"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Monday, January 25, 2016

Snowmageddon 2016: An Islander's Perspective

My lifetime storm belt:

two tornadoes
one category 4 hurricane
two category 3 hurricanes
two category 2 hurricanes
seven category 1 hurricanes 
12 tropical storms (winds are 39-73 mph; not on the Saffir-Simpson Scale below)

You learn this scale by heart when you live in the tropics.
And you learn to have a hefty respect for wind. Even more so than the ocean. Which is probably why I'm unmoved by any sort of precipitation alone. 24" of rain? Meh. 18" of snow? Whatever. Add winds over 40 mph to that precipitation and that will get a reaction from the islander though.

I have now added a blizzard notch to it! Winter storm Jonas was declared among one of the worst blizzards to hit this region, with historic snowfall...and we survived it!

I initially wasn't worried about Jonas because here in Maryland they like to call any type of snow accumulation a "blizzard." For me, a true blizzard involves wind combined with more than just 3" of white stuff. Schools get closed around here if there's an inch on the ground. Yeah: that's not a blizzard. Per the National Weather Service, a blizzard is:

"A storm which contains large amounts of snow OR blowing snow, with winds in excess of 35 mph and visibilities of less than 1/4 mile for an extended period of time (at least 3 hours)"

And then I started seeing the wind forecasts...my part of Maryland at one point was expecting wind gusts of up to 76 mph. That is no joke, guys. Not when combined with snow. That is a category 1 hurricane. I've had to drive to work in that kind of wind and you can barely see with rain. That kind of wind combined with snow is death. It also means power outages.

The storm was forecast to hit Friday. I went to the grocery store on Wednesday to stock up on a few odds and ends I needed in case we lost power.

US storm culture leaves a lot to be desired, guys.

What does a Puerto Rican buy in preparation for a storm?
- Peanut butter - for sandwiches
- Jelly and/or honey - for sandwiches
- Canned tuna - can make lunch, dinner, or snacks
- Canned chicken - can make lunch, dinner or snacks
- Crackers - for the tuna and chicken
- Fresh fruit - keeps out of the fridge
- Boxed milk - it can keep for 24 hours out of the fridge once opened; keeps for a year or more closed. We used to be able to get powdered milk on the island too, which was even better. Can't find that in MD.
- A multi-purpose lighter - so she can still use the awesome gas stove at home for cooking
- Water
- Cereal - a breakfast you don't need to cook. Can also be eaten as a snack, lunch or dinner.
- Instant coffee
Already had at home: bread, canned soup, homemade chili ready to go, lots of snacks like protein bars, granola bars and nuts

What does the average Marylander apparently buy in preparation for a storm? (As witnessed in other shopping carts and empty shelves at the store. I adore Marylanders, but I was so confused by what I was seeing! It made no sense.)
- All the bread
- All the refrigerated milk
- All the meat

  • Problems with this: meat is awesome if you own a house and can cook it on a grill during the storm. Note: despite all the meat being gone, the charcoal section at the grocery store was fully stocked. Yes, I went and looked because I was curious. So I'm hoping a lot of people in this area have gas stoves. Because anyway, you aren't allowed to cook on a grill on your balcony if you live in an apartment complex or condo. And if you live in an apartment complex and your stove is electric...how do you plan to cook all of that meat if the power goes out?
  • People bought so much bread (there was NO BREAD left in the bread aisle 2 days before the storm!)...but there was still a wide selection of jarred goods like peanut butter, jelly and honey. So...people were going to put cheese and cold cuts on their bread? Good luck with your frozen meat and cheese if you have a power outage and have to put them outside so they don't spoil. Also, no one had thought to buy canned meat either. I had a full selection in that aisle too. What the hell?
  • Refrigerated milk...okay, so with a winter storm you can put your perishables outside in a cooler for them to keep but they are going to freeze promptly when you have high winds and wind chills in the single digits. How do you expect to defrost your milk if your power is out?

Someone explain this to me, please. Because I don't understand. We discussed this at work because none of my coworkers prepares for storms like this either, and none of them could explain it either.

I walked into the liquor store on this day to buy two 6-packs of beer and a bottle of wine and was shocked to realize that there wasn't a soul in the store and they were fully stocked. Where I come from, half the fun of having to be stuck inside during a storm is drinking. Hurricane parties are da bomb.

I walked out of the liquor store shaking my head.

