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  • Snowed In: Living the 2015 Boston Winter

    Through late January 2015, Boston’s winter was abnormally warm. December was the warmest on record, with temperatures nearly 4 degrees above normal. The city’s snowfall total was 60 percent less than normal.

    Boston WinterThat changed January 24. In less than four weeks, five storms dumped almost 8 feet of snow, obliterating records. Two of the storms were among the ten largest recorded. The eventual season total was 110.6 inches of snow, a record and almost 44 inches above average. The arctic weather brought arctic chill. The temperature didn’t hit 40 degrees from January 20 through March 3, another record.

    Andrew Thimmig and his wife, Julie, lived through that winter. They lived in Somerville, Mass., two miles northwest of Boston, in a three-story home converted into apartments.

    Here’s what they experienced, as Andrew described it. The interview was edited for brevity and clarity.


    Q: How did you prepare for winter?

    We didn’t do any extra preparation. We got snow boots – we didn’t have them – and heavier jackets. We bought salt, because when we were living in Rexburg [Idaho], salt was necessary. Our upstairs neighbor had a few snow shovels that they let us use, so we didn’t have to buy shovels. We had to get new tires after the first snow hit. Our apartment was on a hill, and our car tended to slide. We didn’t have a disaster preparation plan. I thought about it but never did anything about it.


    Q: What was the first storm like?

    I’d never had a work snow day before, so that was interesting. Our upstairs neighbor was outside shoveling, so we went out to shovel. We shoveled the car then had to shovel our way back to the door. It was just very, very time consuming and exhausting.

    Boston Winter

    We would go out there and shovel the car and make sure the stairs leading to the apartment were clear. It was a process. After the first few snowfalls, we had to repeat the process and there wasn’t room to put the snow. We eventually had to throw it in the street because the street got plowed.

    It was lots of shoveling, then ice removal after a time. The ice got pretty bad. Most of the ice was very thick because it was hiding under the snow all the time, so it would be an inch or so thick. I’d go out and hammer it with a metal shovel our neighbor had, chop it up and put it on the snow piles.


    Q: What else was difficult?

    We lived about a 15 minute walk to one of the metro stations, then a 20 minute ride to where I worked.

    Boston Winter[After the snowstorms], the sidewalks weren’t plowed for a long time. The neighbors didn’t shovel and there was ice all over, so I didn’t walk on the sidewalk. I had to walk along the side of the road while trucks and larger vehicles would go by. It was a little bit of a fun game.

    The orange [metro] line, which I used, was fairly reliable, but there were huge delays. I had to keep on top of the alerts. I tried to leave early in the morning around 6 or 6:30, and some days were awful. Every now and then I had to sprint or give up and wait for the next [train] to come. Some days it was awful. I had to skip a train because I couldn’t find an open car.

    [In Somerville], they kept most of the roads open, but it probably took twice as long to get anywhere.

    There was a fairly large intersection right outside our neighborhood that had lots of accidents and power outages. In our neighborhood there was no major damage. Our neighbor’s rain gutter broke off the roof when it got too much snow in it. That was very alarming, to wake up about two in the morning to a loud crash outside our window. One tree got knocked over on our street. Somebody’s truck got hit by a pretty large branch as well. There were power outages just across and down the street from us.


    Q: What did you do?

    Boston Winter

    They’d never previously declared snow days in my office, but for maybe 10 days the office was closed. Those who could, worked from home on projects. The network went down sometimes, which was a common occurrence.

    I got to spend more time at home with my wife, which was probably the best part. If I could, I’d work. If the network was down, my wife and I would watch TV – as long as we had internet. I’d go out periodically and shovel. On the days I did have to work, my wife would shovel, because at the time she was between jobs.


    Q: What did you learn?

    It’s better to be prepared for when stuff like this comes along. It’s always good to have some kind of situational preparation kit. Make sure you have a few good snow shovels, because one of them will probably break. Make sure you just stay on top of things, because it’s a lot easier to shovel a little bit of snow than a lot of snow.


    Did you experience the record-breaking Boston winter or other cold, blizzardy winter weather? What was it like for you?


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  • Preparing Your Car for Winter Weather

    via Denver Post via Denver Post

    In many parts of the United States, the first snow has already fallen. In some places the storms were doozies: Parts of Reno, Nevada received 10 inches of snow on November 11 and Denver saw its first blizzard in five years on November 16.

    So, isn’t it time prepare your car for winter?

    First, make sure the car is running well, said Rolayne Fairclough, a spokesperson for AAA Utah.

    “Take it in and have a mechanic prepare it for the winter,” she said.

    Make sure the battery is fully charged, because it’s weaker in cold weather. Mechanics can test it or some car parts stores will test it for free, according to an article in Kiplinger.com, a financial planning site. If you know your battery’s powering down, you can replace it at your convenience and at a better price, the site said.

    Make sure hoses and belts aren’t cracked, Fairclough said. Winter can increase cracks and cause breaking. Also make sure the exhaust system is leak-free so carbon monoxide doesn’t fill your car.

    Whether you choose all-season or winter tires, make sure they’ve got enough tread, Kiplinger.com said. The web site for The Tire Rack, a tire vendor, demonstrates a coin-based way to check the tread.

    Its site points out that at 1/16 of an inch, the minimum tread required by law in most places, “resistance to hydroplaning in the rain at highway speeds has been significantly reduced, and traction in snow has been virtually eliminated.”

    Winter TireYou may have been told to under-inflate tires to give them more surface area. That only helps if the snow is deep and soft, said the Kiplinger.com story. On a normal drive, under-inflated tires act more like hydroplaning tires because they don’t grab the pavement as well as fully inflated tires. Also, remember tires lose a pound of pressure for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit temperature drop.

