Transformative Meteorology

14 inches of snow fell on this little suburb in Vancouver Washington…When we lost power during the snowstorm, I went outside–whole area was blacked out entirely. But there was a suffused glow, kind of very soft purple, on everything, lighting the low clouds and houses. No shadows. Ambient light is there, faintly, all the time–except maybe in a deep cavern. It’s partly from “Airglow (also called nightglow) … a faint emission of light by a planetary atmosphere”–it shows up when there’s a great deal of snow over everything, the snow reflecting it back…It’s subtle, beautiful, but eerie.

You’ve probably noticed that when snow is falling, if you pick out a snowflake and try to follow it down, it seems to slow a little, because of the way you’re perceiving it, and then suddenly you see the general fall of snow more three-dimensionally. If you do it over and over, it makes time seem to lightly put on the brakes. At a time like that you may notice that each snowflake, in a lighted place, has a shadow. If you look at snow in the light, up close it seems iridescent; that’s from light going through billions of little prisms in ice crystals.

The sky was turquoise today, cloudless, sunny. I hired a scruffy but likable local kid–maybe 19–to clear the thick snow out of the driveway. After he did it I walked down the sloped driveway, and suddenly imitated a bumbler in an old comedy slipping on a banana. I went over backwards, and landed flat on my back. After I sat up, I saw there was a very attenuated, hard to see slick of ice remaining on the concrete. The snow had been melting, hiding its melt at the bottom. (My back is a bit achy but okay.) The snow coating the trees was melting at the top and that would start a cascade, more and more all the way to the bottom and there’d be a thin avalanche of snow under the trees, one every thirty seconds or so, up and down the street.

Snow has weight, as avalanche victims know; it’s quite amazing how heavy an accumulation of mere snowflakes can be: our magnolia tree collapsed. Fell over…The front yard tree I’d hung ornaments from for Christmas…

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