A Puerto Rican's fridge before a storm.
On Friday we had a blizzard watch starting at noon, with the snow supposed to start in the afternoon. Some of my coworkers had been trying to make themselves feel better about the impending storm by downplaying it.

I knew it was no joke when I saw this dawn en route to work:

There is an old seaman's adage that says, "Red at night, sailor's delight. Red in the morning, sailor's warning." Red dawns never lie. They have preceded every major hurricane I have experienced. It's not just about the morning sky being blood-red: the rising sun will be red too. It is a sunrise that looks like the reddest sunset. You can't tell in the photos, but the red of the sky and the sun that rose behind the treeline matched the red of the brake lights on the cars in front of me. That's a true storm dawn. Talk about ominous.

I was really glad then that I had listened to my gut and taken The Beast with me. Will, our Surgery supervisor, was trying to get us all out as soon as Dr. S's appointments for the day were done, which was around noon. Except we ended up having to do an emergency C-section on a pregnant beagle! The surgery started right as the snow was starting to accumulate.

Snow accumulation right before we went into surgery. It had been snowing for an hour here. That's how fast it was coming down.
 My coworker Alexei ran anesthesia while I helped with instruments, with an entire army of people available to help resuscitate the puppies.

Yup, I spent the beginning of the storm watching puppies come into the world.


Alexei transferred mom down to our ICU unit after her surgery while I cleaned and broke down the OR, helped my other coworkers clean up the department, and hightailed it out of there as soon as I could: it was Charles's weekend to work (for newer readers: he is an ER pediatric registered nurse). He had to drive back down to Rockville to check into a hotel so he would be able to work on Saturday and I wanted him to take The Beast.

Did you guys know that ER and ICU workers are EXPECTED to show up to work, regardless of weather conditions? This applies to both the medical and veterinary fields. They are NOT allowed to call out of work because they are snowed in or the wind and rain are dangerous. Most hospitals will work with you to make sure you can make it in: my current hospital will get us rooms at the Hilton next door, Charles's current hospital will get them discounts at a nearby hotel (they still have to pay the discounted rate out of pocket though) or they can stay at the hospital itself for free. Because of this, employees that try to call out during the storm may be fired. This means that they have to spend the storm away from their families and loved ones, sometimes worried sick about them and unable to communicate with them due to power outages, lost satellite signal from the storm (no cell phones), or an insanely busy shift where you can't get away for even a minute to make a phone call. Also: in Florida you sign up in advance to be on a hurricane team and get paid double time for weathering an entire storm at your hospital. Both Charles and I were part of the hurricane teams at our respective hospitals. Not necessarily because of the pay, but because hospitals in Florida are better built than apartment complexes and have generators: we were safer at work! (And yes, I was there to help save your pet in the middle of a hurricane if it was needed. Yes, some of us in the veterinary profession are that dedicated!) Here in Maryland you don't get paid extra for working in the middle of a true honest-to-God blizzard, but you are still expected to show up if it's your scheduled day to work.

I've been on both ends of this stick, both as the family member staying at home and the ER/ICU employee. Even when you are being paid double, it is not fun and it is not rewarding and it is monumentally stressful.

So if you ever find yourself in a hospital during a storm, be it veterinary or medical, please take the time to thank the nurses, techs, and doctors that are there for you. Some of them have put their own lives at risk to be there. Be thankful you have them. And for the love of all things holy, ONLY go to the hospital during a storm if you have a TRUE life-threatening emergency! If you do choose to risk life and limb during a major storm to go to the ER for an ear infection or joint pain of 3 months' duration or a fever of 99 degrees, don't you DARE give the hospital staff attitude because you had to wait to be seen for your not-emergency.

End rant.

When I ran out of the building at 4:30 pm, it had only been snowing for three hours but the roads were already lovely. *sarcasm*

Main intersection. That gray stuff isn't the road: it's dirty slush. Lots and lots of slush coating the road.
I especially love idiots that drive in these conditions at 20 mph with their hazards on, forcing others to have to brake. My favorites though are the ones that stop their cars entirely in the middle of the FREAKING HIGHWAY for NO REASON.
I drove the truck in 4WD the entire way and switched to lower gears to slow down. Didn't touch the brakes once. (Thank you for that tip Liz!!!) It was beautifully smooth sailing.
(This Snap was sent once I was safely home.)
Will, Alexei, and Max were still at the hospital finishing up when I left: I'd been allowed to leave earlier because I had the farthest to drive and I was worried about Charles's part of the drive. I called Will when I got on the highway to let them know they needed to get out of there STAT, before things got worse. They were all already on their way out the door. He thanked me for calling with the update.

