Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Blizzard of 2011 (11:30pm - 1:12 am)

We had our big winter storm last week. You probably heard about it. It knocked American Idol right off the newscast. They had it pinned down a week in advance, too, which is unusual. Meteorologists are a fidgety bunch here. We're right at the confluence of a bunch of geology that likes to really bollix up weather prediction. We're in a bowl rimmed with mountains that wring the rain right out of the air and lob it back on us. We've got the warm, moist marine influence coming up from the south and west. Up top, we've got that troublemaker Canada breathing arctically down our neck. And we've got the Columbia River Gorge, through which a variety of delights is funneled, including, ice age permitting, the occasional 500-foot-tall flood, bearing boulders, mud and bits of astonished aboriginal Americans.

When all of these influences converge on Portland and duke it out, there's no telling what's going to happen. It's like tossing three oiled monkeys into a silo during an earthquake: will they fling poo or make popcorn? There are too many variables. Sometimes it just comes down to monkey moods. We have to be prepared for anything.

Our standard warm wet weather comes from the ocean, and when we get cold air out of the north it's usually dry, so when it's cold enough to snow it doesn't. That's why it was really something when we saw the prediction a week out for a big snow on Thursday. In the paper, they print out a seven-day forecast with helpful visual aids, and Thursday's picture had gigantic snowflakes. Here, the size of the snowflakes is a graphic indication of certainty, not moisture content. These were big ones. The sucker was on the way.

Nothing about the forecast changed the closer we got. It was awfully exciting. Television newscasts were dominated by reports on how to drive in the snow, illustrated by archival footage of reporters holding some in their non-mike hand. The principal recommendation was to not do it, and to take public transit instead, such as the bus or our newer light-rail system, which has an admirable record of service except in icy conditions, when it latches onto its overhead lines like a tongue on a flagpole. Snow is one thing; the stuff we usually get is undriveable, a bumpy ice lasagna, on which your car has all the gription of buttered mercury. Folks who are not from here cannot be dissuaded from rolling their eyes and complaining about our driving abilities. They engage their four-wheel drive and snap on their smirks and off they go, and later are easily picked out by their shiny undercarriages blossoming in the ditch like crocuses.

By Tuesday, I had settled on my proposed snow sculpture (an otter) and drivers all over town pre-ditched their cars to save having to do it in the cold. By Wednesday the weathermen on the television had damp stains in their trousers. Our city snow plow was rolled out to the theme of Rocky and bounced up and down in anticipation. Everywhere, folks who did not have chains for their bicycles donned their spring, fall and winter raincoats all at once,  doubled up on their sandal socks and walked to New Seasons to stock up on emergency arugula and Bananagrams games. Pugs whined nervously and licked off their sweater fuzz. By Wednesday afternoon citizens were glued to their media for up-to-the-second updates. The snow was inked in for seven p.m. At five p.m. came the announcement that the system had stalled over the Coast Range. Triple-A was sent out with a portable low-pressure zone to see what could be done. We went to bed under sparse spirals of flakes with Christmas anticipation. Thursday morning the schools were all closed, which had been done proactively on Tuesday in order to give the attention-deficit children time to absorb the information. Children frolicked up and down the block, many of them able to assemble an entire snowball within hours, which they tossed back and forth, re-packing as necessary. Their moms and dads stayed home too.

That's what makes Portland great. Any city can have a snow day when it's actually snowing.

24 comments:

  1. You have, perhaps, never seen a shark, upside-down on a boat's deck. I have. And the upside down picture of the car is quite shark-like. If you remove the wheels. And squint a bit.
    Ahh...the West coast...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sounds exactly like what happens here in Austin when snow is predicted. Dallas, to the north of us, is used to occasional snow, but down here people lose their ever loving minds at the mere mention of a few flakes.

    One of the weather-guessers has an RV that he pulls into the parking lot of his TV station, and he lives in it during the "snow event." He lives for such events.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Turrbul blizzurd, it were. Many peepls froze, no doubt.

    Loved the visual: later are easily picked out by their shiny undercarriages blossoming in the ditch like crocuses

    ReplyDelete
  4. It cracks me up when people who normally don't get snow get snow.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Too funny! We here in the Cincinnati area also have dire storm predictions days in advance. We call snow "the white death" and people line up to buy out the grocery stores while our local news reporters quiz them. All 4 local stations will have reporters bunking out at the "salt pile" (exactly what it sounds like) asking identical questions ("how many plows will be out?", "how much salt do you expect to use?" and many other insipidly probing questions) of the same people each time (like the answers are going to change!) They will do this while standing in front of the salt pile, holding up salt in their free mike-less hand, while the plows and backhoes move around behind them. (I think the plow drivers show immense restraint!) Meanwhile, out on the roads, motorists promptly forget how to drive in snow, which helps immensely in clogging up our local interstates and highways just in time for the rush hour drive. And, even though all available snow shovels have been scooped up days in advance, heaven forbid any citizen should use same to help shovel their streets when the snow actually arrives. They are too busy calling the City's highway department and complaining that their little cul-de-sac hasn't been cleaned yet. Only big difference between Portland and Cincinnati is that our kids usually have enough snow for more than one snowball!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Sounds like us in the Seattle area. We've actually gotten more snow since the dire forecasts of last week. Off and on for several days, settling only momentarily on our green lawns.

