Snowmageddon Stories

by Carl Strang

I’ve grown to like the term “snowmageddon” to describe our recent big winter storm. The fact that we had several days to anticipate its arrival is a tribute to meteorologists’ improved weather forecasting in recent years. Thanks to chaos theory, improved models, and advances in computational power, we have a much better ability to forecast the weather than existed in ancient times (my childhood). One consequence in the present case was the opportunity to build a scary, delicious anticipation of the inescapable coming calamity several days ahead of its arrival. I’ve adopted a humorous tone here, but I also pause as I type to remember that lives were lost.

I have two stories to share, the home story and a limited start to the Mayslake story. I work for an elite organization, the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. We seldom are shaken by flood or storm. However, the wise decision was made to close the preserves on the day of the storm. As a consequence, I stayed home, working on an on-line guide to singing insects that I have begun to draft, and shoveling my driveway in stages.

I started by shoveling a simple path from the front door across the driveway, then from the garage door down to the street. Average snow depth was around 18 inches.

The snow had been pushed by winds that, in the open, hit 50mph and more. It was howling around the house, but I’m sure the surrounding neighborhood reduced the wind speed somewhat. Of course, a consequence of reduced wind speed is snow drifts.

Here you can get a sense of the drifted deposit in my driveway.

My back yard was not as picturesque, just a single drift covering all but the tops of the tall prairie plants in my flowerbeds. Looks like I won’t be grilling for a bit.

The back yard is pretty full. The brats in the freezer will have to wait.

 I got the driveway cleared, just a bit of exercise, so that’s the end of the home story.

Mayslake likewise is deep in snow. A few days before the storm I managed to pull a calf muscle while running, so I haven’t waded out to see the entire preserve. Here was one interesting double drift that formed close to the mansion.

This double drift reminds me of the crescent dunes that form in some sand desert areas.

This snow will help some animals. Many wintering insects benefit from the protection and insulation provided by deep snow. Voles and shrews are less in danger from larger predators as they tunnel beneath the drifts. Some, like raccoons and skunks, simply can wait out the thaw for a while. Others, like deer and winter-active mammals and birds, must cope.

Here a coyote waded through the snow, continuing a hunt made more difficult by the storm. It could be worse: at least the blizzard’s winds packed the snow somewhat.

I was especially interested in how the owls would react. Mayslake’s great horned owls started incubating on January 27, just before the storm hit. I am happy to report that the female seemed unperturbed, and continues to sit the nest.

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