So small a thing

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).

A creek winding through a snowy field (2009_12_25_046742)

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.

Striations and dunes indicating wind-driven snow (2009_12_25_046770)

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.

Deep snow on the bank of a creek (2009_12_25_046749)

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.

Snow in intricate patterns due to strong winds (2009_12_25_046779)

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.)

Snow resting atop some leaves (2009_12_25_046890)

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.

A snowy scene (2009_12_25_046696)

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.

10 thoughts on “So small a thing”

  1. Living in a part of the country where ice is more common than snow, I share your enthusiasm! Your snow show is delightful, Jason, and I’m so happy you have a White Christmas.

    1. Thank you, Larry! I hope you had a great Christmas and that you have a safe yet enjoyable New Year celebration planned. I see 2010 as an opportunity–not just to see more nature, but to do more on its behalf. Hopefully I can share some of that here. Be well!

  2. Even though Portland is much further north, our maritime climate also makes snow an exotic event (though we can drive to mountain snow easily enough), so I understand your excitement. Happy holidays to you. I look forward to more of your nature posts in the coming year.

    1. You know, Liz, I was in Seattle in 2001 or 2002 around Christmas when a sudden snow storm hit. I was amazed at how the storm crippled the city (it was bad: highways clogged with abandoned vehicles and roads left impassible). I realized then precisely what you said: that area might be “in the north,” but being there doesn’t mean it’s arctic.

      And thank you so much for the best wishes! I hope your Christmas was grand and you have a safe yet marvelously enjoyable New Year celebration!

  3. Hi Jason – that snow sure was a treat! I see you took pictures AFTER the blizzard. I was urged to walk around the house, to take pictures of how things looked DURING the blizzard. 🙂

    1. I tried getting photos during the storm, Amber, but I wasn’t happy with them. Mainly it was either too much snow blowing onto the end of the lens or the snow blowing so hard that the pictures looked like images of an aphid swarm. (I haven’t quite mastered capturing snow that’s blowing around that vigorously. Mind you, I don’t get a lot of practice.)

      But it was dazzling, wasn’t it? Certainly a nice way to put people into a festive holiday mood. And if the forecasts come even close to the truth, it looks like we’re getting more this week. Three snow storms in December with no ice? That’s a real treat for us!

  4. I visited Texas during that 1983 winter (I feel special!). It was my first visit to Texas (visiting former in-laws in Dallas) and we got hit with a snow storm the day before our planned drive to Corpus Christi. We drove anyway, and it was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I’ve ever had. It was worth it, though – Padre Island in January is quiet indeed, and we also stopped by Aransas on our way back to St. Louis. Sadly, I didn’t know jack about natural history at the time, just a budding interest in beetles.

    1. I had to laugh, Ted: you visit Texas for the first time and you get a taste of the arctic instead of something mild and comfortable. And I wouldn’t envy you driving in it. Texans mostly are horrible drivers who barely get around in sunshine, let alone with rain or snow or–heaven forbid!–ice on the roads. You’re definitely a brave man.

      Winter is a good time to visit the coast: no throngs of people, but plenty of wildlife and natural beauty and (usually) agreeable weather. Hopefully you get another chance to head south for winter and get to enjoy it for its natural treasures.

Leave a Reply