    ReplyDelete
  7. We had the same here in Southern Cali, all that anticipation and then nary a single snow ball, unless you lived in the mountains two hours away. They loosely call that part of the county and declare we've had snow, 1st in 25 years. I was like, this happened before?

    Great post, wonderful imagery and laugh out funny.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Our city snow plow was rolled out to the theme of Rocky and bounced up and down in anticipation.

    Tee hee!

    ReplyDelete
  9. We had an Alberta Clipper roar through Ontario today (a cold front with high winds from the northwest of Alberta). I actually froze the sinuses in my cheeks walking the dog, while wearing a balaclava, a hat AND a hood.

    So I read this with a growing sense that Portland is something like Brigadoon ("emergency arugula"?...gosh!). Some kind of leak in the time/space continuum allows your little bowl to wobble down to the planet intermittently, just long enough for one snowball's worth to land and then off you go again. I'm glad your posts are getting through though, Murr.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I can't get past the oiled monkeys in the silo.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I want to see Portland (but only after it stops snowing). The DC area schools like to shut down when there is a prediction of snow. No one can get to school (or work) then, but they all do manage to go out for breakfast.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Gosh, that was a fun read! Thanks! I'm from Syracuse so very used to snow, but moved here outside Philadelphia in adulthood. We were caught off guard in our first snow storm here! People said, "Storms coming--better get your milk, bread and eggs!" We were like, "Why? Can we ward off the snow by making french toast?" So we did not participate in the grocery store frenzy. Don't you know?--the grocery store ran out of milk and it was days before we could get any!

    ReplyDelete
  13. "your car has all the gription of buttered mercury" Best. Line. Ever.

    Hilarious post!

    Wendy
    (one of those troublemaking Canadians)

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thanks, I needed some humour. Glad all was safe. and fun was had.

    ReplyDelete
  15. You should get the Garrison Keillor award (or one should be created) for this one, Murr. Great tongue in cheek humor. Love the pix too. Caption: A somewhat disappointed blogger - in preventive Klondike-wear - surveying a lovely light powdering of snow.
    Nice, a just-in-case-day to be enjoyed by all!

    ReplyDelete
  16. "Bumpy ice lasagna" pretty much describes our entire winter. Well, it's been worse, actually. But there have been some misses, too. And either way, it all shuts down. I'm beginning to look forward to spring...

    ReplyDelete
  17. I'm still pondering the roaring Alberta Clipper. How fun. Best we can hope for is a wafting McMinnville Zephyr. If your sinuses actually freeze, can you snap them out, like a retainer?

    If I ever did see a shark upside down on a boat's deck, I'd know I was in the wrong boat. I'm thinking it would be an irritable shark. And thanks, Dan! I'll be expecting my tall, bespectacled, rumpled bronze trophy in the mail.

    Boomerlane, I know about D.C. I grew up in Arlington and we had about three snow days a winter. But y'all get way more snow than we do here. Fortunately, if we're jonesing, we can pop up to Mt. Hood any time for it, all year.

    ReplyDelete
  18. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  19. What a fun blog. I really enjoy your take on things. And here I thought our weather was unpredictable. We've made the trek to Portland twice(in the summer) to visit my cousin who lives there. A really beautiful city I'd say.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I always enjoy the posts! Looking forward to many more (:The things given are unanimous and needs to be appreciated by everyone.
    Wedding Dress
    Wedding dresses this season for the details of the deal more attention. Designer for the details of the deal is simple continuation of the overall shape of fashion, more emphasis on the shoulder, neck and waist of the design, engraving, embroidery, flowers and other elements are widely used.

    ReplyDelete
  21. It is particularly gratifying to us Canadians to do something that makes Americans perk up and pay attention - even if it is just a teeny little Alberta Clipper...
    Yes, we are troublemakers, and don't you forget it... please and thank you...

    ReplyDelete
  22. It is particularly gratifying to us Canadians to do something that makes Americans perk up and pay attention - even if it is just a teeny little Alberta Clipper...
    Yes, we are troublemakers, and don't you forget it... please and thank you...

    ReplyDelete
  23. We had the same here in Southern Cali, all that anticipation and then nary a single snow ball, unless you lived in the mountains two hours away. They loosely call that part of the county and declare we've had snow, 1st in 25 years. I was like, this happened before?

    Great post, wonderful imagery and laugh out funny.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I always enjoy the posts! Looking forward to many more (:The things given are unanimous and needs to be appreciated by everyone.
    Wedding Dress
    Wedding dresses this season for the details of the deal more attention. Designer for the details of the deal is simple continuation of the overall shape of fashion, more emphasis on the shoulder, neck and waist of the design, engraving, embroidery, flowers and other elements are widely used.

    ReplyDelete