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Tales of a bone-chilling snowstorm

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Tuesday, 17 February 2015 - Last Updated on February 28, 2015
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snow-245285_1280George R.R. Martin perfectly described the longest winter in Westeros as the the “night that seemed to last for a generation.” It was a winter that lasted for years. Such an occurrence would, of course, never happen in real life. But the people of the northeastern part of the United States are currently experiencing a taste of what it felt like for the Westerosi during the Long Night. This season of snowstorms in northeastern US has become the longest winter in many decades, and it has shown no signs of stopping.

 

As of February 13, 2015, three major storms have hit the New England this season, leaving six feet or more of snow in many areas. New Englanders, however, are bracing for another one after the National Weather Service of the US issued a blizzard warning anew.

 

Reports state that massive snow piles have clogged the streets. Roof infrastructures have collapsed due to the amount of snow. “Snow days” have been declared in many schools ahead of the impending school vacation period. Many families have decided to move to warmer destinations. Several roads have also been rerouted. Rail, bus and ferry services have been suspended, causing a series of disruptions for the area’s public transit network. Motorists have been advised to stay off roads. Authorities have even contemplated of issuing a travel ban. A parking ban is Boston is now in effect.

 

According to a report by Al Jazeera, the current storm originated as a fast moving depression over central Canada known as the “Alberta Clipper”, a storm system during the winter months which originates from the Canadian Province of Alberta. The storm heads across New Jersey and then northeastwards into the Atlantic, bringing forth a strong northeasterly wind and blizzard conditions.

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What is a snowstorm?

WeatherExplained.com explains that snow storms or winter storms are “generated as are many of the thunderstorms of summer, from disturbances along the boundary between cold polar and warm tropical air masses—the fronts where air masses of different temperatures and densities wage their perpetual war of instability and equilibrium.” These disturbances may lead to intense low-pressure systems, churning over tens of thousands of square miles in a great counter-clockwise sweep.

There are three key factors in order for these disturbances to become winter storms: (1) cold air (below-freezing temperatures facilitate the production of snow and ice); (2) moisture (which forms clouds and precipitation); and lift (which raises the moist air to form clouds, precipitation, and fronts). The weather almanac website further explains that because they form over water, these storms are difficult to forecast, and occasionally surprise the Atlantic region with paralyzing snows.

Since 1936, snowstorms have caused, directly and indirectly, about 200 deaths a year. Of such deaths, usually 70% are attributed to snowstorm-related automobile and other accidents; about 25% are caused by overexertion, exhaustion, and consequent fatal heart attack resulting from shoveling snow, pushing cars, and other snow-related physical labor. The remaining number, about 5 percent, are deaths due to home fires, carbon monoxide poisoning in stalled cars, electrocution from downed wires, and building collapse.

Snowstorms are named and recalled by the date of their occurrence. The current snowstorm in the US is called the Valentine’s Day storm of 2014. Other notable snow storms include the Ash Wednesday storm of March 1962 and the St. Patrick’s Day snowstorm of 2015. Weather channels, however, use names like Linus, Nemo or Neptune, the Pressofatlanticcity.com reports.

According to Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boston’s snow winter could point to weather patterns affected by global warming.

“The environment in which all storms form is now different than it was just 30 or 40 years ago because of global warming,” he said, warning that in the future, due to climate change, snowfalls will increase because the atmosphere can hold 4% more moisture for every 1-degree increase in temperature. 

Snowstorm preparedness

Snowstorms may not occur in the Philippines, but for those with relatives in the United States or those planning to go to snowstorm-affected areas, here are some tips by the American Red Cross on how to prepare for a winter storm:

  • Winter-proof your vehicle and keep the gas tank full. A full tank will keep the fuel line from freezing.
  • Insulate homes by installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic from the inside to keep cold air out.
  • Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected every year.
  • If you’re going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.

A supply kit is also a must-have. It may contain the following items:

  • Water—at least a 3-day supply; one gallon per person per day
  • Food—at least a 3-day supply of non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food
  • Flashlight
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
  • Extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Medications (7-day supply) and medical items (hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, contact lenses, syringes, etc.)
  • Multi-purpose tools
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items
  • Copies of personal documents (medication list and important medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)
  • Cell phone with chargers
  • Family and emergency contact information
  • Extra cash
  • Baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers)
  • Pet supplies (collar, leash, ID, food, carrier, bowl)
  • Tools/supplies for securing your home
  • Sand, rock salt or non-clumping kitty litter to make walkways and steps less slippery
  • Warm coats, gloves or mittens, hats, boots and extra blankets and warm clothing for all household members
  • Ample alternate heating methods such as fireplaces or wood- or coal-burning stoves 

Things to do during a winterstorm

During the winterstorm, here are some tips to remain safe:

  • Listen to a NOAA Weather Radio or other local news channels for critical information on snow storms and blizzards from the National Weather Service (NWS).
  • Bring pets/companion animals inside during winter weather. Move other animals or livestock to sheltered areas and make sure that their access to food and water is not blocked by snow drifts, ice or other obstacles.
  • Running water, even at a trickle, helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  • All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside and kept clear.
  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals up out of the reach of children.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
  • Go to a designated public shelter if your home loses power or heat during periods of extreme cold.
  • Avoid driving when conditions include sleet, freezing rain or drizzle, snow or dense fog. If travel is necessary, keep a disaster supplies kit in your vehicle.
  • Before tackling strenuous tasks in cold temperatures, consider your physical condition, the weather factors and the nature of the task.
  • Protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia by wearing warm, loose-fitting, lightweight clothing in several layers. Stay indoors, if possible.
  • Help people who require special assistance such as elderly people living alone, people with disabilities and children.
Jan Marcel Ragaza (10 Posts)


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