Weird Snow Day

How the weather was

I’ve heard native Alaskans have several words for snow.  They’ve seen so much of the stuff they can ascertain subtle differences in the quality of those bits of white coming from the sky.  We in the lower 48, might be able to tell powdery snow (good for skiing) from wet snow (good for making deadly, cement-like ice balls to throw at our loved ones).  It’s certainly not around long enough where I live, to give it any more attributes than those.  We just tend to cuss and moan over its untimely arrival.  Sure, it can be fun.  There are as many ways to enjoy snow as there are native names for it. I have lived my entire adult life south of the Mason Dixon line, i.e., prime cuss and moan over snow territory, and can appreciate the joy of staying home for a day and building a snowman.  After that day is over, I expect to get back to melting temperatures and safe driving conditions and business as usual.

April means spring in the mountains.  Here at the Hobbit House, we are tilling the ground for planting our summer vegetables and planning our hikes along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Tulips line the perimeters of the cozy cottages in our neighborhood and leaves are popping out from tree limbs.  So, it came as an enormous shock when it snowed on April 9th.  Cold mornings are anticipated in early spring.  We even cover our fledgling green things or bring them inside if the forecast calls for a minor freeze during the earliest hours of the day.  But white flakes in a month bursting with green life and outdoor fun took us by surprise.  It’s not unheard of, according to folks who have lived here longer, but I found it egregious, confusing and just plain odd. 

How we wished the weather was

I administer a small women writers group.  Due to a nasty, rampant COVID surge early in the year, we did not have meetings in January or February.  In late March, spring arrived and I scheduled a gathering on my back deck.  A forecast of wind and cold for the intended day caused me to reschedule.  Even though my back deck is sheltered from the wind and warms nicely from the sun, I had a hard time convincing some of my writer friends that it would be comfortable scribbling away in lawn chairs behind the Hobbit House even with the promise of a bonfire.  I changed the date to April 9th and monitored the upcoming conditions, which remained promising.

The day before the meeting I received a few alarmed communications regarding an unhappy situation, weather-wise.  Once again, a perfectly good Saturday was to be ruined by cold temperatures, gusty winds and zero sunshine!  This time, everyone wanted to change the date.  When I awoke that Saturday morning, I got out of bed and pronounced the weather conditions.  I do this every morning by opening the blinds and peering out into the front yard.  It’s not meant to be a forecast, merely an announcement of what is.  Light dusting of snow on the lawn, cars and rooftops.  Cloudy, a little breezy and cold (obviously).  I was content that I had changed my meeting date.  It was the kind of winter day throughout which I would be spending my time writing or baking. 

I started my Saturday feeling cozy in the Hobbit House, sitting at my desk as I wrote and watched the world outside my window.  Small flakes were drifting down to the ground and a few people, bundled up, ventured past while walking their dogs.  The sky cleared suddenly and sunshine burst through the clouds to dry the streets and make those dog walkers happy to be out there.

For five minutes anyway!  Just as quickly, the winds blew in more ominous clouds.  This time, they dropped a torrent of fat wet flakes.  The mosquitos, who had mistaken the sunshine as a turn for the better, found themselves tobogganing back down to their mud puddles, and previously happy walkers scuttled toward home as fast as they could.  As these conditions continued, I thought that this day was asserting itself as a nasty, stay inside, really crummy stretch of time.

Then the sun came out again and the winds died down and those in my household thought the mess was over for the day.  We grabbed our gear and rigged up the dog for a quick jaunt around the neighborhood.  As I walked up the hill from my front doorstep, I felt something buffeting the winter jacket I had dragged out after stowing it away until it was needed again next November.  I was being pelted by bits of grit, which reminded me of vacations at the beach when the wind blew grains of sand onto my sandwich and my hat had to work overtime to keep that stuff out of my eyes.  Except, it was cold and I wasn’t lucky enough to have a nice sandwich…or a beach.  What was this?

Sleet. The sun was shining and little bits of ice were bouncing off my coat.  By the time we made it halfway around the block, the sky darkened and the wind picked up.  We became the ones scurrying home, victims of a cruel weather deception. Twenty minutes later, after depositing our wet shoes and reviving ourselves with hot tea and muffins, the sun came out.  I was astounded.  This time, it stayed for a while longer, teasing us into trying another trip out the front door.  I decided to be skeptical, and opted for baking a couple loaves of bread from the dough I had mixed up the night before. 

From my kitchen door, I have full view of my deck and backyard.  As I was heating the oven, I peeked out after having heard pinging on the roof of my covered porch.  It looked like there had been an explosion at the Tic-Tac factory as white pellets began bouncing around on my patio furniture and wood deck, gathering into groups wherever they could collectively stack up.  Hail!  Having lived in Texas, I was in familiar territory with this particular form of precipitation.  I was considering the fact that I had seen hail many times, some the size of textbooks–car-denting, roof-damaging hail in many shapes and sizes, when my phone lit up.  The Facebook posts were as numerous as the little balls of ice banging around on my back deck. 

Our local, westside librarian left a FB post explaining the phenomenon.  It’s called graupel.  Bigger than sleet, but softer than hail.  Whatever we were calling it, it melted quickly as the temperature was hovering around 45° and the sun was returning to center stage.  This little bit of entertainment had diverted me from bread baking, so I resumed that activity while still scratching my head over today’s wacky weather.

After dinner, we once again grabbed the dog and headed out for a walk.  No forms of water were wafting down from on high, and daylight, though wan, was still available when we set out.  By the time we met our friend Michelle at the other end of the block, big fat flakes of snow started wandering down to melt on our coats.  As we rounded the corner, the wind picked up and the snow began pelting us in the face.  We naively believed we would gain some respite from this onslaught as we rounded the next corner, but whichever way we turned, that cold, sloppy cataclysm buffeted our faces and quickened our steps.  Our 15-minute walk felt much like a polar expedition, but with no sleds and only one soppy dog.

We all survived the blizzardly conditions, which stopped about two minutes after we entered the house, hung up our wet coats and toweled off the recalcitrant pooch.  After learning the word “graupel,” I wondered if meteorologists (or native Alaskans) had a word for conniving, mischievous snowfall that lures people outside into the sunlight only to drop buckets of cold globules in varying forms onto their heads.  If not, I’m going to make one up.

Awaiting true spring,

Cheryl     

6 Comments

  1. Thanks for the new vocabulary word!

    • It’s always nice to have another new word to deploy whenever the circumstances call for it! I’m not sure when I will be using this one again.

  2. oh tricky mother playing tricks! What a fascinating day!

    • As usual, the next day was warm and sunny and the writer ladies enjoyed an afternoon on my porch eating chili and scribbling away!

  3. The weather likes to play with us, sometimes. It rules…………….. But, you baked bread!!!!!!!!!!!! Yum.

    • Some might say baking is more productive than reading…but I would not agree. Though I do like the bread, warm from the oven and slathered with butter!

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