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January 6, 2010 / Dave Gorham

It's "Generational"

One of our Houston TV mets said yesterday that this cold outbreak was "Generational… The kind of cold outbreak that you’ll be telling your grandchildren about." I’m not quite sure I buy into that, but one thing’s for sure: This is not your average cold front with your average winter temperatures. Let’s look at what’s happening, and we’ll start in the Plains.

In South Dakota, the National Weather Service has Blizzard Warnings, Winter Storm Warnings and Wind Chill Warnings underway. How does 45 Below sound to you? Arctic air and the sustained 35mph winds will do that! What’s worse, an additional 12 inches of snow and visibilities of zero are expected tonight.

Over in New York (an easy target) the heavy snow started just after Christmas and it has continued. Some places have recorded more than 55 inches of snow. Why is New York an easy target? Western New York snuggles up to Lake Erie and Lake Ontario and when the wind blows from the north or northwest (as it has been for the past two weeks) the snow piles up. Note: Once the Great Lakes ice over, the "lake effect" ends and the dramatic snow accumulations end, as well. As the NOAA graphic shows, the lakes haven’t iced over yet.

In the Carolinas, temperatures in the teens are expected by Friday. Though only minor amounts of snow are expected, the occasional "burst" of snow plus the strong winds may create blizzard-like conditions. There have been reports of sea turtles taken by surprise by the cold and in need of rescue near the Outer Banks, a phenomena called cold-stunned (cold-blooded creatures become lethargic and will eventually stop breathing in the cold).

Photo: Catherine Kozak

Though it’s well known Floridians have moved to the Sunshine State to thumb their noses at the cold, sometimes it’s just unavoidable. But while the snowbirds add an extra layer or two and take measures to protect their tender vegetation, it’s the citrus crop that is hit so hard by a deep freeze. Millions of dollars are on the line and everything from smudge pots, propane and coal, to wind machines, irrigation, and helicopters (like wind machines, helicopters can bring warmer air aloft down to the surface and help displace the colder air) are in use to keep the cold at bay. It should be noted that one helicopter can be used to "heat" 50 to 100 acres of crop and is perhaps not as uneconomical as it sounds. Helicopter pilots and their machines are now on standby across Florida.

Photo: AP

How to Protect Citrus Trees from the Frost (courtesy How To Do Just About Everything):

Also in the South, millions of people are preparing for the unusual (generational?)cold and this will undoubtedly lead to loss of life and property as non-approved heaters are used inside homes, car heaters are used in closed garages, and exposed water pipes freeze and burst. I’m sure you’ve seen the image below in an email, as it’s been circulating the internet for at least a couple of years. It’s tough to see, but that’s a Porsche 911, a VW Cabriolet and something else entombed in ice.

  

Here in Houston, trucks are beginning to spread the anti-icing solution of magnesium chloride across bridges and overpasses to help stave off the unavoidable boon to the auto repair shops. Temperatures in the South will likely reach the teens across northern regions of the Gulf Coast States Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings, while wind chill temperatures plunge to near zero. Closer to the Gulf Coast, the low to middle 20s are expected.

Photo: IDT (Idaho Dept of Trans)

Generational? I’ll leave that up to you to decide. Either way, you’ll likely tell your grandkids about this one – as they head out to the bus stop wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

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