The Star-Herald

Behind door No. 2? Maybe your life

Emergency! Everyone out, quick!

Oh, no — I can’t open the door, because someone has nailed it shut!

That might as well be the case when snow is blocking your door so you can’t open it. So this year, I figured I would get the message out early about making sure to follow one simple rule this upcoming snow season: If you can use the door in the summer, make sure you can use it in the winter, too. Fire spreads very rapidly and you want to ensure that the fastest way for you and your family to get out of the house is not blocked by snow and ice. So again, please make sure that your doors remain clear all winter long. It is also very important for first responders who may need to get in quickly to help someone who needs urgent medical attention.

The rule is so easy to remember. If you can use a door in the summer, make sure you can use it in the winter, too.

Meanwhile, as expected, the drought map released after my last column showed dramatic improvement. (Search for “Northeast Drought Monitor” for more information.) No portion of The County is in severe drought any longer, as of the report released Oct. 29, and we can thank October for most of the improvement. At Caribou, it was the third wettest October on record, with 7.21 inches of rain. That’s more than Caribou received for the entire growing season (7.2).

Recently I gave instructions on how to find wind information so you can know if you might have to contend with blowing snow in your winter travels. As I’ve previously mentioned, sometimes, in terms of travel, the worst part of a winter storm comes when the wind kicks up after the snow has stopped falling. I’ve been asked about providing that info again by several folks around town, so here it is again, with a bit of added detail.

Just Google: NWS CAR AFM.  (“AFM” stands for Area Forecast Matrix). Click the link at the top of the resultant list, and you will get a table of information. In the table, on the far left-hand side, look for “Wind dir,” “Wind spd” and “Wind gust,” with the latter meaning maximum forecast gust within the three-hour time period. Note the times across the top of the table. The top row is given in our local time, but in military time. If you are not used to that, if the number is greater than 12, it just means it is in the afternoon or evening. Subtract 12 and you will have the time. For instance, “22” would mean 10 p.m. Wind direction is always where the wind is coming from. For example, the Caribou road is a north-south road, so a strong west wind would blow snow (assuming it was powdery) across it. Typically, when the snow is powdery, frequent gusts into the 30s are enough to cause widespread blowing snow.

So now you have a way to know, in a simple, easy-to-read grid form, if the wind is forecast to increase substantially after the flakes stop falling. 

Years ago, the National Weather Service would issue what was called a traveler’s advisory for weather systems which would cause widespread slick travel, though not a heavy snowfall. Robert and I kicked it around and we have decided we are going to use that specific term anytime we think that there will be widespread travel impacts due to wintry weather, even if totals will not be significant. If you’re traveling on slick roads, that is what’s significant.

I can think of no simpler way to get the message across that folks should expect widespread slick travel than to use the good old traveler’s advisory. So again, we’ll be using that language this season, and now you’ll know what it means. Too many people let their guard down when there is a minor snowfall, but accidents don’t “care” how much snow is on the road, even if it’s only a slushy half-inch or so.

And finally, if you are dreading the cold to come in the months ahead, don’t. You can get tons of pleasure being outdoors if you are wearing the right gear (and that’s true at any time of the year). The air is so pure and clean on a sharp, cold, blue-sky January day. And If you look closely, there are myriad winter wonders, and among them are rime ice and hoar frost.

Rime ice forms when supercooled water droplets (which can exist in the atmosphere at temperatures below freezing) encounter an object and freeze onto it. There are spectacular online pictures of heavy accretions of rime ice at the Mount Washington Weather Observatory. Hoar frost skips the water droplet phase entirely, and instead goes straight from water vapor to fine, delicate ice crystals that grow upon every branch and twig. Everything becomes frosted in crystalline structures. A good place to look for hoar frost is near rivers and in marshy areas on very cold mornings, with temperatures well below zero.

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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