Friday, January 21, 2011

Variant snowfall predictions, and one eventually gets it right

Last night's blog entry was prompted by forecasts of a snowstorm for today. These forecasts offer a good example of the information overload leading to more precision and less certainty.

Last night AccuWeather predicted 4" of snow for the island while the National Weather Service predicted between 9" and 14". That is quite a difference; 4" would not interfere with travel, as the plows would clear the roads as the snow falls; but 9" or more would make for difficult travel, as the plows would not be able to keep up with the snow, and the rate of snow would make visibility difficult as well. At this house, 4" means shoveling, while 9" or more means it's time to wrestle with the snow blower.

This morning when I woke up it was already snowing heavily with a few inches of snow on the ground and no end in sight. AccuWeather had upped the total predicted to 5" for the day and evening while the National Weather Service had unaccountably reduced its prediction to 2". But I could tell that we were in for a lot of snow. I expected that the power would go out. I loaded up the wood box with more wood for the fire in the wood stove. When the power goes out, the wood stove is the only source of heat that will keep the house warm enough so that the water pipes don't freeze. In the dead of winter this is a concern, as the night-time low temperatures (Fahrenheit) are in the single digits at this time of the year. 

By one o'clock in the afternoon more than a foot of snow had fallen, and it was still snowing heavily. The plow had come up the road at about noon but the snow was already filling the road back up. I decided I'd better get the snow blower clearing paths because if I waited too long the snow would be too deep even for the blower. And so I worked for about an hour in the middle of the storm, clearing paths around the house, the barn, and the vehicles. 

This afternoon around four o'clock I decided to look on the Internet again at the forecasts. AccuWeather had not changed from its prediction of 5" but already about 16" was on the ground. So much for the accuracy of AccuWeather. The National Weather Service had changed its forecast; now they predicted 20" to 22" before the storm was supposed to end around 10 p.m. AccuWeather has the storm going till midnight. I expect there will be at least 24" of snow on the ground tomorrow to greet me. The wind will have blown the snow back into the paths that I cleared early this afternoon--probably to at least a foot or more. 

It's not certain how long it will be before the plow comes to make the road passable, nor whether the depth of the snow will be too much for the snow blower tomorrow. Perhaps the plow will come in the dead of night and wake me up. It's happened before. So far the electric power remains on, but how much longer it will is anyone's guess. The wood stove is fired up and ready to supply as much heat as it can in case the power goes down. Some people have generators that run on gasoline for times like this, but they are expensive to buy, if you want one that will supply enough power to run a furnace, a water pump, and a refrigerator. 

Back in the day before rural electrification, and for a few decades afterward hereabouts, people got by with ice boxes, root cellars, outhouses instead of indoor plumbing, water that was pumped by hand, and no water pipes to freeze. Heat was supplied by fireplaces (inefficient compared with wood stoves), and later by kerosene space heaters and cook stoves that used wood fuel. Bedrooms were cold; bed warmers that are now antiques were used, along with foot warmers and heavy blankets. 

Many people in the generation born before 1900, used to the old ways, continued to heat with wood and kerosene, to pump water by hand, to get hot water from the stove, and to use their outhouses. They were better able to survive in weather conditions like this than those of us who are dependent on electricity and modern conveniences. When the person who built this house on the island died in 1969 he had only a hand pump for water from a dug well, and a kerosene space heater in the living room for heat. I imagine he had an ice box. Nonetheless, the house was wired for electric lamps and a telephone. 

When I first lived here, the only kind of phone service I could get was a party line. Now although land lines are easily arranged, cell phone reception is unreliable here. High speed internet was unavailable for years, so I paid for a satellite connection, which for web browsing was not all that much faster than dial-up, although download speeds were much faster. Only last month DSL became available, and only because state law forced the phone company to make it available in 90% of locations before the end of 2010.

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