Snow Rollers

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I can’t help but shake my head when I hear of people in this country who continue to deny that our climate is changing. Can it be that they’re simply not paying attention to the most observant of weathermen, Luke Out DaWinda? (I’ve always loved the puns in the credits at the close of the weekly Car Talk radio show.)

Although we record weather data continuously on a weather station here at the house, it doesn’t take a scientist’s discipline to understand that weather patterns have changed quite dramatically over the past few decades. Among the most notable and fearsome forces in the “new normal” is the wind. It seems that each year brings an increase in both the frequency and the ferocity of the wind storms that bear down on northern New England. To say that the trend is “alarming” is understated.

Wild swings in January and February weather have become common in recent years. The accompanying winter wind storms have been fierce. Twice in the past month and a half we’ve seen the barometric pressure drop well below both Tropical Storm Irene and “Superstorm” Sandy.

Marion will not sleep upstairs during a high wind event (understandable, given that 100-foot tall maples stand about 60 feet from the house). When the blasts are approaching, they sound very much like a train rushing down the mountainside. You can hear the gusts coming well before they hit. We often resort to the sailing terminology, “Puff on in five, four, three . . . ” (called out while watching the gusts move across the water toward the boat).

A couple of weeks ago, following one of our January thaws and accompanying wind storms, we were introduced to a phenomenon we hadn’t seen before. When all was said and done, we went outside to assess the wind damage – fallen tree limbs, mostly – and discovered a bizarre scattering of new snow forms across the meadows. On the hillside above the road it looked almost like an invasion that had been frozen in its tracks.

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Snow rollers, we discovered with a little internet research, are a rare occurrence. To form, they require a combination of an icy base layer topped with a lighter coating of snow that has warmed to the point of being slightly sticky, without being too warm to be too heavy for the wind to pick up. Add a high wind to that combination and the lighter top layer is lifted (peeled) away from the icy layer. The slight stickiness keeps it from blowing away (like in a blizzard), but rather it starts to roll up, not unlike the way in which a cinnamon roll is created on a countertop.

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Beautiful, yet it’s worrisome to think of the force required for creation. (The winds are up again tonight.)