Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Charles Owens

January 23, 2013

It may be cold outside now, but it hasn’t been a record setting winter — yet

Well the cold air is finally here. And it’s definitely starting to look and feel a lot like January. It’s hard to believe that just a week ago we were basking in 70-degree temperatures. That beautiful weekend seems to be nothing but a passing memory now thanks to the arctic air, and of course that foot of snow Old Man Winter dumped on us last week.

That fast-moving snowstorm will certainly be remembered as one of the nasty ones in terms of winter storms of recent history. I would put it right up there with the December 2009 monster storm. There was one difference, of course. The powerful snowstorm back in 2009 dumped wet and heavy snow on the region. In fact, it felt more like concrete than snow. And it took forever to melt. That wasn’t the case with last Thursday’s storm. It was fast and furious — but wasn’t quite as wet and heavy. And the timing of the storm was terrible for those of us who had to make the long commute home in the middle of that mess.

Snowplows, and hundreds of stranded and disabled motorists across the region, simply couldn’t keep up with the speed and intensity of the storm. But it still wasn’t quite as bad as the 2009 monster storm. They didn’t name winter storms back then. So we simply called that one the “monster” storm. We also melted a lot of last week’s snow very quickly.

But that melting is on hold, at least for now. It was bitterly cold last night — we are talking single digits here — and it’s going to be quite cold once again tonight. It will get warmer again — it always does. In fact, we should climb above freezing by Thursday, just in time for another winter storm that appears to be developing. Lovely.

But this isn’t quite as cold as what we’ve seen in the past. Remember the nightmarish  winters of 2010 and 2011 when it snowed every day, the sun was missing in action for two months and the temperature outside never climbed above freezing. We aren’t having a winter like that this year. Nope. It’s more of a normal winter with a few exceptions. Last week’s storm was an exception because it hit so quickly. And there wasn’t a lot of advance warning. We woke up the morning before, and we heard some rumblings of a possible snowstorm and that was basically it.

Superstorm Sandy — and the big pre-Halloween snowstorm that further complicated efforts last fall to schedule trick or treat times across the region — was also quite unusual. It has snowed before at Halloween, but you normally don’t see hybrid superstorms with gusty winds and heavy snow on the week before the holiday.

What can we expect for the remainder of January? Probably more of a roller coaster ride of warm days and cold days. And probably another winter storm or two. (Maybe one Thursday night into Friday?) But let’s hope Old Man Winter will be a little more cooperative with the next storm. Last week, most of us were at work when the big storm hit, and by quitting time road conditions had rapidly deteriorated. Without a four-wheel drive vehicle many were simply stuck. And those of us with four-wheel drive vehicles were still slipping and sliding, thanks to the fact that the storm started with sleet and ice before changing to snow. It’s never a comforting feeling when your four-wheel drive vehicle starts going sideways instead of forward. Yes, it would be better if such storms hit late at night, after the evening commute has been completed, or at least on a weekend where if we don’t have to drive we have the option of staying at home.

Nothing that we’ve seen in recent history will compare, of course, to the great Blizzard of 1993. The monster of all monster storms buried the region under more than two feet of snow on the morning of March 13, 1993. I still remember that day pretty well. My little vehicle at the time was completely buried under snow. That happens when you get hit with more than two feet of snow in a relatively short period of time. You couldn’t even open the door to go outside without facing a large pile of snow.

There have been a few blizzard warnings issued by the National Weather Service for our region since that so-called storm of the century back in 1993. But nothing has compared in intensity or snowfall totals to it, unless you count the total seasonal snowfall for the snowmageddon storms of 2010 and 2011. For example, when all was done and said, the relentless winter of 2010 dumped a record setting 80 inches of snow on Bluefield. The old record prior to 2010 was 77.8 inches.

I think we can safely say that the new snowfall record set back in 2010 should stand — at least for now. But between Superstorm Sandy and the foot of snow dumped upon last week, we’ve already had in excess of 20 inches of snow for the season. And it looks like more snow — or at least a wintry mix of snow, sleet, freezing rain and plain old rain, is possible for Thursday, Friday and maybe even Saturday as well. So winter looks like it is here to stay. Of course, we will have to wait and see what the groundhog has to say regarding the situation in about two weeks.

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

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