Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

December 5, 2012

Warm nights, short days and an impressive cityscape illusion

When darkness cloaks the vast cityscape, it creates an impressive illusion of size and depth that can be somewhat misleading to the young or untrained eye. As a child, I would often marvel at this impressive late-night panorama from U.S. Route 460.

We didn’t get to travel a lot growing up, but when we did, it was always a delight. But living in McDowell County also meant a long ride home on U.S. Route 52. And before you could reach Route 52 you had to make the long ride back to Mercer County on Route 460. By the time we would reach Princeton, the city would already be cloaked in darkness — even on a warm summer night. And what an impressive scene it was, and still is.

The staggering number of lights, and the amount of traffic that can be viewed from the four-lane corridor, creates an impressive illusion of depth. The city can appear at night to be almost double or triple its actual size. You simply don’t get the same view of Bluefield or Bluefield, Va., from Route 460 at night like you do with the city of Princeton.

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While leaving the city limits of Princeton last week in hopes of avoiding the traffic congestion associated with the downtown Christmas parade, I once again wondered at this impressive late-night scene from Route 460. It was as if I had just left a city that was much larger than it actually is. But the childhood vision of this larger-than-life metropolis was replaced by the reality of frantic holiday shoppers, bumper-to-bumper traffic and the occasional driver who doesn’t know how to dim his or her headlights from the bright setting.

While I still enjoy burning the midnight oil every now and then, driving at night isn’t quite as fun as it used to be. And I’m still trying to adjust to this whole time change thing. The short days and long nights are, quite honestly, a little frustrating. It’s dark when I wake up in the morning, and it’s dark when I get off from work in the evening.

While driving through Princeton last week, it felt and looked like it was 10 p.m. at night. But it was only 6 p.m. It is enough to make you long for the warm and lazy days of summer. The problem was magnified by a week off from work last week. I found myself moving a little slower than normal each morning — taking care of a multitude of tasks at home. Cleaning. Mopping. Cleaning the wood floor upstairs. Using the vacuum cleaner both upstairs and downstairs. Changing the sheets, bed spread and pillow cases. (Yes, some guys out there are actually good housekeepers). The two Jeeps outside also had to be cleaned both inside, and later, outside at a local car wash. It was also time to shred a multitude of old bills that had been piling up. So by the time I got everything done that needed to be done each day, it was already somewhat late in the afternoon before I actually left home. That meant only three or four hours of remaining daylight.

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The beautiful spring-like temperatures we’ve been enjoying over the past couple of days are enough to make you forget about the time change, and the fact that winter is near — if not already knocking on the door. Going to bed without having to turn the heat on at night is quite an accomplishment for early December. After all, the normal daytime highs for this time of the year should in the 40s — not pushing 70.

How long will the above-average temperatures last? Well, they could continue into next week, according to the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Va. It would be a little unusual to see such a prolonged warming trend in our area for early December. After all, we were dealing with snowmageddon storms in early December back in 2009 and 2010. Now, we have spring-like weather.

On average, the Bluefield area sees about 30 inches of snow each winter. And believe it or not, we are already well on our way toward meeting that average — despite the current warming trend. That’s because superstorm Sandy dumped about 10 inches of snow on the Bluefield area back in October. So that pre-Halloween snow will actually count toward our 2012-2013 snowfall totals for Bluefield, forecasters told me last week.

Will it snow for Christmas? It is still too early to say. But winter is near. It may not feel like it outside, but it is. The winter solstice arrives on Dec. 21, coincidentally the same day the ancient Mayans predicted the world will end. I know this because I’ve watched far too many History Channel and National Geographic Channel specials on the same topic in recent days. Winter will arrive, and the world will probably continue on as well — despite what the History Channel and National Geographic Channel would have you to believe otherwise. (Spoiler alert: In case you missed it, fossil fuels — and coal, of course — are to blame for the pending doomsday to come in 16 days, according to one of the History Channel specials).

 Like it or not, more time will be spent indoors as opposed to outdoors in the coming weeks. And even a short drive down the road to Princeton can become an adventure in the trickery of darkness, cold nights and even snow. Enjoy the nice weather while it lasts. Eventually it will get cold again.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him at BDTOwens.

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