Category Archives: weather
Snow on October 15! At first it was fun. Rolling balls for the snowman, I had to keep stopping to pull out black walnut leaf ribs — enough to make three dozen Eves, at least. Sure, give him a blaze-orange cap. Maybe he’ll come to life and wreak some minor havoc.
Snow fell throughout the afternoon and evening, fell faster than it could melt onto a ground that was still unfrozen. (Hell, we’d just gotten our first frost the day before!) By Friday morning, the power was out and the phone was dead. There were three to four inches of heavy, wet snow in the vicinity of the houses, and five inches at the top of the field. Sitting outside to drink my coffee around 8:00, it sounded as bad as any icestorm we’ve ever had, with loud cracks and crashes every few seconds. The trees seemed to be taking “fall” a bit too literally.
The bigger-leaved trees took it the worst: oaks, maples, tulip poplars, black locusts, and cucumber magnolias all suffered extensive pruning and occasional bole-snap. The damage was localized, presumably corresponding to wherever snow fell the hardest and stuck the longest. This was a very elevation-dependent snowfall throughout the region.
Numerous limbs and broken treetops, and around a dozen toppled mature trees, came down across the Plummer’s Hollow Boulevard. It took our new neighbors and caretakers, Troy and Paula Scott, two days to clear them all. Damage petered out along with the snow about a quarter mile from the bottom.
We’ve had October snows before, but none so heavy or so early. Of course it was beautiful — but some kinds of beauty we could definitely do without.
Plenty more damaging storms have hit Plummer’s Hollow, but it’s been a while since the oaks have taken this hard a beating. Icestorms rarely affect them. Although of course that’s in part because icestorms generally don’t occur until after the leaves are all down… knock on wood.
The record cold (-5F on Saturday morning*) has keep the snow in excellent condition for sledding. I propped a camcorder on my knee for a fast tour of the upper half of the hollow; as I say at the end of the video, I wasn’t willing to go all the way down to the bottom that way. It gets too steep and fast, and I’m afraid for my expensive new camcorder.
*A couple of friends report temperatures of -16 or -17F at the base of the mountain.
It was 46 degrees and raining when I awoke at 6:00 a.m., but the birds sang anyway, especially the two male Baltimore orioles competing for a female in our yard. I managed to count 19 species from our veranda and front porch before breakfast, including an eastern kingbird that had first appeared at the edge of First Field on Thursday. Later in the morning, carrying an umbrella, trying to protect my binoculars from the rain, keeping my feet dry, and staying warm, all while counting birds, was no fun. However, I added 15 more species to my list, including many singing indigo buntings in the field and wood thrushes in the woods. Worm-eating warblers, ovenbirds, black-throated green warblers, hooded warblers and even a black-throated blue warbler also sang. About the only birds I saw were those in the fields. The rest I counted by ear.
After a rest and a change into dry clothes and boots, I went more happily out in the sunny afternoon. Down our road I walked to get Acadian flycatchers and common grackles. Then I climbed up to the former clearcut where I hit the jackpot — a migratory flock of warblers that included many American redstarts. I also heard both a cerulean warbler and a northern parula. By the time I reached home, at 5:30 p.m., I had 55 species — a respectable total for a solo performance. Then, after dinner, I looked at my mertensia patch for a ruby-throated hummingbird and there he was. And, right on schedule, our resident whippoorwill called outside at 8:45 p.m. As usual, the eastern towhees (13) and red-eyed vireos (12) were the most abundant species or at least singers. Hooded warblers won the warbler contest at eight, closely followed by American redstart (7). Wood thrushes (8) scarlet tanagers (8) and indigo buntings (7) also made a good showing, and I did have many wonderful sightings of the tanagers and buntings.
© Marcia Bonta
Compare last year’s IMBD report.
I heard tundra swans high overhead first thing this morning — our first of the year. Later in the morning , high, north-bound Vs of Canada geese were presumed to be migrants, as well. Steve saw a ring-billed gull fly over the hollow, too.
Our first spring arrival — meaning the earliest sighting of something included in our Spring Arrivals and Blooming Dates list — was a turkey vulture that soared right over the house around 12:45 p.m. on February 19. That’s just one day later than our earliest-ever TV, February 18, back in 1991.
A lot of people speak of the equinoxes and solstices as the “official” beginnings of the seasons whose names they bear, but this is nonsense: seasons are purely cultural constructs. The length and number of seasons can vary considerably depending on latitude and microclimate. Many parts of the world only have two seasons, for example — a wet season and a dry season. Moreover, several years ago, I heard one of the Penn State weather gurus on the local public radio station opine that, for our area, based on average temperatures and other indicators, the first day of the month in which an equinox or solstice occurs is generally pretty close to the true beginning of the season. So if I want to believe that the tundra swans’ fluting calls signaled the arrival of spring this morning, who’s to say I’m wrong?
The high today was around 55°F, depending on which thermometer you believe. True, our deepest snowfall of the year — some eight inches — was just two days ago. And if recent years are any guide, we can expect another couple of snows at least before the month is over. But those will be spring snows. The swans have spoken.
“Ah! A rare sighting of the Lesser Spotted Woodland Jellyfish!” says Hydragenic in a comment on this photo at my Flickr site. He’s right. But rare sightings like this will only become more common as global climate change accelerates and all species, even imaginary ones, find their ecological niches suddenly shifting or disappearing. Here in Pennsylvania, we can expect a lot less snow and a lot more ice in the years to come, with possibly devastating effects on native forest ecosystems.
Last weekend’s ice storm was marvelous: the kind that drops plenty of pellet ice first, providing a nice, granular surface for easy walking, and then just enough freezing rain to make things all glittery — or grotesque, as the case may be — without bringing down any trees. My mother was in heaven, since her poor sense of balance and bad back keep her house-bound after most ice storms, and nothing is quite so frustrating to a naturalist as being confined to quarters. The cold weather held the ice for a day and a half, and hoar frost coated the ice on the morning of the second day. (I have a series of five photos taken that day set to appear at my photoblog, Visual Soma, Feb. 8-12).
Now everything’s melted again after two days of unseasonable warmth, and another cold front has blown in. Unlike many folks to the north and northeast of us, we have yet to receive any dramatic snowfalls this winter, which is bad news for shrews, voles, and other subnivean creatures whose population ecology depends on a couple months of the year to reproduce realtively unmolested by the usual battery of predators.
Well, it’s only really a half-white Christmas here — which is to say, the last of the snow that wasn’t washed away by the rain on December 23 covers all the north-facing slopes, very little of the south-facing slopes, and roughly half of everything else. It also turned to ice, making walking very treacherous, as Mom found out yesterday morning when she tried to go for a walk.
Our first snowstorm of the year yesterday brought two inches of wet stuff. That in itself might not be cause for comment, except for the fact that our oaks only reached their peak of color a few days ago, and many of the maples still hold their leaves, too. The preponderance of oaks among the canopy-height trees here is a bit of an anomaly; elsewhere in the area, the colors have mostly faded. So our autumn is a little later than the norm, perhaps.
Two inches is just enough to make everything pretty, but not enough to start breaking limbs — a real concern this time of year. Only three years ago, a mid-November ice-storm did a heavy pruning on many of the oaks. And too much wet snow when the ground is still unfrozen can fell trees, as happened here back in December 1992.
This morning, we had four finch species at the feeders: house finch, purple finch, goldfinch and pine siskin — good-sized flocks of the latter two. Mom has high hopes for a winter-finch irruption year. It would be our first in over a decade, if it happens.
To see all of yesterday’s photos, visit the date archive at my Flickr site.