A white Christmas. Who would have guessed. Hasn’t been one around these parts in 83 years (though we’ve certainly had other white days in all those winters, and we’ve had almost white Christmases too).
Snow came horizontally all day yesterday, a lateral ice frenzy driven by fierce winds that caused blizzard conditions not too far west of the DFW metroplex. But those same winds coupled with exceptionally dry air caused a good deal of sublimation, so by sunrise this morning a sizable chunk of the snow had already vanished. A few hours later and it was all but gone except in those areas where sunshine never touched it.
As is obvious by the striations and dunes in that photo, wind controlled the event, causing drifts, hills and valleys, scouring one side of the street in favor of pushing all the snow to the other side, and so on. In places it hardly seemed any snow had fallen, but it had indeed fallen but had also been relocated before being allowed to settle for the night.
All it took was a small obstacle, a small dip or rise in the terrain, and the snow built majestic patterns that made one think of a high mountaintop always drenched in ice. Some of the photos I took today would make you wonder if I had visited Antarctica or Siberia. Others look like paltry offerings from Old Man Winter who’d been too tired to make real snow. And the dichotomies often rested next to each other with nothing more than a twig or tuft of grass making all the difference.
Many people laugh at Texans for all the hoopla that goes on regarding snow. But those people don’t understand why it’s such a big deal for us. It’s not that snow is alien and unheard of here. No, this is Texas and we get all the weather you can imagine, from snow to hurricanes to heat well above the century mark to sandstorms to tornadoes to hail the size of grapefruits to… Well, you get the point.
It’s not that we’ve never seen snow before or that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event here; it’s just that we’re more apt to get ice instead of snow. The Gulf of Mexico gives us plenty of moisture to work with, yet our proximity to tropical climes tends to force wedges of hot air right through whatever cold air settles atop us. Depending on how deep that warm air is and how far above the surface it is, we either get sleet or freezing rain, but the depth of cold air needed for snowfall usually doesn’t visit us that often, hence we get ice storms instead of snowstorms. (Our next such ice event appears to be on tap for next Tuesday and Wednesday.)
The other side of the coin stems from the radical shifts in our weather. The longest freeze on record was in 1983, from December 18 to December 30. White Rock Lake froze over—solid enough to walk on—as did other area lakes, and government and schools and nonessential businesses were shuttered forcefully to ensure homes could be heated. That event is an exception, however, as we usually have hard freezes quickly followed by warmth. Like today: well below freezing this morning with plenty of sunshine and comfortably above freezing this afternoon. So snow often has a short lifespan here, another reason it’s celebrated.
As I walked around the lake this morning enjoying the vanishing snow, I rediscovered one of the hidden joys it offers: tracks. I found quite a bit of activity etched in the white stuff, activity that showed life and death struggles, meandering searches for meals, quick escapes, and a litany of wildlife comings and goings. The first such track I found was in a very surprising place, too. More on those discoveries in later posts.