Valentine's Day Snowstorm - Waterbury, Vermont - February 14th-16th, 2007

In our neck of the woods, last week was pretty darned exciting on the weather front because New England had its first nor'easter of the season. It was the first one for us since returning from Montana, and it would be the first one ever for the boys. As is often the case, the buzz of the potential storm started slowly, with the internet weather aficionados picking out trends in the forecast models probably a week (or more) in advance. It's really fun to watch the progression as the internet weather folks start talking, then the more local weather folks become willing to mention "something", and eventually even your neighbors that don't pay much attention to the weather at all are taking about it. For quite a while, it looked like northern New England would miss out on the really big snowfall as the system would head to far south. Then, the track of the storm seemed to start shifting north and west. It was predicted to be one of those cases where a big storm in the Ohio Valley transfers its energy to the coast, and then BOOM, a nor'easter develops. I'm not sure exactly how storms transfer energy between one another, but that's how the meteorologists describe it. The coastal storm looked like it might take that classic track just off the coast that absolutely nails the interior Northeast with snow... and with just a couple days to go, Northern Vermont looked to be right in the thick of it.

It's always nice to watch the snowfall forecast increase as it becomes fine tuned, and this one followed that trend, topping out with around 15 to 30 inches of snowfall predicted for most of the local valley elevations by the time the storm drew near. The snow was supposed to start falling in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, so after work on Tuesday, I stopped off and picked up another snow shovel. We have one classic metal one that is great for cutting through the really hard crud, but it doesn't really hold a bucket load of snow. Our other main shovel is one of those molded types; it's a bit less durable, but it does hold a heck of a lot of snow in one bite. If the forecast was correct, we were going to need another one of those because E and I would be shoveling the driveway like there was no tomorrow in order to keep up with the snow. My dad had taken back his snow thrower in the fall since he was unsure if he'd need it at my parent's new place, so our driveway would need to be 100% hand crafted. At the time, I was actually looking forward to the challenge of shoveling out the driveway by hand... I'm not sure I would have felt so excited if I knew the incredible amount of work it was going to take to shovel over 5,000 cubic feet of snow by hand.

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007 - Here she comes

I woke up early so that I could get in to work at UVM, and hopefully get back home to Waterbury before the really intense snowfall was supposed to hit in the afternoon and evening. There were already 3.4 inches of snow by the time I took my morning reading off the snowboard and hit the road. Here's an excerpt from the 6:00 A.M. update that I posted about the first observation.

New Snow: 3.4 inches
Temperature: 5.5 F

"Route 2 and I-89 were nicely plowed and in good shape; wind wasn't bad. E and the boys don't have school today (all were cancelled as of yesterday) so the boys should have a fun snow day for their first nor'easter. I called E a bit before 7:00 A.M. and she said there was about an additional inch of snow on the snowboard, so it looks like snowfall is around and 1 inch/hour."

Like many other universities and colleges, UVM doesn't close down for weather unless it's something really serious, so when we received the following email from the provost at around 9:00 A.M., we knew the forecast had impressed the university officials.

TO: University of Vermont
From: John M. Hughes Provost
DATE: February 14, 2007
RE: University Closing - Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"In light of the weather conditions and the severity of the storm, I have decided to close the University of Vermont effective 12:00 noon on Wednesday, February 14, 2007 until 7:00 a.m. Thursday, February 15, 2007."

Many students called to see if our 11:15 A.M. to 12:05 P.M. class was still being held, and it was, since we were officially going to make it in just under the wire. In the end, only about half the students made it to class. I joked with them that we should just end at noon since the University was officially closed. But, we managed to get through the whole class, and learning was accomplished. I felt bad for the faculty that had to cancel classes in the afternoon (and as it turns out, the entire next day). That means there's a lot of material that needs to be made up, crammed into another session, or just flat out skipped. I'm sure that's just one of the many reasons UVM hates to close unless it's absolutely necessary.

Once class was over, I packed up and hit the road. I was really hoping I-89 wouldn't close or something before I could get home. Here's an excerpt about the road conditions I found on the drive home from my 1:30 P.M. weather report.

