Well, That Wasn’t Forecast

Thundersleet, freezing rain, snow. All at the same time. At 0200 CDT.

The excessive weather was, in my opinion, excessive. After all, the normal pattern is for rain to change to freezing rain or a mix, then all snow as the cold air nose wedges in and thickens sufficiently to keep the snow frozen from cloud all the way to surface. That’s what all the textbooks show, and what the test questions want.

Alas that High Plains reality never read the textbooks.

The High Plains of Texas and Oklahoma are currently blanketed with thick clouds as waves of snow, sleet, freezing rain, cold rain, and “all of the above” drift through as bits of energy break off of a low pressure system. The meteorological craziness is thanks to three air-masses, one cool, one well below freezing, and a thin warm layer that advances and retreats from the south-south-east.

How thick the cold-air layer vs. the warm-air layer is determines what falls to the ground. This is what makes freezing rain so tricky to deal with, especially if you are flying anything weaker than a fighter-jet with “hot” wings*. How thick is the layer of freezing rain? Can you climb through it before you lose so much lift that you turn into an expensive brick? Most of the time, the answer is “no, and we’re not going to try, either.” Alas, I’m on the ground under the stuff, so I get to endure and grumble.

The forecast on Sunday was for snow and sleet (sneet) for central areas, snow to the west and north, and freezing rain to the east. Indeed, Oklahoma got freezing rain, and NM got lovely snow. I got woken up at 0200 on Monday to thunder, sleet, snow, and freezing rain. I will spare you my initial reaction, since I try to keep this place PG-13, but “Oh no, not freezing rain” was part of it.**

The morning stayed very, very dark. It wasn’t quite creepy dark, but the clouds certainly blocked the light of the sun.

Day Job started two hours late (yeah!) on Monday. The road condition even then varied from sporting to “good grief!” Snow I can deal with, but ice-snow glaze skating rink roads? I don’t have chains for the truck. I put it in four, assumed that Newton was out to get me, and averaged a blistering 25 MPH. The posted limits ranged from 35 to 50. Lane markings? Sand on road? Hah! Happily, with two exceptions, everyone else also erred on the side of caution, and the exception was given a very wide berth indeed.

By the time I left Day Job, the roads had gotten worse, because of the pot-holes in the ice. The city had sanded, but not everywhere, and the rough, slick ride made things a touch sporting still. The drug store was not overpopulated, and signs proclaimed early closing. The cold played a role, since it was 20 F with a wind chill of 4 F. I got home, parked the truck, and hunkered down. The clouds thinned enough that I almost, sort of, considered putting on my dark glasses, but opted not to.

The “weather frogs” are calling for snow, or sleet, or freezing rain, or a mix, maybe some plain rain on Thursday or maybe not, and cold until Thursday, or longer. Reading the forecast discussion is a bit like some horoscopes. The only thing missing is “if the waxing moon rises at the cusp of Virgo while the wind comes from the House of the Bear, then expect snow. If from the House of Scorpio, expect sleet.”

There will be weather. Beyond that? Who knows.

*Some jets can vent bleed air from the engines through the wings, heating the metal so that ice doesn’t form. This requires large engines, or small but powerful engines. Even with “hot” wings, enough ice can build up on the rest of the plane to increase mass to the point that weight and balance become big problems.

**I really did have an “I survived the ’07 ice storm” tee-shirt. It wore out. I don’t want another one, thank you. I like heat and light in my abode. A week without power was no fun, and we were lucky. There were some parts of Arkansas and Oklahoma that were six weeks without power.

12 thoughts on “Well, That Wasn’t Forecast

  1. Oh, so our weekend extra cold up in Idaho went off to see you, and now we have normal cold!

    The one bright side of world coated in ice is that generally it doesn’t burn. .7″ rain Saturday followed by 7 overnight to Sunday lead to a general “Thank God, fire season’s over.” I think I even heard the family atheist join in! We’d had a whole .13″ since July (yeah, we’re far enough from the official that we have a rain gauge) but in June we had 3.87″ and there is so much dead grass.

    For the folks in wetter parts, the average precipitation is normal, but getting it all clumped in one month is bad.

    Did I ever mention I love your weather posts? Because I do.

    • Thanks! Weather is one of those things I can get wound up about, because of being in aviation for so long, as well as growing up and living in agricultural areas all my life.

