Monday, December 21, 2009

Scenes from the Snowpocalypse

Over the weekend the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States was blanketed by an unusually heavy snowfall, for a date so early in the season and in some places for a winter overall. Forecasts sounded so dire that snarky Twitter users started referring to it with hastags like #snOMG and #snowpocalypse.

Unlike many snowstorms, this one lived up to its hype. Washington's airport received 16.4 inches, the largest one-day storm in 70 years; it shut down parts of the Metro system and the federal government (with the exception of the Senate). Suffolk County, NY, received 26.3 inches, and Winchester, VA, received 30 inches. Where it did not set records, this storm was unusual in its ferocity this early in the season, even if it might seem tame to readers in the northern tier of the United States or Canada.

I took several measurements outside my house yesterday morning. They ranged between 7 inches (on pavement) and 13 inches (in snow drifts). Most measurements on grass clustered around 10 or 11 inches. This accords with the Rutgers weather station's measurement of 11.1 inches in New Brunswick, NJ.

I love walking around just after the snow has stopped falling. At this time melting has not yet begun, and branches are still covered with a delicate coating of snow. The cedar above still had snow on its branches, and many deciduous trees had a similar coating.

I walked to my local park with a camera in my pocket but no binoculars. Birds were barely active yet anyway, though a red-tailed hawk perched in a tree and gulls huddled on the frozen pond. The river was also partially frozen, meaning that the several hundred geese that were present in the park last week were confined to much smaller spaces for a time.

Many Christmas Bird Counts in New Jersey this weekend canceled or postponed their counts because of the blizzard. My mother and I had been planning to participate in one yesterday, the Lower Hudson CBC, which we did last year. This count was not canceled (and recorded a Grasshopper Sparrow), but we decided to err on the side of safety and stay at home. In my opinion, the Lower Hudson count should have been postponed. Even deep snow probably posed little problem for volunteers in New York, as they can rely on the city's excellent subway system to reach their assignments. Most volunteers in New Jersey, however, have to drive, and road clearing can be uneven, especially in the early morning.

While I am disappointed about that result, I am looking forward to future counts this winter.