First Snowfall

On Monday the weather forecast was for mostly cloudy weather and a 50% chance of showers, mostly in the afternoon, with a high temperature around 45°.  I considered riding outside but decided against it, as the air was taking quite a while to warm up much above the mid-30°s.  By mid-afternoon there were sporadic bursts of snowflakes drifting through the air.  And by sunset the air was full of heavy snow.  It stuck first to the branches and leaves, then to the grass, and finally to the pavement, which was relatively warm but colder than it had been a week earlier, thanks to a few days of chilly weather.  By supper time it was a soft, white, albeit it temporary Winter Wonderland, everything covered with a layer that rounded edges and muffled sounds.

It began melting right away.  This is after all Virginia.  And the total was only about 1″ to 1½,” which resolves to about .10″ melted.  Not that much moisture actually fell out of the sky.  But with this first salvo, the icy hand of winter has at last fallen on our land

What is most unusual is how late this first snow came this year.  A mere token of things to come, the first measurable snowfall usually happened no later than mid-November in the Massachusetts of my childhood.  At college in the Berkshires I experienced it in mid-October, with a permanent winter snow covering usually on the ground when we returned from Thanksgiving weekend.  Even here in the Old Dominion (not the “Dominion State,” as the now-apparently-editorless Washington Post recently called it) the W&OD bike trail has always been impassable for at least a few days by this date, January 12.  But in this winter of 2011-12 there have been no significant winter weather events yet, and none in the forecast.  Not that that means much, as paragraph one bears out.  When the snow came it was a total surprise to everybody, all the renowned professional prognosticators included.  And every news channel and station loves to be able to view the s-word with hyperbolic alarm whenever possible, so it wasn’t even on anybody’s radar screens.

Tuesday’s ride, though, was in relatively balmy upper-40°s temperature, and (after a deluge of rain last night) today’s ride saw the temperature rise 10° between my departure and return, to sit some 15° above normal.  On Tuesday just a bit of snow was left, nestled in the protective eddies of northern exposures.  Today the concerns were puddles, as well as mud fields and high-water debris clumps on the Trail where it underpasses roadways and skirts Four Mile Run.  The Run, a notorious flooder, must have been a good 4′ above normal levels at some point last night.

However, that soft, romantic first snowfall has delivered its message: Winter is at hand.  After tonight’s (predicted!) rainfall and frontal squall-line winds, we are supposed to be looking for a high in the 30°s tomorrow, a good 20°+ drop from today.

Good thing I have winter cycling gear.

©Arnold Bradford, 2012.

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