      We’ve been very dry since May, with lots of lush, tall, dead grass. The volunteer fire crews and state forestry fire-fighters have been too busy this fall. This moisture will help, but we need rain. They are now thinking we might get snow overnight tonight, but . . . that’s not what the radar and satellite photos are suggesting. We’ll see.

  2. I watched a not-quite-southern city try to deal with snow and freezing rain. It wasn’t pretty. They were out early with calcium chloride solution, and then lots of rock salt, but =but they never used sand=. Three inches of freezing drizzle came down over 12 hours and all those wonderful ions got washed away down the storm drains. When you’ve got continuing wet precip, YOU NEED SAND in the mix.
    Triple, bold exclamation point with cheerleaders. Yes, you’ll have to scoop it out of your catch basins later. That’s what they’re for.

    Anyhow, stay warm and stay safe.

    • Even some northern cities have trouble dealing with freezing rain. Too many people driving SUVs who don’t know that “four-wheel drive” does NOT necessarily mean “four-wheel stop.”

  3. Makes note to self; Nov 1, it’s legal to drive with studded snow tires. Time to put one of the Subies in studs. (Westside Oregon people gripe at Eastsiders’ use of studs, but road maintenance is a lot cheaper than funerals. I have one stretch through National Forest land that regularly gets iced, and stays that way for days at a time. And that’s in a dry year.) La Nina years tend to be dry in the Pac NW, and we’ve been bone dry all summer. IIRC, October has has 0.060″ of rain, and September wasn’t much better. It’s been cool enough that the state fire gnomes have us down to “Moderate”, but we’re still in fire season.

    Our county has the plow trucks loaded with cinders, while the state adds calcium chloride brine to the mix in high terrain. The odd added rock makes the glass shops quite happy; windshield repair/replacement is a steady job. Only lost 1 windshield over 16 winters, on a road where I *had* to travel on that particular day. Sign.

  4. You’re getting it a bit worse than we are and you can KEEP it… No thundersnow down here yet… Re flying, we had Goodyear boots on the Connie. Weird to watch the leading edge of the wing ‘pulse’ and chucks of ice fly off in sequence.

    • The King Airs and Senecas had boots. They were “get out of ice” not “continue on in ice” equipment. Ditto the hot props (electric tape) and windshield.

  5. In about 1977 or so, in southern Indiana where I grew up, we had a December snow storm that dumped about a foot of snow, then it warmed up and rained on top of the snow — not enough to melt it, just enough to make it soggy on top — then the Canadian air blast came through and froze that top mushy layer into about an inch of solid ice on top of 11 inches of snow. And I think that’s also the storm where the coal miners went on strike.

    I was in high school, which closed first due to the weather, then extended it due to the strike. For six weeks IIRC. Being a male teen I had a great time sledding on the ice, hiking around in the cold, walking over to friends’ houses for parties, etc. Winter time was a blast!

    Once I got into college, also in southern Indiana, I started getting a more adult view. I really grew to detest tramping to class in a mixture of snow mush, sand, salt, ice, cold, wearing long handles and parkas and gloves and scarves and having to put it all on and off again as I went to various classes. arrrgh.

    Ever since I have hated cold weather. Even the short little bouts we get down here in the San Antonio area make me grumble and curse. I am still outraged that on Monday I had to put my jacket on for the first time since….February.

    • When I worked in the Midwest, snow and cold were fun to OK through February. Then they became excessive. The time I had to chip-dig-tunnel-chip-dig 150′ of fuel hose out from under snow and ice layers because SOMEONE had left the thing out on Friday instead of draping it over the fuel pump . . . soured me on snow and ice. The boss couldn’t plow until the hose was freed and moved out of the way. The responsible party “had more important things to do.” Grrrrr.

  6. Meanwhile, the Gulf Coast gets to play “which way will it go” each time a tropical low gets its Coriolis on. Fortunately, Zeta looks to be threading the needle between Lake Charles (already clobbered twice this year) and the parts of west Florida and east-ish Alabama that were blasted by Sally. Unfortunately, that takes Zeta right over New Orleans. Fortunately, Zeta is relatively weak and moving fast. Unfortunately, hurricanes aren’t entirely predictable …

  7. Any excess water would be welcome if someone could just express-mail it to the West Coast. California has had more than enough fires in October — we don’t need any more in November, thankyouverymuch.

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