Revolving Roar

Whenever I talk about Colorado’s extreme winter weather, I tend to speak in glass-half-full generalities. “We need the moisture”, I say, or, “we’re making up for the dry winter we had last year”. Earlier this season I got nods of agreement when I said things like that. Then the nods stopped, because the avalanches began. Colorado has so much snow in the high country this year we’re triggering “intentional” avalanches, so the skiers don’t get buried.  But when yesterday arrived – and with it the first “bomb cyclone” storm in decades – I’ll admit; my glass edged precariously close to half-empty.

Haven’t heard of a “bomb cyclone”?  Don’t fret; neither had I until yesterday.  Bomb cyclones are roguish tropical hurricanes.  They choose the wrong season and they land in the wrong location.  Their formal name is even more ominous: explosive cyclogenesis or bombogenesis.  Bomb cyclones are the perfect storm of rapidly-dropping air pressure, causing rapidly-increasing wind speeds, combined with a significant moisture source.  BOOM!  That was Colorado’s weather in a nutshell yesterday.

From the front line (or front window), I can tell you bomb cyclones are best left to their own devices.  Stay inside, batten down the hatches, and brace yourself until all is calm again.  Several Coloradans chose not to heed that advice, and the result was headlines news last night.  1,100 cars stuck on the roads in our county alone.  Roofs ripped off buildings.  Trees uprooted.  One really stupid human rescued from a popular hiking trail.  You’d think we were Kansas with the word “cyclone” to our vocabulary.  Wait – come to think of it – we were Kansas yesterday.  Our bomb cyclone settled squarely over the Sunflower State, rotating its very bad side effects back around to the Centennial State.

Local media called yesterday’s weather “a storm of historic proportions”.  By some statistics they were correct.  The air pressure was the lowest on record for Colorado.  Two cities to the south of us received record rainfall for the 24-hour period.  More miles of state highway were closed than ever before.  200,000 residents in the Denver area lost power.  It was like being dropped into the New York City of the movie, “The Day After Tomorrow”.

Here on the ranch, the bomb cyclone delivered a mixed blessing.  On the one hand, our power never went out, even though many of the neighborhoods around us lost theirs.  Our gas went out, but not really because (courtesy of a Google search) I discovered our furnace intake/exhaust pipes were blocked with snow and ice.  On the other hand, we now have a couple of snow drifts seemingly as high as the Rockies.  We also have as much snow inside our barn as immediately outside its doors.  The horses are not happy.

Glass-half-full again: it could be worse.  For perspective, we’ve had several more impactful storms in our twenty-five years of Colorado living.  One dumped enough snow to block our street for a week.  Another knocked out the power for three days.  Yet another put a mountain of snow on our back deck, eventually melting into enough water to flood our basement.  If you choose Colorado, you accept the unpredictability of the weather, as well as its consequences.  Wildfires in the summer.  Snowstorms in the winter.  Enough wind to make both even worse.  Coloradans love the outdoors, but we know the adventures that come with the territory.  Glass-half-full or glass-half-empty.

By the way, our bomb cyclone is spinning off to the east now, just as intense.  The states in the Midwest should keep an eye out, oh, around “the day after tomorrow”.   So long, sweetheart – we won’t miss ya.

sensational

The weather is a popular topic this time of year in Colorado.  Snow and frigid temperatures are the norm so everyone like to guess “how many inches of accumulation” or “how many degrees below zero with wind chill” we’ll see with a given storm.  If the snow or the low temps last long enough our moods are affected by what we call “snow fatigue”.  Summer cannot come soon enough.

photo - sensational

Winter weather is a favorite headline on the local news as well.  Last week Colorado had its first major snowstorm of the season and the networks went bananas.  They love to increase your blood pressure with labels like “Breaking News!” and “First Alert Forecast!”  Fully half the stories covered in thirty minutes of news this time of year have to do with the weather.  Which leads me to the following annoying conclusion: the news over-reports the weather.  Their hype would have you believe we’ve never seen the white stuff in Colorado before.  Their forecasts are often more extreme than what Mother Nature delivers.  And the “news” stories they attach to the forecast seem designed to increase worry and stress levels.  This is a perfect example of sensational reporting.

My favorite news stories about the weather involve on-the-spot reporters.  Last week these brave souls went to the grocery stores the night before the storm to see how quickly the shelves were being cleared.  You’d have thought the world was coming to an end.  It was all delivered with a sense of “better get your supplies now”, as if Colorado was about to enter the next Ice Age.  In the end, barely 36 hours later, there was less than a foot of snow and plenty of bread and milk left on the shelves.  I guess we got lucky – again.

I find the weather news entertaining when some junior reporter is elected to stand out on the road to talk about accumulated snowfall.  I get to sit in my pajamas in front of the fireplace at ten at night while this person is huddled on my television screen in several layers of clothing, alone on some dark highway.  To add insult to injury, our news channel leads the story with a split-screen between this reporter and the in-studio weather guy.  And they always go to the in-studio weather guy first.  I can never fully concentrate on his forecast because I’m thinking about Junior out there in the snow and sub-zero temps, waiting for the cue to deliver his little two-minute report.  When they finally get to him his speech is a little slurred and his teeth are chattering and you wonder if his hat or microphone will blow away before he’s done talking.

Admittedly, a good portion of our weather reports are useful.  Forecasters in these parts are good at what they do, especially considering the Rocky Mountains just to the west of us can alter weather patterns on a dime.  There have been times when the forecast calls for snow to start at 2pm, and darned if the snow doesn’t actually start at 2pm.  Or they’ll predict a wind chill temperature within a few degrees of actual.  Now that’s what I call sensational (to use the secondary definition of the word!)