    Make sure your brakes are in good condition.

    Check windshield wipers and wiper fluid too. Windshield wiper blades have a lifespan of about a year, according to the Kiplinger.com story. In places that get especially cold, put an antifreeze solvent in windshield washer reservoirs, according to the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

    Putting windshield wiper fluid in a car. Don't forget the antifreeze!

    Make sure all the fluids are full and clean, especially antifreeze and windshield wiper fluid. If you live in a really cold area, make sure the antifreeze solution is good for temperatures 40 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, according to the North Dakota Department of Transportation site. Car parts stores carry an antifreeze tester that’s less than $10, according to Kiplinger.com.

    Check to make sure leaves and debris haven’t filled the opening below the hood and windshield: they can block water flow, according to Kiplinger.com. Also make sure nothing under the car is loose or hanging down so it doesn’t get torn out if you drive over deep snow. Finally, clean and wax headlights.

    The second step is to make sure you’ve got an emergency kit, Fairclough said.

    Keep cold weather gear like blankets or a sleeping bag, boots, a coat, and gloves in the car, she said. Aluminum “space blankets” can fit in a glove compartment.

    Bring a power source for cell phones, a radio, and a flashlight with extra batteries.

    Believe it or not, a candle can heat a whole car’s cabin, Fairclough said. Carry matches too, because extreme cold can freeze some lighters.

    Add water and a metal container for melting snow or drinking. Also bring high-energy food like candy, raisins, nuts, dehydrated fruit and jerky. Don’t forget toilet paper.

    Auto Kit Keep an auto emergency kit in your vehicle, just in case.

    Finally, take tools and equipment for the car: signaling equipment like bright cloth or flares, chains, booster cables, a nylon rope, and a shovel, and sand or kitty litter for traction.

    In a pinch, you can use the car’s floor mats for traction, Fairclough said.

    “A lot of people just don’t put a shovel in their cars,” she admitted.

    Third, take a few minutes to prepare before you go anywhere. Dress for the weather. Carry a cell phone and charger and make sure to tell someone your departure time, route and expected arrival time, suggests the North Dakota Department of Transportation. Check road conditions before you leave.

    Keep the gas tank more than half full, Fairclough said.

    “If you’re detoured, you have some flexibility and don’t have to worry about running out of gas,” she said.

    Finally, drive for the conditions. Although winter months see fewer fatal crashes, they see more small ones, Fairclough said. Typically they’re from people driving too fast and too close together.

    You can find detailed hints for what to do if you get stranded in winter at the North Dakota Department of Transportation’s web site.

    Have a safe winter!


    How is your car prepared for winter weather?



  • El Niño Winter: Is California Hosed?

    California is in deep with their drought. Fortunately, El Niño is on the way with a wet winter! Unfortunately, that’s going to cause more flooding than any real drought relief.

    That’s what happens when the ground is insanely parched. Rain water won’t seep in. Instead, it puddles up over the ground like it’s concrete. This, as you might imagine, can cause some pretty bad flooding.

    Man in Rain - Mirror - El Niño Winter via Mirror

    Think about it. California is like a really, really thirsty person who would like nothing more than to stick his head underneath the faucet for a drink (he’d use a cup, but he’s fresh out). Instead of getting a drip or even a constant flow, he gets blasted by a firehouse, unleashing all its water at him at once. That makes it rather difficult to drink when it’s coming at you that fast. The same goes with drought stricken ground. Light rain would be great. A torrent of water, however, is just going to wash everything away.

    San Diego may not be known for its mega-storms, but, according to a report by San Diego 6, El Niño has wreaked havoc in the past, creating winds of 60 miles per hour. That’s some serious tree toppling weather! Add rain to that mix and you’ve got yourself a flash flood problem.

    El Niño Winter Map - AccuWeather This map shows the stormy winter predicted to hit California - via AccuWeather

    AccuWeather expects Californians will have to deal with flooding and even landslides. Areas especially under threat are those over recent burn scar areas where forest fires raged earlier this and previous years. So, if you don’t have flood insurance yet, I highly recommend getting some before El Niño sets in. Remember, flood insurance takes 30 days to become active from the day you purchase, so make sure you get some now, before the floods come.

    But with all this rain, you must be thinking it can’t all be bad, right? Well, you’d be correct in that assumption. Where there’s rain near sea level, there is snow up in the mountains, and California desperately needs more snow.

    The snow pack in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains is at its lowest in 500 years. This snow pack is ideally supposed to help provide fresh water for California. But, with the snow up there constantly melting, that backup water supply is virtually non-existent. So while El Niño may bring redundant flooding down below, it will also bring that all-important white stuff to the mountains. California needs more snow, so this, at least, is a good thing.

    Ready or not, however, the rains will be coming to California, and floods are going to make things messy. The time to prepare – as always – is now. Don’t risk going into this El Niño season without flood insurance. The people in Noah’s time were warned about a great flood, but they didn’t prepare themselves, and, well, the rest is history.

    Other ways to prepare include having a storage of emergency food and water. If your home does flood, your food could get ruined, but by having well-sealed containers and stores of food on high shelves, you’ll be just fine. Clean drinking water may also be a problem during floods. Flood water can contaminate local drinking water, rendering it useless. Unless you do some serious filtering and purifying, you really shouldn’t drink the water. So make sure you have water jugs and barrels filled with clean drinking water, filters and purifiers, or all of the above. And, since California is situated along the coast, having a desalinator might not be a bad idea, either, if that’s within your budget. Desalinators convert salty ocean water to potable drinking water. With the vast, briny ocean right at your doorstep, it’s definitely something to think about.


    How are you preparing for the El Niño winter?



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