"I drove home from Burlington to Waterbury and found a strip of nice black pavement on I-89 until around Williston, then it was packed snow, and from the bottom of French Hill to the Richmond exit there were several inches of snow on the highway and the driving was tricky. Route 2 to the Chittenden County/Washington County line was the most difficult, with probably 6 inches of snow on the road and poor visibility at times. From the Washington County line onward, Route 2 had been plowed more recently, so that was just packed snow with a couple inches of loose stuff."

E said that our road had been plowed at some point in the morning before I got home, but there was still 6-12 inches of snow on it. I was definitely happy to have the Subaru. I met a furniture truck on our road that was trying to make a delivery. They couldn't seem to make it all the way to the end of the road (a slight uphill grade), and there was no place to turn around, so they had to back down the road. They said they didn't need help, and fortunately, there was enough space for me to get by. But, one of our neighbors was probably going to have to wait a couple of days for their delivery. E had worked really hard on shoveling the driveway that morning, so getting up to the garage wasn't too bad. I got the car in the garage and sighed in relief; I was glad I wouldn't have to be driving around in what was supposedly coming in the afternoon and evening. At 1:30 P.M. I finally got to take the next reading from the snowboard, and here's and excerpt from that report:

New Snow: 9.9 inches
Temperature: 8.4 F
Wind: Calm
Sky: Snow
Cumulative storm total: 13.3 inches
Current snowpack depth: 24 inches
Season snowfall total: 72.3 inches

"The 9.9 inches we picked up between 6:00 A.M. and 1:30 P.M. (7.5 hours) indicates an average snowfall rate of 1.32 inches/hour. I'm glad I got home when I did to reset the snowboard, because it was getting a little close to pyramiding out (see below) and I wouldn't have been able to get an accurate reading on the new snowfall. The flakes in this snow are pretty small and I think the slope of the accumulation is more extreme than larger flake accumulations. I'll try to stick to the 6-hour accumulation rule unless it looks like the stack is going to pyramid out again. With the 13.3 inches we've received so far, this is officially our biggest snowfall event of the season, passing the 12.8-inch upslope event from January 19th and 20th. The 9.9 inches is also our biggest individual accumulation on the snowboard this season."

For a while I hung out with E and the boys in the house, enjoyed the running commentary for our region on I wrote up my weather observations etc., and then it was finally time to start shoveling. I started my shoveling in the later afternoon, a period when the storm was really letting loose with snowfall rates of 3 to 4 inches an hour at times. It was pretty amazing to be out in the type of intense snowfall that I've more often seen in the mountains while skiing, yet still be at home. That doesn't happen all that often. It was almost a joke to even think one could keep up with the shoveling our driveway needed.

One of the most amazing things about the storm was the instability of the snowpack. We could watch fractures develop right on the snowbanks at our house, and that was really eerie to see while shoveling. However, above and beyond that was the "whumph" sound that the snowpack was making while it was shifting and settling. I don't recall hearing such intense sounds of snow instability during any storm at home before. Most folks who ski in the backcountry are familiar with this sound, as it is common when conditions are ripe for avalanches, and a sound you'll sometimes hear near the start of a slide. I was just about jumping out of my skin whenever one of the snowbanks would settle and make that sound, because I'm so used to it being a sign of big trouble. I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn't on some open slope in the backcountry, but simply shoveling my driveway. Eventually I was able to tune it out a bit, but I still had the sneaking suspicion that one of snowbanks was going to jump out and bury me. Talking to Stephen after the storm, he said that I probably should have just put on some music with an iPod or something. That probably would have been a nice way to avoid the extra stress. The extreme instability of the snowpack was definitely noted by the folks in the Mt. Mansfield area, as they even issued avalanche advisories for the backcountry (see more details below).

