Thursday, February 18, 2010

Snow, Snow, Thick, Thick Snow...

Well it's been a tough one; my first winter at Cape May has turned out to be far from typical and is, in fact, a record breaker! Typically, Cape May itself may expect to get one or two days with a light snow fall; indeed, typically, if there's any snow at all it makes the local papers. But this winter has been exceptional. Early warnings came with exceptionally early snow back in December, but this proved to be a mere appetiser for the main event. And the snow came not once but twice. The record-breaking storm hit the area early on Saturday, February the 6th and we were soon thrown in at the deep end as our power was cut off shortly after 8am that day and wasn't re-connected for four days. Washington DC and Philadelphia - further inland than us - were hit the worst, with over two feet of snow recorded there. It's always difficult to accurately judge snow fall, but a general concensus was that we received around 19 inches of snow at Cape May - the most snow since records began. The weather stayed persistently cold and we were hit by another blizzard, with 45mph winds on the following Wednesday. Luckily, this time, power was not cut off and we got through unscathed.

Our large Red Maple lost a main limb, which lodged itself on the phone line, but I managed to free it with a trusty hand saw on the Sunday morning. Luckily, not a single branch came down from the two trees closest to the house and garage, which shows that they are more rugged than they look! The problem with the loss of power was that we rely almost entirely on electricity. We are not on mains water and rely on an electric pump to draw water from the well - so we were without both drinking water and a toilet. In addition, we had no lights, no phone (it comes as part of a cable package) and no cooking facilities - and no heat. Luckily we were able to spend a couple of nights with friends, otherwise we would have been real vagabonds. One particularly annoying thing was that our garage door is electric, so we couldn't get to the snow shovels, the bird food or a number of other useful items - so much for the luxuries of the modern world! At one time, I heard that some 90,000 homes were without power in southern New Jersey and it was really difficult getting around as broken power lines were lying across roads and gardens throughout the area.

Perhaps the saddest outcome of the blizzards was the damage done to the Virginia Junipers in the area. These trees are not designed to take snow; they don't have the sloping branches that develop on conifers in high latitude or high altitude places and the snow reaped havoc, snapping trees in half and causing great damage to some fine trees that had stood for many, many years around Cape May Point.

Birds seemed to fare reasonably well and those of us with feeders were certainly kept busy, while a little bit of oneupmanship developed as we sought to find the wackiest visitor to our feeders! Even now, nearly two weeks on, much of the damage remains to be cleared up and the snow still lies over a foot thick at many places - while snow-ploughed heaps up to eight feet high line the roadsides in places. If the weather sets fair for a few days, it'll really start to melt away, but for now, we just wait...

So here's the storm in pictures; there's not many from the immediate period of the storm as it was impossible to get out and about until the roads were cleared by snow ploughs, but you'll get an insight into what it's been like.
At the height of the blizzard, it was hard to even see out of the windows - I took this picture during a brief respite!

The view from the front porch - a glance at the tree trunk will tell you what direction the wind was blowing from!

The wind piled snow up against the windows, making it very hard to see what was happening outside - we just knew that we didn't want to be out there!

The morning after the day before - thick snow piled up and blocking outside access to the basement.

Snug as a bug in a rug! Our cars wear a blanket of foot-thick snow. The high winds had swirled around and cleared snow from the sides - this picture was taken on the Monday morning and the start of the task of getting in to work - which I didn't achieve until the Monday.

A nice profile of the snow on my car.

Megan gets stuck in! The shovel shows the depth of snow we had to clear along the length of the drive to reach the road - then of course we had to dig through the mound left by the snow plough!

Icicles hanging off the house roof.

Having got the car out, I took a quick spin (literally at times!) around town to see Cape May in the snow (note the flock of Common Grackles flying over).

Picturesque West Cape May.

Our Lady Star of the Sea, Roman Catholic Church on the corner of Washington and Ocean Streets. Wind-blown snow still clings to the shady north side.

Washington Street Pedestrian Precinct.

Hughes Street from Ocean Street

Jackson Street in the heart of the old Victorian part of town

Fire hydrant on Jackson Street

The Queen Victoria on Ocean Street

Ocean Street - very different to how the tourists see it

Beach Avenue - the seafront, at the corner with Decatur Street

Cape May's famous sandy beach - with not a grain of sand to be seen!

Single file traffic only could get through Jackson Street

The famous 'wild west-style' Swain's Hardware store

Welcome to Cape May! A greeting to visitors at the west end of Perry Street.

Of course, throughout it all we kept the bird feeders filled as best we could. The area of ground that I cleared to put out seed for ground-feeders attracted this American Woodcock, though he didn't stay too long as the ground was too hard for him to probe into.

The biggest surprise guests at our feeder were a couple of Eastern Meadowlarks, open ground birds that rarely come close to houses.

Another unexpected and surprising feeder visitor was this male Rusty Blackbird which appeared for a short while with a mixed flock of Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles.

Not to be outdone, the feeders at work produced surprises too. Though by no means rare, it's the first time that the local Mallards have strayed into the Northwood Center from nearby Lily Lake.

The scene that greeted us at the Northwood Center on Monday morning was certainly a sad sight, as several of the old Virginia Junipers lining the front steps had collapsed under the weight of snow and had to be cut back so that we could get in.

Fallen branches and a foot of snow on the steps had to be tackled before we could get to base camp and the kettle!

Some days later, I took a drive around Cape May Point and found dozens and dozens of shattered trees - this one's on the south side of the Pavilion Avenue circle.

Same tree, different angle.

The fine American Holly that stands in the church grounds on the north side of the Pavilion Avenue circle was split in two at the base and had many higher branches broken off too.

With many of the houses around Cape May Point being holiday accommodation, many of the damaged trees may not be cleared for several months.