The Blizzard of 2016

Last Monday I was taking a break from shoveling. Sitting on the front stoop, which was shoveled and sun-melted the day before, I could hear what passes for silence in a large metropolitan suburb. The Beltway traffic muttered from over the trees, hills, and sound barriers. I had not seen a car on our street all day, reduced as it was to one lane, now melted clear but still narrow. Meltwater dripped into gutters and gurgled out downspouts. High overhead a jet roared, invisible but audibly heading south. Perhaps a planeful of lucky people from Boston or Hartford were flying to the eternal warmth of the Caribbean.


Our house as the blizzard began.

We had a light, wet snow on Sunday, January 17. It was the first snowfall of what had been a mild and semi-dry winter. It was a mess, but not a big deal. Everything melted off of the roads. But by the next day the weather forecasters were promising a major storm at the end of the week.

It turned out to be one of the three or four biggest single snowfalls in the history of the region. All week the predictions were uniform and consistent. Apparently all the elements were firmly in place: cold enough to snow, certainty of the low pressure storm center that came ashore in the pacific Northwest about Sunday would in fact ride the Jet Stream down to the Carolinas, and would indeed transfer its energy to the coastal low which was in precisely the right place to form up well south of the Washington area.

As the storm approached I promised my family on the west coast that I would post on Facebook to record the development of the storm and demonstrate that we still had electricity. What follows are the transcripts of those postings, interspersed with a few amplifying remarks, and some illustrative photos.

Tuesday, January 19, 3:55 p.m.:

Note to DC friends: How many times does the Big Storm that’s predicted on Tuesday become Friday’s “scattered snow flurries”? Almost always. It’s the ones that sneak up on us that turn out to be actual blizzards.

The storm ended up being very actual. And it had a name: Winter Storm Jonas. What happened to WS Arn, WS Bernice, WS Chuckie, and so on? Never heard about them. Since when has the NWS been naming winter storms at all? The media has done so for some time. This one became Snowzilla, since we had already had Snowpocalypse, Snowmageddon, and other such vapors of the idle brains of those whose job it is to make every news event breathlessly urgent, intensely melodramatic, and vaguely unsettling.


Our house during the blizzard.

Thursday, January 21, 9:22 a.m.:

“Blizzard” Update: After three days of describing the upcoming Friday-Saturday snowstorm as “historic” and “significant,” with snowfall totals well over one foot, the meteorologists this morning are taking the first steps to back away: “new models indicate that snowfall amounts may be less in some areas.” We’ll keep up with the changes over the next 36 hours. MEANWHILE, a “clipper” system that dropped one freakin’ inch of snow on cold, untreated roads during last night’s rush hour and was NOT IDENTIFIED AS SIGNIFICANT BY ANY METEOROLOGIST created pure havoc (7 hour commutes for some!) both last night and this morning. Area schools are closed for the day! Well, as I heard one radio forecaster say yesterday, “the details are in the devil.” ONLY in D.C.!!

I heard that forecaster on my way home from the grocery run. People had all week to stock up, and we were pretty well set. But we were a couple of ingredients short of a good recipe. At the Giant, people had carts full of stuff. Do people only have enough toilet paper on hand for a couple of days most of the time? Do they plan on subsisting on bread pudding during every storm? Why aren’t they buying fruit and vegetables and meat?

Friday, January 22, 2:29 p.m.:


“The frolic architecture of the snow.”

Enjoy this poem today, before you lose power. I wonder if Emerson ever lost power. Oh, wait, . . . [I posted a link to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “The Snow-Storm,” which ends with the wonderful line “The frolic architecture of the snow.”]

Friday, January 22, 11:25 p.m.:


Cats during the storm, wondering as usual where their next meal is coming from.

Blizzard Watch: It is 11:21 p.m. We still have power. In fact there has been little wind and just moderate snow, but no “blizzard” conditions yet. So we were able to have a warm meal prepared by conventional means. There are about 6″ on the ground now. Incredibly, they are predicting that about 18″ will be on the ground by 10 A.M. That would seem incredible, but I remember a very similar storm in about 1978. And so to bed. I will post something by about 8 A.M. if we have power.

Saturday, January 23, 8:12 a.m.:

Blizzard Watch: Woke up to about 15″ of snow on the ground. AND to !!ELECTRICITY!! Supposed to be windy all day, but the snow is dry and the limbs not burdened, so there’s hope. Conditions not quite whiteout, but we are being advised to expect another 10″ to a foot. So this storm is the real deal, and is very much as forecast.

After the storm the total accumulation at National Airport was deemed suspiciously low. In a city highly attuned to fraud and deception, everything is questioned. In this case, the official airport reading put the storm into fourth place all-time. But wait! Turns out they did not do the readings correctly, and had not been doing so for some time past either. It seems that an official snowfall reading requires a “snow board.” (I just assumed that must be a CIA torture for Alaskan natives.) You place the snow board in the measuring area, let a few inches accumulate, measure them, clean the board off, let a few more inches accumulate, measure, clear, and repeat at regular intervals. This method counters the snow’s natural tendency to compress over time from the weight of new snow falling on top of it. By virtue of the NWS’s faulty procedure, Winter Storm Jonas was prevented from claiming its rightful place as the third worst storm ever. Every centimeter counts, as the phantom seven-time Tour de France winner might say.

Saturday, January 23, 3:22 p.m.:


Our house after the storm.

Blizzard Update: 3:00 Saturday and we still have power. About 6 to 8 hours left of snow and wind, apparently. This is a storm with a real kick in its tail. The center of the low pressure area is just about due east of us, it appears. But the huge mass of snow streaming downward on the west side of that low seems endless. For a while around noon we thought it was letting up, but as the wind is slowly backing around to northwest its velocity is increasing and the bands of precipitation are deepening, so that it’s now a real full-scale “whiteout” blizzard here. We each have ventured out, to shovel a path to the street, clear the front stoop, and clear the heat pump. Wouldn’t go out right now unless I absolutely had to. Truly, “it ain’t a fit night out for man or beast.” [I posted a link to a short YouTube video excerpt of W. C. Fields performing in Mack Sennett’s 1933 film short The Fatal Glass of Beer, a send-up of the genre of pioneer melodramas set in the Yukon in gold prospecting days.]

Sunday, January 24, 9:52 a.m.:

Jane shoveling

Jane shoveling amid the drifts and piles of snow.

Blizzard update: Sunday morning. Sun’s out. 23″ on the ground here. Never have I seen a storm quite like this. No church, just shoveling. Photos to follow.

And that was our storm. My note of anxiety about losing power is obvious; the forecasters did overestimate that risk, because the snow was drier and the winds less intense than they foresaw. I forgive them; being without power in sub-freezing weather is something I desire to avoid. Finally, there is special pleasure in the fact that an 83-year-old film comedy can still provide a rich belly laugh in our world of glossy, HD entertainment. Life passes; weather is eternal.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016


Riding to Win in the Tour de France

On Tuesday, July 16, 2013, the Tour de France peloton raced from Vaison-le-Romaine to Gap. It was Stage 16, one I witnessed afresh only yesterday while riding my exercise bike. This familiar Tour route is famed for the Lance Armstrong exploit in 2003 on the last descent, when Josebo Beloki’s rear tire came unglued in the heat approaching a sharp curve, Beloki crashed in front of Lance (sustaining injuries that effectively ended his career), and Armstrong avoided the fallen rider by riding across a hayfield, dismounting and leaping with his bike across a deep ditch cyclocross style, and rejoining the leading group for the last 3 kilometers into town. That was the year Armstrong ended with the yellow jersey on his back but officially didn’t win the race for the fifth time. Here’s a video:

In 2013 there wasn’t quite so much drama. Going into the stage Chris Froome, coming off a victory at Mont Ventoux, had a 4’14” lead over Bauke Mollema and 4’ 25” over Alberto Contador. With only five stages after this one, the race was already for second place behind Froome.   Contador, a two-time Tour winner (with a third title stripped for doping in 2010), was desperate to solidify his third-place spot on the podium (he finished fourth). He attacked several times on the third and last climb of the day, the category 2 Col de Manse, and though he got a couple of gaps on Froome, the race leader was able to close them down with the help of able teammate Richie Porte. On that last descent, so costly to Beloki a decade earlier, Contador took all kinds of chances to gain a few precious seconds. Froome, with a safe overall lead, nevertheless tried to stay with Contador, mostly to symbolize that he was in control of the race, and that further attempts by Contador to gain time would fail as certainly as the earlier ones had.

Froome and Contador

Froome (yellow jersey) clips in after avoiding Contador (on left).

On a fast, tight turn about halfway down, Contador overcooked it. The video is unclear, but it appears that Contador had to unclip, put a foot down, and come almost completely off his bike. This sudden slowdown from a speed that was probably about 40 mph threw the trailing Froome off. (Remember that in professional bike racing they are only inches away from one another). He veered, had to go off the road onto the narrow gravel shoulder, and put his foot down before re-clipping and recovering his control and direction. As the two were getting back up to speed, side by side, Froome said something to Contador.

They finished the race together in their small group of leaders, 11’08” off the pace, trailing 26 other riders, including a breakaway of several cyclists that in turn trailed the stage winner Rui Costa by 42 seconds. Afterwards Froome complained that Contador “was actually taking a few too many risks there.” He thought Contador “was pushing a little bit too fast” on the downhill curves, putting Froome “in danger.” Froome’s attitude is quite traditional for the yellow jersey holder, especially one who is dominating the race. Others should respect the race leader, and not challenge him except on his own terms.

The skeptical viewer might well see Froome as putting himself at risk. He didn’t need every second the way Contador did; he was shadowing Contador to symbolize his own dominance. That was his choice, and he ended up putting himself in danger. It’s a mentality that I see quite often in bike racing. Froome was essentially accusing Contador of trying too hard to win. In most sports winning, as the late great football coach Vince Lombardi said, “isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” But not in the minds of all cyclists. Poor Chris Froome actually had to maneuver his bike suddenly because Alberto Contador was going all out. How disrespectful! Chris, you poor baby.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016.

Life’s Little Triumphs

plumbing cartridge

The Kohler cartridge that was removed.

This plumbing cartridge caused our house guests misery over a period of a couple of years, and almost cost us half a grand.  But this time fortune smiled and we feel great!

The cartridge was in the cold water handle of the shower in the guest bathroom.  It had gotten stuck after ten years of intermittent use.  For the last couple of years it was a struggle to get water of the right temperature to spray out of the shower head.  We thought we had it working well enough a couple of times, but users were still justly disgruntled.

Finally we called a plumber yet again to really fix it.  We have a plumbing contract with a local firm, so the response was swift.  Simple, right?  Any homeowner reading this knows that things that should be simple usually just aren’t.  The plumber took one look at it, consulted his tablet, and let us know that the model was out of stock.  He checked his truck and found he didn’t have any leftover parts for this particular model.  He left, and two days later called us to inform us that the two suppliers his company used didn’t have leftover stock of this model either.  Our only alternative, he said, was to buy a replacement shower set.

Problem is, there aren’t many options right now for our configuration, which is two handles and a separate faucet, as well as the shower head.  It would, furthermore, cost us about $550 to replace the set with one comparable to general appearance and quality to to the now-obsolete one.  And it still wouldn’t match the hardware of the double sinks in the bathroom.

Gloom and doom.  But my good wife persuaded my skeptical self to look online, and lo and behold, using the serial number of the receipt we had kept on file, we found the set on the Kohler website.  The set itself was marked “Discontinued,” but further clicking revealed that some of the component parts, including the very cartridge we needed, were still available!  So, double-checking the correct item–ceramic, cold water, quarter turn–we ordered the part for something like $23.50 plus a couple of bucks to ship.  Even if it turned out to be the wrong part after all, we’d be out very little for having made the effort.

The cartridge quickly arrived, and we called the company to see if we could get a plumber to install it.  Yes, they said, also apologizing that their personnel hadn’t been as persistent as we were, and they could come the next day.

That day was yesterday.  The guy came and tied to install the part.  Bad news: he couldn’t budge the old one.  It was stuck in place.  I even lent him my Liquid Wrench (the odor still lingers in that bathroom).  He went through the options, which sounded grim.  We could cap off the line, so that the water could be on in the house, and wait to weigh our hardware options, or we could order one from the company right then and there, a Moen, that would be the closest stylistically.  They could have it in a day or two.  But he might not be able to get the defective cartridge out without damaging some of the back plumbing.

Then an inspiration.  He removed the decorative ring to give himself a better grip with the wrench, and voila!  The old cartridge budged at last.  The new one did fit, too.  Twenty minutes later he was done.  Since labor is free under the terms of our contract, we now have a functional shower in the guest bathroom, whose hardware matches the rest of the room.  And it cost less that $26 out of pocket.  Now that’s an outcome worth waiting for!

©Arnold J.Bradford, 2016.

Happy New Year, Everybody

new year wish

Soaring into the New Year

While running errands a few days back, I noticed how warm, heartfelt, and sincere every clerk and fellow shopper was in wishing me and one another “Happy New Year.” I felt the same easy warmth in replying. On reflection, I think the feeling came from the basic sincerity, universality, and specificity of the sentiment.

These qualities set the wish apart from the carefully phrased and cautiously offered greetings of the previous six weeks. If I say “Happy Thanksgiving” am I unintentionally dissing Indigenous Peoples or supporting colonialist arrogance? If I say “Merry Christmas” am I offending non-Christians, even some I know who would be even more offended not to be in on the invitations to a Christmas party? If I say “Happy Holidays” am I diffusing my sentiments in a general way that does not acknowledge the special qualities that Hanukkah, Milad un Nabi, Winter Solstice, or Kwanzaa may have for the individual I am greeting? Am I relegating their holy days or their culture to the cumulative “other”? The Latin adjective barbarus, -a, -um, after all, is translated “foreign, strange, or odd.” The earlier Greek form “barbaroi” means literally “bearded ones,” referring primarily to the Greeks’ foreign enemy the Persians, who were fully bearded while Greeks were clean-shaven or had neatly trimmed beards. Essentially the term connoted “not like us,” and therefore “beneath us.” Or, even worse, am I denying my own culture and faith by not affirming that the reason that I am merry or happy (or tired or overscheduled or harassed) is that I am a Christian rejoicing in the nativity of my savior?

Why shouldn’t I be able to affirm that specific feeling, even to those who do not share my faith? Has America, a nation of people of different heritages, ethnicities, and cultures, become so socially Balkanized that each of us takes offense at any affirmation of a different set of traditions, at any joy based on something other than what makes us joyful? So often of late I sense that anger and resentment, rather than kindness and supportiveness, control our reactions to one another.

I hope we as a culture can turn that around in 2016. As we begin on common ground, let’s unite in truly, deeply wishing one another joy, elation, and contentment in a year that almost has to be better than 2015. Happy New Year, everybody!

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016