E had done a lot of great shoveling in the morning while I was at work, but she hadn't cleared the edges of the driveway too far beyond where a car could fit through. I had the edges of the driveway marked with six-foot poles (which were actually less than five feet tall after being sunk in the ground) and they were going to be my guide for where the driveway actually was. One issue was that before the storm even started, we already had a foot of snow on the ground, and fairly substantial snowbanks from that. The snow banks that were developing from this storm were going to be over the top of the poles. So, I shoveled tight to the poles so they could remain visible. They were there to mark the line anyway, and if you don't hold the line, your driveway can end up getting smaller and smaller with each storm. We had to hold the line. It took hours just to shovel out the perimeter of the driveway, and of course the area that I started was filled with another 6-12 inches of snow by the time I was done. E came out and together, we shoveled hard until dinner, but it felt like a losing battle. It was. It was still snowing with an amazing intensity, with no signs of stopping. I took the next reading off the snowboard at 6:30 P.M., here an excerpt from the observations:

New Snow: 11.1 inches
Duration: 5 hours
Temperature: 6.6 F
Wind: 5-10 MPH
Sky: Snow
Cumulative storm total: 24.4 inches
Current snowpack depth: 34 inches
Season snowfall total: 83.4 inches

"The heavy snowfall has continued and the snowpack in the yard is now even with the top of the snowboard... and actually above the height of the rear entrance to the house. The interval for this reading was a bit less than 6 hours, but it can make up for the previous one being 7.5 hours. I'm trying to get back on the 6:00 and 12:00 schedule for snowboard readings. The average snowfall rate for the 1:30 P.M. to 6:30 P.M. period comes in at 2.22 inches/hour. Shoveling the driveway has been getting tougher because the snowbanks are so high that you really have to heave the snow up and over to get it out of there. The vents (furnace, dryer, etc.) from the house needed to be dug out because they were buried. I actually had to pull out my 4-foot metal "yardstick" to get the snowpack measurement in the yard, as my regular measurement rod doesn't have markings beyond 30 inches or so."

After dinner, I went back out and jumped on the shoveling again. E got the boys to bed and we worked several more hours in a futile effort to make a dent in the deep snow. Around 10:30 P.M. I started to bonk and called it a night. I had to sit down for a bit to even get the energy to make myself some food. E kept going until around 11:00 P.M. until she finally came in. The plow came by on the road at some point and the berm he created was just a nightmare. E was pessimistic about our ability to actually shovel out the whole driveway, but the snowfall was finally winding down in the late hours of the night, and I was confident we could make a significant dent the next morning. I knew we had to make a pretty big swath if I was going to get to work. E and the boys had already received the call that their school would be cancelled for a second day. Before going to bed, I took a 12:00 A.M. reading off the snowboard. Up to that point we had picked up 27.9 inches of snow from the storm, and the snowpack in the yard was over 3 feet deep! Here's an excerpt from the midnight report:

New Snow: 3.5 inches
Duration: 5.5 hours
Temperature: 8.2 F
Wind: 5-10 MPH
Sky: Snow
Cumulative storm total: 27.9 inches
Current snowpack depth: 37 inches
Season snowfall total: 86.9 inches

"The snowfall has definitely lightened up since this afternoon, although as I was out checking the board, it had come back on in intensity. The radar suggests the snowfall is going to settle down soon, so we'll have to see how much we actually get overnight."

Thursday, February 15th, 2007 - Winding down

I woke up rejuvenated at around 6:00 A.M., and felt ready to fight the battle with the snow in the driveway. I wanted to get in to work at some point during the day to prepare material for Friday, but when I checked my email, I found that UVM was going to remain officially closed until noon anyway. At 7:00 A.M. I did another reading of the snowboard:

New Snow: 0.7 inches
Duration: 7 hours
Temperature: 4.6 F
Wind: 5-10 MPH
Sky: Partly Cloudy
Cumulative storm total: 28.6 inches
Current snowpack depth: 36 inches
Season snowfall total: 87.6 inches

I checked the snow report and found some awesome totals for snow. Stowe was reporting 48 inches of new snow, Sugarbush 49 inches, Bolton 52 inches, and Jay Peak topped off the list with 60 inches.

Stowe even had an avalanche advisory out for the backcountry. Although we do sometimes have avalanches around here, they are more common in the White Mountains and the Adirondacks. I'm not sure the last time I saw an advisory posted for the backcountry around here. That really spoke to the instability of the snowpack, just like E and I had seen when shoveling.

