Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Winter Rain on Opposite Coasts

It rained last night.

We have a metal roof and I woke up in the middle of the night to the tapping and plopping of raindrops.  My heart sank a little bit.

Seeing those words on this blog are a bit of a surprise, really.  For most of my 'previous' life in southern California, waking up to December rain would have brought excitement and anticipation.  Essential life-giving water, absent for much of the year, was being poured into the hills and canyons.  In California, rain means green hills that later erupt in a rainbow of flower colors... silent, cobble-strewn creekbeds again filled with the rush of bubbling water, a temporary but impeccable cleanness to the air.  Winter rain in California brings life.

After a winter rain on Boney Ridge in southern California, every dip and gully in these rocks is filled with tiny streams.  A few days after the rain, they are again dry.

It's hard to be excited about winter rain in Vermont, though.

Snowless fields and overcast skies in Vermont - the crows appreciate the bare mud as their food is not buried in the snow.

We've had a warm few months here in Vermont.  It's not that it hasn't been cold at all, of course, and we were in the single digits just a few nights ago.  But, the storm track has been howling up from the southwest, right up from the Gulf of Mexico.  This means the storms have mostly brought south wind, and rain instead of snow.

A dusting of snow means only tiny icicles.

Summer rain in Vermont is a miracle of life - it still amazes me that rain can fall from such a warm sky (it does not rain in the summer where I am from - summer rain is so rare it makes the nightly news if there is enough to wet the roads).  Everything is green, from the moss on the rocks to the tops of the tall maples.  The lightning that cuts through a Vermont thunderstorm almost seems out of place, an interjection of violent harshness in a deluge of life and fertility.  Spring rain is a bit harder to love, but it melts away the old crusty snow and wakes up the salamanders and frogs.  Fall rain brings with it clean Canadian air and the smell of woodsmoke and wet leaves.  Winter rain... well, it mostly just brings trouble.

Ice melts and refreezes on a car skylight, due to Vermont temperatures meandering above and below the freezing point.

I was, as always, excited about the start of snow season.  Except, this year, it keeps raining on the snow.  There's no snow outside right now, as last night's rain melted the last of it.  It's below freezing, of course, as it usually is this time of year, because the south wind has stopped.  Ice has formed on the puddles and on roads not warmed by the sun.  The roads are still treacherous, but the hills aren't draped in white.  I can't try out my new cross country skiis.  The animals and plants can't use the water from the rain, because it's still below freezing in between storms.  The one upside is the dramatic ice formations in the streams, as they are still flowing well due to the rain.

Ice along the Middlebury River

There is beauty in every natural event, even those that cause us trouble, and it seems ridiculous for me to complain about flowing water.  Last year was one of the snowiest on record in Vermont, because the jet stream was a bit further east and brought us Gulf Stream moisture on top of cold Canadian air.  We had two years worth of snow last year, so climate issues aside it means we 'need' years with below average snowfall to balance things out.  And, the weather could shift at any time.  The computer models used to predict weather haven't been to reliable this year.

This gully in the riverbed filled with water after winter rain, formed ice on its surface after the cold front passed, then left these odd formations as the rest of the water soaked into the sand.

So maybe tomorrow's storm won't start as snow, but turn to sleet and then rain and end in a muddy mess.  Maybe we'll get six inches of fresh powder instead.  If it does rain, I resolve to go to the river and watch the ice formations snap off and float downstream in the rising waters.  There is beauty in ice and mud, even if it's harder to see than the beauty in snow.

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