Burton on the Bay

Vol. 8, No. 4
January 27 - February 2, 2000
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Snow Day

To be a weatherman, you’ve got to have a sense of humor.

—Fred Davis, retired chief of NOAA’s Weather Bureau when it was stationed at BWI.

What better time to call Fred than this Tuesday as snow is stacking up on the lawn near Stoney Creek at Riviera Beach.

How deep is it?

It depends where I measure. The north wind howls, a few spots are almost bare, others have well over a foot of the white stuff. As I write, birds — with a goodly assortment of cardinals — are venturing unusually close to the porch to get their emergency rations.

Thank heavens for the squirrels, though many who feed birds hold them in minimum regard. Even the birds have to appreciate the gluttonous bushytails at times like this.

Sure they compete for the seeds, but without them today the birds wouldn’t get much chance for their evening meal at a time when they need caloric energy. The squirrels dig and scatter the seed as they feed voraciously. They also scatter enough snow that seeds are exposed so their feathered counterparts can locate them quickly.

Without bushytail activity, all seeds would be quickly covered, and even the mourning doves would find it difficult to get a snack. So the squirrels have earned their keep in this most unusual snowstorm.
’Round and About

Shall we say “unique” snowstorm? Unique because it caught us unaware, which is difficult to do these days. With all the sophisticated weather equipment at Dulles Airport, the center of forecasting these days, it’s seldom a flake can fall without its presence predicted a day ahead of time.

If we get down to the nitty-gritty, this storm was predicted. But by the time of the prediction, many Anne Arundel Countians had already hit the sack. Hell, this storm was supposed to be the property of the Eastern Shore and move out in the Atlantic, but a few degrees westward in the movement of the weather pattern sent it our way.

It was close to midnight when that change was detected. When I went to bed shortly before 2am, no flakes were falling though NOAA weather band radio reported odds were for it to hit more to the west. It was too late then for the faint-of-heart to make the traditional convenience store run to clean the shelves of toilet paper, milk, bread and, of course, cigarettes.

When I awoke at 8am, no need to even go to the window. It was eerily quiet other than for my cat Frieda meowing for breakfast. There was a muffled silence, the kind that can only mean snow, lots of it. Even without hearing the late forecast, I’d have known. Anyone raised in the country can understand why. It’s the way things were before weather watchers had so many fancy gadgets.

Ten inches had fallen when I drove the 4x4 Subaru station wagon to get some vittles for a neighbor or two taken by surprise and to pick up the mail. The postal lady was catching up on paperwork; there weren’t many customers.

At Mars supermarket, I ran into young and well-bundled up friends Phil and Denise Albrecht, who dug out because their bird food supply was running short. Now that’s a sense of responsibility. Shortly after the Subaru made it back to Park Road, neighbor Ernie Koreck and his snowblower cleared a front walk path, giving me second thoughts about all the unkindly things I had thought about anything other than a shovel for snow removal. Sometimes, progress is appreciated.

I’m too old for much shoveling anyhow, so much of the day has been spent watching birds ingesting energy, especially seeds piled under the latest Christmas tree I propped up near the bird feeders. It’s a Fraser fir still packed with all its green needles, and therein were all kinds of birds seeking shelter and proximity to the feed.

Retired from the Weather Line

About the time the wind was at full intensity, I called fellow North Countian Fred Davis, curious whether he had a weather story or two to recall. Though retired, he is still fascinated by atmospheric doings and admitted to spending much of the day indoors snow watching while checking old files.

His wife Bonnie, a supervisor at social services, had gone to her Glen Burnie office after 10 employees had phoned in they were staying home. But she’s from Minnesota. Like our postmistress, she caught up on a lot of paperwork.

The last time Fred can recall such a surprise was in ’79 when the skies dumped 20 inches of snow on us. Same weather pattern, and a forecast for only four inches. The storm swung closer than anticipated, catching everyone unaware, including Fred who spent 36 hours at the then BWI station where bunks were available when weather watchers weren’t busy drawing their own weather maps, which these days is done by computers.

Fred and the rest of his crew endured more than a few jibes for that booboo, but he accepted the flack as part of the job. He saw this storm coming. We’ve been inundated with biting cold weather hereabouts of late — he calls it “weather entrenched” — and when lots of moisture comes, it means lots of snow, too much of the cold stuff to be driven off by moisture.

A friend, needling him after he was fried with the ’79 misforcast, griped “Fred, you missed that one by a mile.” Fred’s response: “No, not by a mile, by 16 inches!” See, you need a sense of humor.

But sometimes the job could get more serious, like when parents or daughters were planning weddings and would call about weather for a particular date: What was it like on that date over the past decade or so? Fred would try to explain history means nothing in chances for bad or good weather on an exact date, though when time permitted he would check for them.

Sometimes, parents or bride would call after the fair-weather wedding to thank him, or to congratulate him for being a genius, and he accepted the glory as he did the gripes with his bad calls. As Fred recalls, he never did get an invite to any of the planned weddings.

Northern Perspective

I called friend Al Freedman, who lives on his boat Moon Child at Maryland Yacht Club where some drifts were more than three feet on the shores of Rock Creek. He and Betty had hardly left the boat. They spent most of the day trying to get cabin temperatures above 65 degrees and saw some ducks bundled up in a patch of open water around a piling. Hopefully, he’ll feed them tomorrow.

Daughter Heather reported from Crofton that the community snow plow broke down. So did a state or county one nearby so she and husband Jon were watching cars getting stuck.

My last call was to widowed aunt MiMi in Vermont. At 91, she had driven 18 miles in her Subaru 4x4 to the small city of Bennington for a prescription and encountered several white-outs on her return. Despite a few minor skids, she and the nine-year-old station wagon kept chugging north and made the steep driveway up to the homestead. She was wondering what all the fuss she saw on television was about .

Now if this column can make it via computer modem over windblown and frozen phone lines, I, too, will wonder about all those ratings-driven TV reporters and what their weather sensationalism is all about.

Gotta put another log on the fire.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly