When The Weather Breaks

Yesterday winter’s hard stranglehold was finally broken. The temperature shot up to the mid-50s, we saw a huge snow melt that finally freed the streets and sidewalks from most of the snow and ice accumulation, and we got some very warm sunshine in the late afternoon. With patches of grass emerging after weeks of snow cover and our bushes showing their first, faint signs of green buds, it was hard not to feel a surge of optimism that spring might be not far away, after all.

The days when the weather breaks are special days, and I sat on our back porch to try to take it all in. We’ll still have some tough weather, of course, and some more snow and cold temperatures, but for now we’ll feel good that the worst of the winter may be behind us.

Walk/Don’t Walk

According to the trusty weather app, the prolonged frigid spell that has had Columbus in its icy grip is finally supposed to break this week. Today, for example, the temperature is supposed to briefly reach a point above freezing for the first time in weeks.

But this is no time to let down your guard, because we’re now entering the most treacherous period of all: when the snow and ice will melt, somewhat, during the day, but then freeze again overnight. The result of the melt/refreeze/melt/refreeze process is sidewalks that look like this one that I encountered on Third Street, on my way back from my morning walk around Schiller Park today. Try to navigate the icy patches, and you’re basically cruising for a (rear end) bruising in a fall. A good rule of thumb is to avoid stepping on any translucent area, and stick instead to the packed snow-covered segments. But soon, thanks to the melting and freezing, there won’t be any of those safety zones, and pedestrians will have to entrust their fates to the capricious whimsy of the winter gods.

If all of this weren’t difficult enough for the walkers among us, the weather app reports that we’re supposed to get freezing rain tomorrow. The mind reels at what a dose of freezing rain will do to patches like the one shown above.

Fortunately, the temperature is supposed to shoot up to around 50 degrees on Wednesday, which should take care of most of the ice. It can’t get here soon enough.

Jack Frost’s Beard

Today is one of those days where it is just warm enough for snow to melt, but still cold enough that that melted snow isn’t going to get far before turning into ice. It’s ideal icicle weather, and we’ve got some impressive ones around German Village, including this specimen that formed on a bush on City Park.

My grandmother called these multi-icicle creations “Jack Frost’s beard,” in recognition of that wintry sprite. According to Grandma, the impish Mr. Frost not only nipped at your nose on cold mornings, he also was responsible for the icy etchings on windows that formed on super-cold days.

Snow Blow

On Game Of Thrones, the legendary saying of the Stark clan is: “Winter is coming.” In Columbus, winter isn’t coming: it’s here, in full force.

This central Ohio winter has been highly unusual by weather standards. There have been prolonged bouts with cold weather and lots of snow, without much melt. We got more snow last night and it is supposed to snow again this morning, and the snow mounds are really starting to pile up. And a glance at the cellphone weather app advises that there is no apparent relief in sight: temperatures are supposed to stay well below freezing as far as the app predicts, and there are multiple days with more snow in the forecast.

This is weird weather for Columbus. Normally we’ll get a few significant snowfalls and some cold days at different points during the winter, but with breaks of temperatures in the 40s when the snow melts. During this recent cold snap, we haven’t had any of those warm days to clear the streets and sidewalks. So the snow continues to pile up, snow shovels are getting more use than ever before, progressive layers of ice have sheathed the streets and the sidewalks, and the overall feel is a lot more like Winterfell than Columbus.

If you’re a cockeyed optimist trying to find a positive in all of this, here’s one: with many people continuing to work remotely, at least there are fewer people commuting to work in the morning and fewer traffic jams caused by snowy driving conditions. It’s a lot easier to find the negatives. If you’re a kid who is already taking remote classes, you’re not actually getting the benefit of those treasured snow days. And if you’re somebody who is heartily sick and tired of being cooped up in your house and are itching to get out and at least get some fresh air, the snow and the treacherous footing and driving conditions just accentuate that stifling shut-in and housebound feeling.

We’ve all had to endure a lot during this seemingly unending COVID period. A colder and snowier winter than normal just adds to the list.

Scarfed Up

It’s been cold here recently. So cold, in fact, that some Good Samaritan put a colorful scarf around the neck of the seated lady statue in the Peace Park at St. Mary’s church in our neighborhood.

Don’t be surprised if the statue gets some more donated winter garb this week, because the temperature is supposed to drop even farther in the next few days. February tends to be the bleakest month of the winter, but it is also frequently the coldest. It’s the month where you root around in your closet for the fur-lined Mad Bomber hat that would be too hot to wear when the temperature is in the 20s, and the ugly, bulky, scratchy scarves knitted for you years ago by your great aunt Gertrude, and every other layer you can add to protect against the chill. In February, fashion goes out the window. For the hardy Midwesterner, it’s all about holding on to every scrap of warmth and covering as much exposed skin as possible.

Bundle up, folks! We’re heading down to the teens and single digits.

The Shovelton Workout

We got a lot of snow overnight — by Columbus standards, at least — and walking was impracticable, so this morning’s exercise consisted of shoveling our front steps, the sidewalk, and the brick walkway to our backyard.

I’d be in much better shape if I had to shovel snow every day, although I’m certainly glad I don’t need to do so. It involves just about every form of exercise you can think of — bending, scraping, lifting, and then turning to hurl the snow from the shovel to your snow mound. And at our house you get your steps in, too, because there is only one plausible snow mound area and you end up lifting the snow on the shovel and carefully carrying it to that one accumulation point to be tossed onto the pile.

Why hasn’t somebody invented an exercise device that approximates shoveling snow? You could call it the Shovelton. Workout participants would don their winter coats, hats, and gloves, grab the Shovelton shovel, and shovel away. The screen could add urgency by showing an approaching garbage truck, requiring you to quickly clear a path to roll out your recycling bin, and you could up your workout by choosing the “plowed street” option, in which the snowplow has deposited huge mounds of snow and cinders that block your sidewalk and driveway and must be cleared away so you can get to work on time.

Cold Day Brunch

I associate wet, sloppy days with . . . pancakes. Back in the day, on Sundays in the winter, the Webners would eat pancakes by the dozen, and I was responsible for preparing the stacks of flapjacks on an electric grill. It was an awesome responsibility for a callow youth, but I enjoyed flicking water onto the grill and hearing it sizzle to make sure the surface was the right temperature, carefully spooning the pancake mixture out to maximize the number of pancakes that could be cooked at one time, watching the pancake batter bubble, and then using the spatula to deftly flip the pancakes over without having one pancake fall onto another. The electric grill is long gone, but I still enjoy the whole pancake process.

Today’s pancakes were served with sausage and scrambled eggs, and they really hit the spot. Now, it’s time to work off those calories by sinking onto the couch and binge-watching TV for the rest of the day.

A Photo’s Worth Of Sunshine

One of Rodney Dangerfield’s memorable lines went that his family was so poor that for his tenth birthday his Dad showed Rodney a picture of a birthday cake. Rodney then tugged at his tie and admitted that he then spent the whole day trying to blow out the candles.

Like Rodney, I think a photo can make a difference. So in the midst of this latest Columbus winter, when the days are unrelentingly bleak and drab and cloud-covered and cold and dank, I’m going to look at this photograph I took last summer in Maine when we were on a boat ride leaving North Haven on a brilliantly sunny, warm day — and I’m going to remember that the winter will end one of these days, the temperatures will rise, and the sun will shine brightly again. Photographs can really be helpful in that way.

Just looking at this picture brings a smile to my face and retrieves a pleasant memory of a fun summer day and how that brilliant sunshine felt against my face. I hope it works for you, too. And if it doesn’t, consider going through those photos on your cell phone and finding a photo from a summer’s day that does.

The Winter Warmer

The weather took a foul turn yesterday, even by the dismal, gray standards of a Columbus winter. We got freezing rain in the morning that turned the brick sidewalks of German Village into a treacherous skating rink, and then more freezing rain mixed with sleet as the day progressed.

When one must endure such a cold, dreary day, it helps to turn to old favorites in the hot nourishment category. So, last night I prepared grilled cheese sandwiches and Campbell’s tomato soup made with whole milk for us. I grilled the sandwiches on our big skillet, lightly buttering some flax bread to get a good crust and using Kraft American cheese for maximum meltiness. (Technically, the classic version of grilled cheese sandwiches requires Wonder Bread, but I haven’t consumed a slice of Wonder Bread since, like, 1974.)

The soup was piping hot and deliciously creamy, the grilled cheese had a good crunch and great gooiness, and I cut the sandwich diagonally to facilitate the required dipping of the sandwich halves into the soup — because even though the soup and sandwich were each tasty on their own, they only achieve maximum home cooking greatness when the soup directly infuses the crunchy bread and melted cheese. The combination was washed down with a glass of milk, and it definitely hit the spot on a gray winter’s day.

After eating my soup and sandwich and thinking about the countless grilled cheese and tomato soup family meals we enjoyed at our kitchen table when I was a kid, I felt better. Warmer, too.

The White Stuff

Yesterday we got hit with our first winter storm of the season. It started as rain, but as the termperature dropped it turned into a wet, heavy snow. After the ground cooled, the snow started to stick, and this morning when I looked outside I found that everything was coated in this cold, slippery, white stuff.

Snow is weird. You can live your entire life in the Midwest, and experience the inevitable snowy periods every winter, but the first snowfall of the winter is always kind of a shock. It’s as if the brain uses the warm months to try to wipe out the memory of snow, and erase all of the snow-related reflexes that people acquire during the snowy months — like the kind of duck-footed walk you develop to try to minimize the risk of slipping on snow-covered sidewalks, or the downcast tilt of your head as you walk into the teeth of a snowstorm, or the best personal layering and bundling techniques to shield yourself against the chill.

And don’t even mention the notion of driving in the snow for the first time after months of a snow-free existence. The fact that people have forgetten everything they learned last winter and drive like idiots when the first flakes fall is a perennial — and accurate — complaint here in the Midwest. The only good thing to say about the coronavirus is that, with more people working from home and therefore commuting less, the number of fender-benders is likely to be dramatically reduced this year.

Of course, the fundamental reality of the first snowfall is that the warm weather days are gone for now, and Old Man Winter is here in earnest. With the calendar page turning to December today, we should have realized that, but the snowfall gives us a tangible, physical reminder that we’re in for three months of cold, frozen slop, and we’d better brace ourselves and get used to the idea.

Looking Colder Than It Feels

St. Mary Catholic Church in German Village installed a new “Peace Garden” area along Third Street when it underwent renovation work recently.  Among the items in the Peace Garden is a statue of a seated lady waiting patiently on a bench.  According to the plaque at her feet, it’s a representation of Mrs. Plank, who I suspect was a faithful member of the congregation.

I pass St. Mary every morning on my walk, and I really like the Peace Garden and the statue — except on winter days when it snows.  Because when it snows, as it has for the past few days, the placid Mrs. Plank becomes utterly snow-covered, and seeing her in that condition always makes the snowy day feel a few degrees colder.  Brrrr!  I want to help Mrs. Plank up so she could shed that blanket of snow, brush off her snowbound pillbox hat, and go someplace warm.  Heck, I’d even spring for a cup of coffee at the Starbuck’s next door.

Hitting The Double Nickel

There’s a reason the nuns in The Sound Of Music sang that Maria was “unpredictable as weather.” The only thing predictable about Midwestern winters is that they are gray, wet, and cold — but the precise combination of those qualities varies.

