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Waiting on the weather

January 24, 2012
Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Elvis is not in the building. Neither is the great blizzard of Jan. 20, 2012.

As is common in my life, I was up early. My expectations were to look outside and see several inches of fresh snow on the ground.

I have learned politicians, weather prognosticators, and economists are the only people who can be right less than half the time and still get a paycheck.

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Now there are several visuals cues functioning as harbingers of a severe weather event approaching. The first would be for the parking lot at Fareway to be full during the hours leading up to the event. It was. People were stocking up on blizzard supplies, you know, pastries, ice cream, and now that they sell liquor, storm booze.

Whenever those weather prognosticators predict doom and gloom, people listen. I did. I even carried several arm loads of wood from the wood pile to the shelter of the garage. My thinking is that during the blizzard, while the house still needs to be heated, I won't have to go out in the elements to ferry fuel. Oh yeah, and I did fill up the car yesterday. Not so much that I figured gasoline wouldn't be available today, but that the extra weight might help traction.

It is with a certain distain and irreverence for the forecast, not the deliverer, that I write my column this morning Make no mistake; it is indeed snowing, but not anywhere near the five to eight inches they told us to expect. There appears to be less than two inches and it's getting brighter out.

I'm sure the kids at South Tama County schools are disappointed school wasn't called off or at least delayed.

The UPS driver just made it down the lane and delivered a book from Amazon.

I did just hear the South Tama County Schools are dismissing three hours early today. Although less delightful to the student than outright calling off of school, this happening I'm sure claims a close second.

Wait a minute. How can it even be snowing It's only three degrees outside. Isn't that too cold to snow? I've always heard it could be too cold to snow. This is apparently another one of those weather related urban legends. It apparently isn't always true if ever.

One of the benefits of being a weekly columnist, I can write most anything I chose as long as it's not blasphemous, raunchy or politically incorrect. I can even drift off to other subjects right in the middle of a work in progress.

Besides skiing, there is another thing I like about new fallen snow. I look forward to seeing blue snow.

OK, so I've had an interest in blue snow for the longest time. If the snow is deep enough, and gets a hole poked into it, or layered like ocean waves where the snowplows move it, you can see tinges of blue.

I remember as a kid one particularly heavy snow storm. After the snow was moved and roads and drives cleared, huge mounds of snow lay waiting for a kid's adventure. I remember digging with a shovel and our hands until we had a tunnel just large enough for a kid to squeeze through.

Sitting inside that snow cave, all of us kids marveled at the eerie blue iridescence. I do remember it was sunny that particular day. The sunlight making its way through our snow fort was bright enough for us to see each other, but the light was distinctly blue.

The scientist in me has progressed beyond the wonder and awe a small child feels at witnessing such a phenomenon. I know what makes the sky appear blue on a bright day, but wasn't sure what caused the blue snow. I found out.

You may have heard about blue ice. Blue ice is dense pure ice without a lot of air bubbles trapped inside. n order to appear blue, this ice also has to be fairly thick. What happens is: the light gets bounced around between the ice grains which absorb all wavelengths of light more readily than blue light. As the light bounces back and forth what is left is blue light.

The phenomenon is similar with the snow. If there is a hole in the snow, or where a plow may have introduced a layer of air between layers of snow, sunlight can get trapped and reflected back and forth in the chasm. As more of the wavelengths are absorbed, a distinct blue light is visible.

I will be on the lookout for blue snow. It is the simple pleasures in life which brings joy, right?

The cats seem particularly neurotic this winter. Since this cold weather has descended on us, every hour or so the cats stand by the door demanding to be let outside. They step up to the door leading outside from the garage, see that the snow and cold are still there, and want back in. I figure they hoped by then the weather had cleared. Their attention spans are far shorter than even yours truly.

My expectations were different than the actual fury of this storm. I imagine too if I hadn't made preparations then the prognosticators would have been correct, I'd be shoveling a few feet of wind blown snow instead of the couple inches now gracing the driveway. So, the twenty mile per hour winds predicted with this storm didn't materialize either. The snow is dropping almost straight down.

It's still three degrees, and Elvis has left the building.

Until next time--

You can read past columns by visiting and clicking on "view all" next to "Local Columns."

In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2012 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.



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