tower never did get erected that year, but I was able to rig up a couple of wire antennas. The knee was painful and stiff for several months afterwards, and has never been the same since. On the heels of the knee injury came the winter of 1994, arguably one of the worst winters I could remember up to that time. No single weather event stands out, except for persistently bitter cold weather and endless days of sleet and freezing rain, which built up in my driveway to a depth of nearly a foot. It was useless to salt it, it was too cold. It was useless to try to plow it, it was a composite as hard as rock. I had two choices, either dynamite it or pave it. I chose to pave it by taking my F-150 to the quarry in Texas, Maryland and loaded it up until the springs bottomed out with a quantity of a substance called anti-skid mix, a sandlike mix of rock dust and crushed stone. Anti-skid mix, along with tire chains turned out to be my savior. A five dollar bill could buy enough of this miracle material to bottom the springs on my softly sprung pickup, and provide me with the needed traction over the rear wheels. It also provided an abrasive surface for my all season tires to try and grip. The GVWR plate on my truck said 5,400 pounds, but I once left the quarry with the scale reading 6,800 pounds, thanks to the stone, full tanks of gas, a toolbox, plus a mix of scrap steel and iron for additional ballast. It all froze into a solid lump that had to be broken up by a sledgehammer. My neighbor and snowplower resorted to paving his drive with manure. I used the tire chains more than once to get up the driveway, which was a steep but short uphill climb. Once I had to negotiate about a mile and a half of freezing slush about 4 inches deep with the chains. I just floored it and made headway about 15 or 20 miles an hour. I dared not stop, else I might be frozen solid into the supercooled mixture. I made it home, and smelled the unmistakable odor of burned transmission fluid.
Spring finally came, though the ice stayed through late March. Three months later, I had to put a torque converter in my truck, whose warranty had just expired.
My persistence and ingenuity got me through, I planted another garden and I got through the next winter with relative ease. 1996 was an unremarkable winter, with the exception of one week in January where the Mid-Atlantic got nearly 40 inches of snow. It was to the top of my snow fence! Most of the snow fell early in the week, with a 30 inch snowfall from Saturday until Monday. Tuesday afternoon I was freed by a local farmer with a front end loader on his tractor. For the next week I fought to keep the driveway open, despite 10 inches of additional snow and drifting during the next week. 9 days later, a wet springlike airmass moved over the area, and it nearly all disappeared in a day. The sudden meltdown was almost more dangerous than the snow. It flooded roads and created a blowing fog so thick that you could not see more than 100 feet.
That was the last truly monstrous winter event. In the seven years since, there have been a few good ice storms, and even a couple of one foot snowfalls, but nothing even remotely as bad as 1994 or 1996. The winter monster has been sleeping soundly the last several years, but now he is stirring, and has already thrown two straight months of subfreezing cold and several major snowfalls already at Maryland. He is carving a deepening low-pressure trough out west, and pushing it east. For starters he is going to serve up about 6 inches of mixed precipitation tonight and tomorrow, then it will get cold before the real storm hits. How bad will it be? The technical analysis states that they expect about 2 inches of liquid equivalent, in layman's terms about 2 feet of snow whipped up into a frenzy by gale-force winds.
Like 1996 I have vowed to be ready. The snow piles from the last storm have been pushed back, and the fridge, liquor cabinet, and pantry are stocked. If I have to go to work, the truck is gassed up, ballasted with additional weight, and tire chains are ready if needed in the emergency kit. After the winter of 94, I made sure that the truck sports real snow tires, the kind with big lugs that howl at highway speeds. Unfortunately, like the last time a blizzard hit, I am on call this weekend.
May the show begin!
Update 15 February 2003 2245Z:
So far so good, the first round is over, with a mere 2 1/2 inches of snow, and I was able to move it out of the way easily. Weather Underground says the main course will be served up later tonight, and will last well into Monday afternoon. The storm seems to be slowing down a little. I took advantage of the break to get in a few more groceries, especially some fixings for chili con carne. The store was almost completely deserted, but several popular items seemed in short supply, though there was plenty of milk, bread, and toilet paper on the shelves. Yesterday was the panic day I guess.
Update: 17 February 2003 1540Z
Its over, at least the stuff coming out of the sky. The Doppler Radar shows the trailing edge of the storm just overhead, and moving northeast quickly. I have taken some pictures of the snow piling up against the side of my pickup as the storm progressed. My Honda Accord is completely buried in a drift, and in the middle of the yard is a 55 gallon drum used as a trashcan, and the snow is up to the second rung of the drum. This means that there is about 2 feet of snow out there, its pretty close to being a record.
Now comes the hard part: digging out. At least the wind hasn't whipped up yet, so I have hopes that one of the good old boys with a pickup truck mounted snowplow plow will be along later and be able to clean snow out of my drive, and I will reward their kindness generously. In the meantime, I will see if I can make at least a little headway the old fashioned way.
Final Update:1940Z February 17,2003
I dug a path about 2 feet wide and about 30 feet long when I saw a backhoe rumbling by. He stopped, we negotiated for a minute, and about 25 minutes later I was sprung from my snowy prison. I was amazed at his skill working within a few inches of my vehicles with that heavy machine. It was the best $50 I ever spent!