Near Frederick the roads were much better because it hadn't been snowing as long. I got behind this snow plow that broke the wind for me: I had been driving into a steady wall of wind this entire time. The snow drifted behind the plow, forming a wake very much like what you would see behind a boat in water. Snow never ceases to remind me of the ocean.  More reasons why I love it so much.
Home safe. Love our Beast truck!
Check out the snow: it had only been snowing for an hour in Frederick.
The winds had really been picking up down south, since the storm was moving from south to north, and were starting to be felt at home by the time I parked at our apartment complex. I told Charles he had to head out immediately. He already had everything packed and ready to go. He changed clothes and flew out the door.

I didn't know when I would see him again. I hadn't spent any sort of quality time with him since the previous weekend. This is the second major storm I have had to spend away from him in which he has had to drive in inclement conditions so he can make it to work.

Again, thank your emergency and critical care staff for endangering their own lives so they can take care of yours. Most of the time, they aren't there because they want to be; they are there because they HAVE to be! Be kind to them! You would not believe the crap that the nurses and doctors at Charles's hospital had to put up with from unreasonable patients during this storm!

He called when he arrived at the hotel to let me know he had made it safely. Since he wasn't working Friday night, he would be spending it at the hotel to get quality sleep and Saturday night in a room at the hospital since it was expected to be crazy anyway. (Hence why I didn't go with him.)

He was happy with the hotel but he spent the evening worrying about power outages in Frederick, which was expected to get a total of 3' of snow. Wind forecasts were better than they had originally been, but we were still expecting steady winds of 20-30 mph with gusts of up to 57 mph starting Friday night, with whiteout conditions during the day on Saturday. I had a plan for if the power went out and wasn't really worried about it myself (I spent years avidly educating myself on surviving winter: the decision to move to a place with seasons was not made lightly. I knew what I was getting into), but he was genuinely concerned about me freezing. There was nothing I could say to make him feel better about it. I know what that's like: you never know what a natural disaster is going to be like until after it has passed. You worry about what's going to happen to your loved ones experiencing it no matter how well-prepared they are.

I was worried about him dealing with the crazies: his hospital also has a psych ER and he sometimes covers in that part of it. One nurse was attacked by a psych patient and completely lost use of one arm: she is on disability. Charles has been attacked by patients before. They have had patients walk into the hospital armed with guns and knives. One man had a katana disguised as a walking cane. You heard that right. It is a known fact that big barometric pressure changes, especially combined with the full moon we had this week, make psych problems all that worse.

In the early evening, Will texted the team to make sure we had all made it home safely.

Seriously, what supervisor does that? He is amazing. And it's the reason why we all bend over backwards for him as a team: because he does the same for us.

And so I hunkered down for the storm alone. We have an awesome gas fireplace that I blasted for a while in the living room while watching Nurse Jackie.

I had chili and beer for dinner and went to bed ridiculously early.

Snow accumulation outside in the evening before I went to bed. The wind was blowing the treetops here.
I woke up at 4:00 am from the migraine induced by the barometric pressure change that accompanies this type of storm. I didn't know about this until moving here: I can pretty much predict snow because of the monumental headaches I get right before it starts. I used to get headaches before hurricanes but not like this.

I realized I could hear the wind howling outside and peeked out the windows to see this:

Snow accumulation in the morning when I woke up.
This wasn't a particularly fun storm: I spent most of the day alternating between the TV, the computer and watching the snow and wind outside. I worked out at home. I played with the cats. I worried about Charles.

Snow at 8:00 am-ish.
Yes, there is a snow drift on our second-floor balcony. That's how much the wind was blowing. You can see it in the background!
Charles called and texted photos when he woke up to go to work. I had stuck our shovel in the backseat of the truck and left it there, figuring he would need it to get out of the hotel parking lot. It was a good thing I did.

View outside Charles's hotel window. He was on the first floor. Yup, that's how high the drifts were.
After he had dug the truck out with our shovel. It took him an hour to remove the snow because the wind kept whipping it back onto the truck.
Hotel parking lot in Rockville at noon.
On his 0.9 mile drive to work from the hotel. It took him AN HOUR to drive 0.9 mile!!
This is why he had to stay at the hotel: because otherwise he would have had to drive through these conditions for 25 miles. He never would have made it.
Safely parked at work. They have a covered parking lot there. Check out the amount of snow in the truck bed!
In the afternoon the high wind gusts weren't as consistent and, seeing other people's pics on Facebook, I geared up and ventured outside to see exactly how much snow we had gotten so far.

