Sunday, January 12, 2014

ice jam

i live on the offrum roads. in winter you're pretty much always driving on ice because we don't use much salt out here.

so you get good snow tires and you learn to drive ice. the important thing going uphill is to maintain momentum, and the important thing going downhill is not to gain too much momentum.

it's kind of important to drive in control enough so that you don't need to make any sudden maneuvers, or depend on your tires to hold going around any corners, because enough grip to keep you moving forward prudently is not the same amount of grip to keep you from flying off the edges.

and out here there doesn't need to be an ice storm for us to be driving ice. even in very cold weather, the weight of rolling vehicles compresses what snow there is into an ice layer. the road crews obligingly come and sprinkle sand into it which then gets compacted into little slippery studs which is better than smooth slippery ice. it's still ice.

we're used to it out here.

if it rains on top of that, it will be some messy driving and everybody knows the flattest ways to get where they're going.

so saturday morning i left my house to go down bolton notch road to go see about some geocaches up in waitsfield.

it was raining, but the outside temperatures were in the range at which notch road is manageable with some care.


and i was nearly all the way down it when i heard on the radio the state police warning for everybody to STAY THE HELL HOME and then i was down on route two where the road looked pretty good, but just after that i ran into the back of the huge traffic jam. whatever was holding up traffic was a LONG way down the road but we were on a part of the road colloquially called bolton flats -"flat" being the operative word- so i thought i'd stay with traffic just to see how conditions went.

i know the road well enough to know where the turnouts are in case i want to reverse direction, and how many i have left before that hill that's banked wrong for ice, so i hung in the line for a while.

i went as far as the last turnout before that hill that's banked wrong for ice, where i could see traffic on both route 2 and on the interstate was backed up, and that the rest area on the interstate just before it was jam packed with trucks (a sure sign of something bad farther up the road), so i decided to take advantage of the turnaround point and turned around.

what i noticed is that in any place the outside temperature was 37 degrees or above, the road was clear enough to be safe if you weren't being stupid. anyplace the outside temperature was above forty, the road was totally safe.

on that stretch of route two in bolton flats down to the hill that's banked wrong for ice, the temperature was 35 degrees.

but i hadn't found a geocache yet, so i drove up ("up" being the operative word) into huntington where, on account of a temperature inversion it was already 41 degrees and rising.

up in huntington it was possible to see quite dramatically the larger story of the weather of the day: ice jam flooding.

see, when it rains heavily on frozen ground, none of that water is absorbed by the ground and it rushes into the rivers. also when it rains like that, there's a lot of snow melt and none of THAT water absorbs either. and then when the water gets to the rivers, the ice that's already in the rivers breaks into chunks and floats until it gets hung up on something and a jam forms.

when a jam forms, water levels rise FAST.

so in the hour or two i was in huntington, pastures were filling with water.  once i was home i listened to my roof leak (well, now at least i know whether or not the repairs were successful) and watched inches of rain fall in a very short time.

it's going to be damn poor skiing for a while.

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