After catching up on the snow reports, I started shoveling again. E came out, and even Ty came out for a while, and we worked all morning on the driveway with a few breaks for pictures and video. By lunch we had a patch clear for me to get to work, and then some. I wasn't too enticed to head out skiing since it was likely going to be that windy day after a nor'easter type of setup. I headed to work in the afternoon and found out that at around 10:30 A.M. they had closed the University for the entire day. I never thought that would happen. That means UVM was closed for a day and a half, and I have no idea how long into the past you'd have to look to see the last time that happened. The weather was actually pretty decent by Thursday, but I think they had trouble finding places to put all the new snow. I finished up the stuff I needed to get done at work, headed home, and after dinner I got back on the shoveling. E had done some nice shoveling work during the day, leaving me just a chunk near the bottom of the driveway, and of course the rest of the berm at the road. Everyone who's shoveled a driveway knows how much fun that plow-compacted snow can be. At some point late that evening however, I finished the job. At that point we'd put about 22 man-hours of work into the driveway. There would still be even a few more hours spent clearing the end of the driveway from the occasional plowings of the road. I probably could have done the whole thing in a couple of hours with a good snow thrower, which is definitely the way we want to go next time. The shoveling was actually fun for the most part, but 22 hours is a long time. I'd definitely rather spend snow days with the family building snow forts, sledding, and of course skiing. Snow days off from work are a good chance for everyone to get together and have fun in the snow as long as you have the time to do it.

QuickTime Video from the day
(34.3 MB - 3 min. 34 sec.)

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Friday, February 16th, 2007 - Skiing?

We got a bit of wraparound snow on Thursday and Friday, so by the time it really finished, we'd actually accumulated 29.2 inches from the storm. E and the boys headed into school, but it turned out that E's school was still closed because there was just too much snow to clear. That meant the storm had caused three snow days in a row for E's school (and I think even some others schools as well). That's a pretty big storm if it was able to close school for three consecutive days in Vermont. E sort of got a five-day weekend out of the deal, and since five snow days are already built into the school's schedule, it worked out OK. It did mess up all sorts of Valentine's Day plans with the class however, and that had to be taken care of the following week.

I got up really early on Friday and headed out to make some turns at Bolton on the way to work. I wanted to hike at the Timberline area for some untracked powder, and while it looked like the Timberline area had been plowed, it hadn't. I pulled into the parking area and found that there was still about a foot of consolidated snow sitting there. I got in about 10 feet and realized there was no way I was going to be able to park in there. I started backing out, and was almost to the road when I got stuck. I didn't even have my avy shovel in the car as I usually do because Ty had been using it at home. Fortunately, a guy was clearing out The Ponds area across the road with a big front loader and he quickly pulled me out. I didn't want to skin up for turns on the already tracked out trails at Bolton's main base area, so I decided to head to work and wait to ski until Saturday. I could see that the Timberline area hadn't even been opened yet, so there was the possibility that there would be some untouched snow there for the weekend.

So after the 29.2 inches from the storm, we had reached 88.2 inches of snowfall for the season, and had 37 inches of snowpack in the yard. That was pretty impressive. When talking about all the shoveling with my parents, they were reminded of the '69 storm in Burlington, which is still the record there with 29.8 inches. My parents said that it just kept snowing and snowing for three days, and every time you walked out your door, you had to keep shoveling. I guess shoveling was almost entirely the norm back then, because snow throwers were much less common. It turns out that my dad did need his snow thrower for our recent storm, because the plow service that does his area didn't get stuff done soon enough for him to get to work. Even though we didn't have his snow thrower, I'm at least glad it wasn't just sitting there in his garage doing nothing. Shoveling over 5,000 cubic feet of snow from this storm was enough to convince me to get my own. Even with a storm half this size it will be more than worth it for the time saved with clearing our driveway. I can't wait until next season so I can really put that snow in its place quickly with a nice two-stage unit.

For the report and pictures from skiing on Saturday, head here.