The Star-Herald

Record cold, blocked doors and slippery roads

Ever since that record-tying 68 on the first of November, which I wrote about in my last column, we’ve been burning a lot of fuel. Through midnight on the 18th, Caribou’s heating degree days were about 5 percent higher than last November, which was itself a colder-than-normal month. What is “normal”?  It refers to the average temperature based on a 30-year data set that is recalculated every decade. Right now we are using 1981-2010 climate data.

So what that “heating degree days 5 percent higher than last year” means is that for every 100 “units” of energy used from Nov. 1 to 18 last year, you used about 105 “units” from Nov. 1 to 18 this year. And when comparing this November to normal, again through the 18th, it was running about 17 percent above normal for heating degree days. That means that through the first 18 days of the month, for every 100 units you would burn in a “normal” November, you burned about 117 units this year. Expensive weather, to be sure.

November also has seen some record-breaking overnight lows. Thanks to NWS Caribou for these bone-chilling stats. There were three consecutive record lows on the 16th, 17th and 18th. On the 17th, Caribou recorded the earliest 0-degree temperature on record. In addition, the morning lows of -1F and 0F on the 17th and 18th, respectively, were the earliest consecutive temperatures of 0 degrees or colder on record, smashing the old record by two weeks. It had last occurred 60 years ago, in 1959, but not until the 30th of November and the 1st of December.

Moving one day forward, through the 19th of November, this has been the seventh snowiest start to a snow season on record, with 14.3 inches recorded at NWS Caribou. Last year, with 24.6″ through the 19th, it was the second snowiest start. The snowiest start to a season through the 19th? That would be the 28.6″ in 1963. That year, there was a lot of snow on the ground by Halloween. By the way, when you see “on record,” they’ve been keeping records at Caribou since 1939.

Switching gears, this is the time of year when I see houses that frighten me. Why? Because I can see that one or more of the doors is blocked by ice and snow. One of the big mistakes people make is to think it’s not a problem until it’s well up the door, which is to say that they think they can just push the door through lesser amounts. This is not true. If it is hardened snow and ice, even six inches can prevent you from opening the door if it is a door that swings outward. In an emergency, if, heaven forbid, you need to leave your house in a hurry, you want to make sure that all of your exits are free and clear.

Here’s a simple rule of thumb: If you can open your door in the summer, make sure you can open it in the winter. Otherwise you may as well be nailing a sheet of plywood over it, blocking one of your escape routes.

I would be remiss not to acknowledge the 45th anniversary of the great pre-Thanksgiving snow blitz of 1974. From the 20th through the 27th, 34.1″ of snow buried Caribou, with 14.8″ of that falling just two days before Thanksgiving, which fell on the 28th that year. November of 1974 ended up being the snowiest month of the entire 1974-75 snow season.

Now, back to 2019. An extremely dangerous freezing rain event coated many County roads in a glaze of ice on Monday night, Nov. 18. The following day, many school districts had a delay of two hours. Many parents kept their kids at home, which this writer thinks was the right call. Freezing rain looks like rain, but forms a glaze of ice on contact. There were numerous reports of undrivable roads. If a road was steeply crowned, you were off of it. I started two threads on my WAGM Facebook page, to provide a forum for people to discuss the “delay versus close for the day” issue. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, freezing rain flies under the proverbial radar with respect to just how dangerous it is. My concern is that there continues to be more focus on “how much” versus “how slippery”, and many roads late Monday night and early Tuesday morning were, as they say in The County, like a bottle.

If you want to find those threads on my page, you’ll have to scroll back to the 19th. I think we started an important dialogue with respect to the safety of our students in adverse weather conditions and I encourage you to add your views. My view is kind of a simple one. Why take chances?

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving. See you in a couple of weeks.

Ted Shapiro holds the Broadcast Seal of Approval from both the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association. An Alexandria, Va. native, he has been chief meteorologist at WAGM-TV since 2006. Email him at  

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