Answer: LOTS.

Hallway outside the apartment. Remember: this is a second floor. That's how much wind we were having!
Entrance to our apartment building. Check out the drifts against the building. And on the second floor!
My car didn't look too bad from this side: the wind had whipped the snow out from the passenger side.

The other side of my car, however, was another matter.
A big gust of wind blew up between the taking of the previous photo and this one, hence all the snow over the front in this pic.
Those are snow drifts on top of people's cars!!!
The snow was waist-high in the parking lot.
I am a huge dork about snow and of course I had to play in it. It wasn't bad on the sidewalk.
Photo from a video taken with my phone, thanks to the phone tripod Liz gave me for Christmas. :)
After these explorations I returned to the apartment to continue hibernating. Charles had been talking about trying to drive home on this night after work but the Maryland governor closed all the major highways because there had been too many accidents with tractor-trailers. It was the only way to keep people off the roads while waiting for them to be cleared. I was relieved: I didn't really want him driving on roads that might have a few feet of snow on them! The Beast is awesome but it's not an Army tank!

I made roast chicken and potatoes that night for dinner and opened the bottle of wine. I realized the one spot where we had planned poorly: we only have one shovel and Charles had it with him. I needed to dig my car out before the snow froze to ice. I decided the next morning I would try hiking to Home Depot to see if I could buy a shovel...if they had any in stock. Because with this type of storm people go nuts buying shovels too.

We never did lose power at the apartment. Sunday dawned sunny and gorgeous. Our apartment parking lot had already had one lane cleared by the maintenance staff. Frederick rocks! As of right now Monday morning, some of my coworkers are still snowed in in their parts of Montgomery County (Frederick is part of Frederick County; MoCo is the Maryland county closest to DC) because the plows still haven't gone through their neighborhoods. I realize we are very fortunate up here.

It hadn't been very long but I really was starting to go stir-crazy from being indoors alone. I hate being still. So instead of hiking to Home Depot, I decided to just tackle the digging out of my car bare-handed.

That's how much snow was behind my car. There was a good 20' of it between my car and the parking lot lane!
Parking lot lane.
Driver side of my car.
The good thing was that it was still powdery. It was in the upper 20's temperature-wise but the snow was just starting to melt with being exposed to the sun and I knew it would freeze to ice rock by that night with the single-digit temps we were expecting. So I got to work digging. 

With my hands. 

It was actually easier than moving sand at the beach and I had to laugh: being good at building sand castles can be quite handy when dealing with this type of snow! The snow was light and fluffy. I was wearing water-resistant Prana Halle lined pants (got them on sale earlier this winter!), my snow boots, SSG winter gloves with toe warmers stuck inside them, and my waterproof insulated jacket over a Smartwool shirt. I ended up stripping down to my shirt: the air was dry and I did get that warm. Those Halle pants are da bomb: I stayed nice and dry underneath them despite being up to my hips in snow.

I didn't care how long it took. I was in no hurry to get anywhere and it was something to do. I was actually having a blast moving the snow out from around my car. 

I had removed about 2/3 of the snow from behind my car when a neighbor took pity on me and offered to lend me her shovel. This allowed me to scrape out the remaining snow from the ground behind my car. 


There's still quite a bit of snow that drifted under the car that I'll tackle with Charles today. My arms weren't long enough to reach all the way underneath it. I probably would have gone for a drive otherwise, but I was also afraid of losing my parking spot after going to all the trouble of digging the car out!

Honestly, I'll take two hours of digging through 3' of snow with my hands over having to hack our way out our driveway with chainsaws and axes in the sweltering heat to remove a dozen downed trees when there is no power to cool off with and no water to shower with after a category 3 hurricane. It took my family two days of major physical work to clear our driveway after Hurricane Hugo when I was a kid. And yup, I was right there working with them, a 10-year-old girl wielding an axe. Same story again after Hurricane Georges 10 years later. Both times we were without power for two months!!!

As far as I know the horses are okay. I haven't seen them since Wednesday night. BO has been messaging us: they had plenty of hay and backup water sources in case the power went out. As of Sunday morning they were trying to clear the driveway but were having a hard time just getting from point A to point B because of the sheer volume of snow, despite having all of the appropriate equipment after dealing with Snowmageddon 2010. I have no idea yet if I'll be able to see the girls today.

