Why I hate winter

Whenever snow appears in the forecast, I’m filled with dread. There are two reasons: 1) I hate shoveling the driveway and 2) people ask me “how much snow are we going to get?” I consider myself a pretty decent severe weather forecaster. It’s my particular area of interest, and I’ve given myself some practice at it. Winter weather forecasting is a whole ‘nother beast.

It’s not just that I don’t like it, or that I haven’t practiced (both are true), but winter weather forecasting is really more challenging. There are a variety of reasons — some scientific, some psychological. The most obvious scientific reason is that temperature matters. A three degree difference doesn’t mean much when the temperature is 80 degrees; the rain will still be rain. When the temperature is in the lower 30s, a three degree difference can be the difference between rain, snow, or some awful mix. Surface temperatures aren’t the only ones that matter; small differences in the low-level air temperatures can have an impact on the precipitation type.

Even when you nail the precipitation type, how much snow do you get? A common rule of thumb is that one inch of rain is equal to 10 inches of snow, but that’s a really awful rule. The snow-to-liquid ratio can vary widely. I’ve measured from 2.7:1 to 30:1 at my house, with the average somewhere around 14:1. With half an inch of liquid, the difference between the rule of thumb and my observed average is 2″ of snow.

Then there’s the psychological aspect. For the most part, people don’t care how much rain falls in a given event. Sure, ridiculous torrents like southern Indiana saw last weekend are noticeable, but how many people can look outside and tell the difference between .25″ and .5″of rain? I bet they can tell the difference between 3″ and 7″ of snow, though. Snow also requires more preparation than rain does. You generally don’t see grocery store bread and milk shelves scoured clean before a rain storm. The highway department doesn’t put in overtime to salt the streets before it rains. Schools very rarely delay or cancel classes because of rain.

Snow draws attention to itself. It’s the biggest prima donna of the non-destructive weather phenomena. The natural result is that people become very sensitive to how well a forecast verifies. Unfortunately, it verifies “not good” all too often. I suppose this is my way of saying “is it spring yet?”

Who’ll stop the rain?

The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow (CoCoRaHS) project is really interesting.  It is a nearly-nationwide collection of volunteers who take daily measurements of the precipitation they receive.  I participate because my meteorological education has taught me that there’s always a need for more data.  The side benefit is that I get to see what others around me have received in the way of falling moisture.  The differences across small distances can be pretty large sometimes (although I suspect that is often due to a poor rain gauge setup), but seeing similar numbers can help you believe that you really did get that much rain.

Case in point: since Tuesday, my station has recorded 4.56″ of rain.  To put that in perspective, the average rainfall  for the month of May  is 3.93″.  On Wednesday, when I recorded 2.03″, I might not have believed it had other stations nearby not recorded very similar values.  Today’s 2.35″, on the other hand, was pretty believable on it’s own.  The lake that is my yard spoke volumes.

Last weekend, my wife and I hauled, mixed, and poured 3,200 pounds of concrete.  Why?  Because the walkway that goes from our front porch to our driveway sat lower than the ground around it, meaning when it rained, your shoes got wet.  I’m very grateful we got it finished, since when we got home from a friend’s house last night, our yard was a marsh.  Even now, over 12 hours after most of the rain has stopped, the ground just has nowhere to put the water.

The completed walkway.

Measuring nearly an inch of standing water in the yard.

Measuring nearly an inch of standing water in the yard.

Worms, worms, worms!

Worms, worms, worms!

As a result of all the rain, the Wabash River has gone from 6 feet to 16 feet since 8 AM Wednesday, with a forecast crest of 20 feet at 8 PM tonight.  At 20 feet, Extensive flooding increases. Flood waters begin to cover Stair Road located on the southeast side of the river just off SR 225 in NE Tippecanoe County. Low portions of Barton Beach Rd is flooded. Several river residences are nearly isolated by high water. River residences near Interstate 65 are affected by high water. River Road near Wabash Valley Hospital floods. Local roads begin to flood in the Granville Bridge area. River residents become concerned.