Every once in a while, however, the fates align and a flukey day happens — like today. Sunny, and a high of 55? It’s a day to sit outside and bank some of that warmth and sunshine before tomorrow’s gray chill closes in.

Indoor Day

Today will be a quintessential indoor day. It’s 33 degrees outside, freezing rain has coated the steps and trees and bushes in the backyard, like the one shown above, in a coat of wet, dripping ice, and a hard rain is still pelting down under flat gray skies — and is supposed to continue all day. It’s the kind of day when walking on frozen brick is especially treacherous, when an umbrella will quickly become heavy with ice, and you’re likely to find yourself taking an unwelcome pratfall that leaves you bruised and soaked.

So why risk the elements? Why not accept nature’s wintry verdict, do a few chores inside, and find a good book to read or a TV show to binge watch? Sometimes surviving the bleakness of winter requires acceptance — and savvy avoidance.

Thin-Blooded Again

By the end of last winter, I was a hardened Winter Warrior.  With my hat and coat and scarf and gloves and my flinty exterior, I could walk through sub-zero temperatures and polar breezes without flinching.  In fact, I found the chill bracing.

blood-circulation-signsNow, an all-too-brief spring and summer and autumn later, I find that I’m once again a candy ass who shivers when walking out into temperatures in the teens and feels like all color has been blanched from my face by a brisk wind.  It’s kind of embarrassing.

My grandmother would say that I’ve become thin-blooded.  It’s what she said about people who complained about the cold temperatures and snow and weren’t ready to brave the Midwestern winters.

Of course, blood is blood.  Any scientist would tell you that it doesn’t become thicker during the harsh winter and thinner when the thermometer hits the 70s and 80s.  But I always think of the thin blood concept when the first arctic blast hits the Midwest.  It’s time to get out in the frosty air and thicken that blood up to prepare for the winter to come.

It Could Have Been Worse

According to the weather app on my phone, it’s 56 degrees outside right now, and the temperature today is supposed to hit 70 degrees.  56 degrees, in itself, is like a tropical heat wave, but . . . 70 degrees!  Sure, it’s supposed to rain during the day, but still . . . 70 degrees!  After the long, dark, dank, cold winter we’ve endured in the Midwest, outdoor temperatures that will actually feel warm seem so wildly improbable they can scarcely be imagined.

I’ve written before about the lousy winter weather, and those of us in the Midwest have been feeling pretty sorry for ourselves about it.  And, in fairness, it has been an exceptionally crappy, frigid, snowy winter, so there has been cause for the muttering.  But I do want to note that, as bad as it has been, it could have been worse.  Much worse.

d2e991b7-2bbf-4062-a886-47c3386c060d-02172019_giant_springs_weather_art-bConsider Great Falls, Montana.

Our friends in Big Sky country have been through one of the coldest, most brutal continuous stretches of weather in recorded American history.  As a slack-jawed article in the Washington Post recently recounted, in many parts of Montana temperatures for the entire month of February averaged — averaged — 27 to 28 degrees below normal .  That’s hard to even conceive, and it is the most extreme, extended variance from normal temperatures seen in the lower 48 states in 50 years.  And March began with temperatures going even lower.

Great Falls, Montana, was in the heart of the bone-chilling zone.  The Post article notes that, in that city:  “The mercury didn’t rise above zero on 11 days and dropped to zero or below on 24 nights. Only the first day of the month topped freezing. Its average February temperature finished 27.5 degrees below normal.”

“The punishing and unrelenting cold continued into March. On March 3, the low temperature tanked to a bone-chilling minus-32 in Great Falls. Combined with a high of minus-8, the day finished a whopping 50 degrees below normal. The city concluded its longest stretch on record below freezing on March 7.”

So sure, our weather sucked this winter — but the frozen souls in Great Falls had it much, much worse.  Imagine a March day where temperatures were 50 degrees below normal, or a nearly two-week stretch where the temperature didn’t rise above zero, even once.

It will make hitting 70 today all the sweeter.