Charles had spent Saturday night in one of the empty GYN rooms at the hospital (private rooms with TV) but had only gotten four hours of sleep: he had gone to bed at 5:00 am Sunday morning...he worked a 15-hour shift. He clocked back in to work at 1:30 pm Sunday afternoon. One of his coworkers had been at the hospital since Friday night and collapsed Sunday night from exhaustion. As in, she had to be admitted to the hospital because of it.

Entrance to our apartment building on Sunday.
This is behind our apartment building.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon cooped up reading and again went to bed early. A good thing because I woke up at 3:00 am with a start: Charles was going to try to drive home tonight. I called him at 3:30 (he has to round his coworkers before leaving, which usually takes half an hour) and he was walking out to the truck.

He made it home in 40 minutes or so, which is about his usual time. He said the roads were covered in black ice but the truck had done great. Temp outside was 4 degrees.

It's good to have him back home safe.

And we'll be buying a second shovel as soon as they're back in stock in the stores!!!


  1. So happy to hear C made it home safe. The Beast rocks!! And so do you!! I can't imagine moving that much snow with my hands.

    1. It's a good thing it was powder and I was in the mindset of having fun. :)

  2. Pretty epic storm. Good thing you have the truck. People buy perishables because they don't expect their power to go out. In their mind, it's always going to happen to "someone else." Even if your power goes out, if you keep your fridge closed, it'll stay cold for a day. My parents have a generator and in past years they've let the neighbors hook up for a few hours. After Sandy, a LOT of people starting getting generators at their houses. Apartments, not so much, but a lot of home owners may have a plan for electricity.

    1. Good point about the generators but a lot of people rent in this area because of the high cost of housing + property taxes. Especially in our town. For the last big blizzard they had here in 2010 (before we moved here) there were people stuck in their homes for over a week without power and unable to leave because there weren't enough plows to go around. Counties got better at snow removal after that.

  3. OK, digging out the car was a great work out, but I'll skip ALL OF THE SNOW! I think I'll take my drought/El Nino (if it really happens). The perishable thing is funny. And bread, what? I actually always have dry milk, you can still get it! Very handy for camping too. Stay warm!

    1. I think I'll have to order the dry milk! For whatever reason you can't find it at the grocery stores in this area. Wegmans at least carries Parmalat boxed milk, which is the same brand we used to buy in PR for hurricanes! :)

  4. Yeehaw! Thank you for documenting this -- at least I got a blizzard by proxy. They're no joke, but man, snowshoeing down the road through one was one of the finer experiences of my life to date.

    The bread and milk (and usually eggs, too) thing is a long-standing mystery. Google "French toast alert" sometime for a chuckle. Your list makes more sense to me!

    My favorite piece of my emergency car kit is a collapsible aluminum avalanche shovel. Fits nicely into the car, doesn't take up too much space, but has dug out many a car.

    1. We were just talking today about how awesome it would have been to have snowshoes (or cross country skis!) during our explorations today!

      At work they mentioned the "French toast alert"...I did get a huge laugh out of it when I googled it! Thanks for the tip! Lololololol

      The collapsible avalanche shovel sounds amazing!!!

    2. It was so, so cool to be out and comfortable and mobile while everyone else was paralyzed. I wasn't about to go tromp through the woods, necessarily; there was a limit to how lost I could possibly get trucking down the road. But so, so cool.

      This is basically what I have: http://www.rei.com/product/716239/voile-telepro-t6-avalanche-shovel

  5. I'm soooo loving your snow! I may be the only one in my area who wishes we'd gotten more lol! I don't get the meat thing either..however we sold a ton of beer at my store down here. Anyways, hopefully you won't be snowed in too long and are able to make it out to the barn soon!

    1. Southerners know how to weather a storm too! ;) Hurricane culture!

      We were finally able to go out and explore today, though the driveway to the barn was dicey per BO so we haven't made it out there yet. It was so, so, sooooo beautiful in downtown, though I might be one of the few people in this area that thinks this way! I might post all the pics for a Wordless Wednesday! :D

  6. Replies
    1. It was pretty epic! My mom was watching it on the Spanish (as in from Spain) news that the family prefers over in Puerto Rico (my family has satellite TV; news from Spain is unbiased unlike many of the US news channels...) and she was telling me stuff about the storm that they weren't reporting over here! O_o

      They're saying that the flooding from the storm surge caused by Jonas in NJ was worse than when Sandy hit. Definitely one for the history books!