Friday, April 12, 2019

Bomb Cyclone

I’m sitting here, looking out the front window. A very light snow is drifting down on what could pass for a scene out of Hitchcock’s classic The Birds. The trees across the street that had just started budding out five days ago are covered with snow and ice, but alive with robins. Robins who appear to be confused, uncomfortable and looking for an excuse to turn carnivorous.

It’s the 12th of April for Pete’s sake! Robins should be singing loudly in sunny skies with temperatures pushing 60 degrees (roughly 16 degrees for Celsius fans). Not huddling in ice crusted limbs, mumbling bitterly while gazing out over 18 inches of snow on the ground in 25 degrees (again, minus 4 for Celsius). This is the aftermath of what the Nasty Weather Service dubbed a “bomb cyclone.” I don’t know if the NWS actually coined that term, or somebody in the media decided it sounded better than “really big-assed storm with lots of wind and snow,” but nonetheless here we are in the wake of such an event.

Bombed cyclone preparation?
There was plenty of warning about the impending apocalypse. Weather reports let everyone know well in advance something nasty was about to descend. There was plenty of warning to prepare: stock up on food items, Jack Daniel's, batteries, wine, etc. and more wine. It was a drill we had just completed less than a month ago. This latest storm will, hopefully, be the culmination of an “unusual winter.”

Unusual. That is the term most of the locals have used when I’ve asked about this year’s winter. (Actually, there were other terms used that were vastly more accurate, not only in the physical description but also in emotional release. However, those terms are not suitable for this generally PG-rated blog.) This winter has provided more than double the usual snowfall and temperatures that have consistently been below normal since late December. February was the third coldest on record – being beaten out by 1899 and 1936.

Okay, it’s been a tough winter by normal South Dakota standards. So what? To be truthful, this winter, here in Rapid City, has not been that exceptionally brutal compared to many experienced in Alaska. And that is the real issue for me because I don’t know my neighbors that well.

When we moved here and began meeting people, the usual questions and answers ensued.

“Where did you move from?”

“We moved up from New Mexico.”

That answer was normally met with a confused look and the second question. “Did you move here for work?”

“No, we’re retired.”

At this point, the confused look was exchanged for one of total disbelief. “And you moved to South Dakota? You do realize we have winter up here, right?”

“Well, that’s one of the reasons we moved here, for a little winter. See, before we were in New Mexico, we lived in Alaska for 35 years. We discovered we really missed winter.”

Their look of total disbelief was exchanged for one of deep concern for our mental health before walking off shaking their heads.

Rapid City witch trial of 2019
As winter progressed, particularly in February, the demeanor of people shifted from the South Dakota friendly and cheerful toward more of a Russianesque type; not unfriendly, but more fatalistic. “Hello, comrade! So good to see you as we all prepare to freeze to death.”

I also noticed our introductory conversations began to elicit looks of suspicion instead of disbelief or concern. Although never verbalized, when we uttered the words “missed winter” people seemed to view us in a different light; one that I imagine was common during the Salem witch trials. 

The bomb cyclone of March was heralded as the dying gasp of Old Man Winter. Following in its wake a spate of nice weather followed, providing days of sun and above normal temperatures. The improvement in moods and outlook were palpable. Life was wonderful, and neighbors went back to waving at us cheerfully. Then came bomb cyclone number two. Roads closed, schools closed, businesses shut down and the community collectively hunkered down to ride it out, scowling.

A scant 4 days after sunny and 70 degrees
 In truth, I’m grateful for the high winds that accompanied this last bout of winter blast. I am certain they kept blowing out the fires under the kettles of tar and scattered the feathers. I just hope the sunny, quiet weather predicted to arrive this weekend materializes. I would genuinely hate to move again.

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