Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Frederick, Maryland Historic Blizzard Jonas-1/23/2016
Let me just start off this chase log by saying. It takes a lot to get me to drive a long distance for some snow. After all, I do live in Ohio and Winter is in full swing. Even though I think our yearly snow total is only 3 inches. If I want cold and snow I could just stay here, and not spend any money. But, about a week and a half before this event was starting to get noticed by most media outlets and chasers I noticed the GFS hinting a very strong Nor'Easter with over a foot of snow for parts of Pennsylvania and Virginia and even Maryland. Now, of course this is the GFS we are talking about. Its bad enough with severe weather in the long range. Let alone snow totals. I jokingly posted a snapchat that day saying "a road trip might be in order". Little did I know at the time, it really was.
After a couple of days I eventually forgot about the event. Until I started hearing the media and other chasers start chatting about it. So, I dug into the models and about had a stroke when I saw the snow totals that the GFS, GEM, NAM and Euro were showing. They were throwing out numbers anywhere for 30-50 inches of snow! Not only that, they were also showing very strong surface winds with a deepening low pressure system hanging just off of the East coast at 980mlb. Now, when you see iso bars pinches so close together you can't even fit a finger nail in between you know fun times are about to begin. But, with a Winter system it means something big is coming. Models were literally showing the "perfect setup" for a major Winter storm. You had a low pressure system centered of the deep South, which would spark severe weather the day before the blizzard. That energy would be handed off to another, developing Low that would become the Nor'Easter. The deepening low on the East coast had very strong 850s out of the East which would be able to funnel in loads, and loads of moisture for the snow shield. Now, that sounds impressive all its own right? Well, high pressure was centered over Canada and would stall out the Nor'Easter before moving in pushing it back out to sea. That meant hours, and hours of this Low just sitting over Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, and New Jersey.
This of course immediately peaked my interest. When media is throwing out phrases like "A once in 50, or even 100 year storm" and "Perfect Storm" its enough to get any storm chaser excited. Note, how I say storm chaser. A lot of people just chase tornadoes and supercells, and that's fine. But, I personally fine every aspect of weather amazing. The Buffalo Lake Effect Blizzard I documented on November 17th, 2014 is still one of my favorite, and most intense storm chases to date. But, there was a problem. I worked every day that week and I'm still saving for my big, 5 month hike this year. But, I didn't want to miss something like this. To witness something historic, and say you were there for it is my favorite part about storm chasing. I strive to document as many historic events as possible. There were many factors I had to consider though. How long would I be stuck for? What if my car got buried to the point where I couldn't dig it out for a week? What if the power went out? What if I got stuck in my car away from the hotel? Would I have enough food? How would I explain to my bosses if I got stranded for a week? Would I make any kind of a profit off of this, or at least break even? After all, I am still saving every dime I have for my hike. All questions I had to ask myself. But, I am a firm believer, that sometimes in life, you just have to say "F.ck it" and go and things will work themselves out. Which I have had happen many times before. So, I got my shifts covered for that Saturday and Sunday (I already had Friday off of work) and I was on my way to Maryland. Had a general idea of where I wanted to go, but still hadn't narrowed down a town yet. Because once you are there, you're there. There's no leaving.
I spent the night in Hagerstown, Maryland because I was so tired from driving all night after working at REI that I got a hotel where I could rest and go over the morning's model data. I found myself becoming unsettled though. My mind started playing tricks with me as I tried narrowing down a city to choose. There came a point where I didn't even want to leave the hotel I was staying at. I was pretty paranoid about getting stuck for a long time. This is 40 inches of snow we are talking about. That alone will strand you. But couple that with winds up to 55mph? The drifts that can cause are unimaginable. I called a fellow chaser and got his opinion on a few things since I was in 2WD vehicle. Which, in the end didn't help my decision to leave Hagerstown any easier. So, I finally, again, said "F.ck it" and drove to Frederick, Maryland, where I felt the heaviest snow would fall.
I arrived in Frederick to browse hotels and said to myself "Holy fuuuuuuuuuuu" WHY ARE THERE SO MANY PEOPLE OUT THIS CLOSE TO A POTENTIALLY HISTORIC BLIZZARD?!?! I mean, there was bumper to bumper to traffic on every road! But that wasn't even the worst part. I went to Walmart to get some food that wouldn't go bad just in case the worse case scenario did happen as I like to be over prepared, rather than under prepared. Now, we've all seen photos floating around online of empty bread shelves. Iv'e always thought those were jokes or from some previous year. But holy crap, was I proven wrong. I went down the bread aisle and the bread was almost all gone!
My food list consisted of
-A loaf of bread
-A few packages of sandwich meat
-A big bag of chips (with two other small bags)
-And a couple beef sticks.
Even with this food, I was still unsettled that this would do. But, I checked out anyway and started looking for hotels. I came across one hotel that was decently priced, but as I drove down this residential road, probably a mile or two away from the main drag through town I thought to myself after I parked "I already know how this is going to go" all of the plows are going to be focused on that main drag. Not residential streets. So, I turned around and continued looking (this would end up saving me a few days later). I finally found a Days Inn for 60 bucks a night. It wasn't a 5 star hotel, but it was right beside the main drag, there were multiple gas stations nearby and Walmart was down the road (and remained opened through the whole blizzard) After getting my room, I carefully chose my parking spot. I chose a spot where the wind wouldn't be blowing all the snow directly onto my car, burying it. I also parked it on the spot closest to the road leading to the main road. And so it began. The waiting game. I received a message from fellow storm chaser, and friend Nick Nolte of a chart of multiple models showing 40 inches of snow for Frederick, Maryland and I was becoming increasingly worried I had made a huge mistake as now all models I was looking at had a swath of 35-40 inches of snow and I was smack center in the middle of it.
Perfect targeting? Or big mistake? Well, I was committed at this point, so it was time to find out if I'd be stuck so long, I had better start job searching. Or, if I'd be out in a couple days and still be happily employed and still be able to save money for the PCT. I sat in my room waiting for the snow to arrive, as I watched it inch closer and closer to my location. Then, I glanced out my window and saw the first snow flakes start to fly. Here we go. It begins.
Remember this view.
I about forgot to take a before photo so I could compare it later since we started with a clean slate. Now, although it was snowing it took until around midnight for the main event to show up. The first 6 inches of snow we received were actually still associated with the initial low pressure system hand off. But trust me, Jonas was just getting started. Things began to happen rapidly after the midnight hour with snow beginning to approach 1in an hour. With stronger bands of 2in an hour. It actually took awhile for the stronger bands to get to my location, and I briefly thought I chose the wrong area as DC was getting hammered.
I drove around for as long as I could before taking cover in my hotel for the night. Sure enough, when the first dusting of snow stuck, traffic accidents were already happening <face palm>
After a few hours of live streaming and videoing the snow I headed back to the hotel as roads began to become nearly impassible in a 2WD vehicle. The night before, I was to anxious to actually sleep well, and only ended up getting about 4 hours of sleep. Which clearly wasn't enough, because I accidentally passed out around 3am. I woke up around 7am and briefly panicked that I might have missed it all (this was before I checked what time it was). Opening my blinds, I was startled to see that I couldn't even see the rock or bushes anymore. I walked outside and what I saw was so surreal.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! KMDGUFSIOGIKDSUFIJ!
Now, I saw a ton of snow in Buffalo. But never in my life had I, or did I think I'd ever see snow drifts like this! Those are freaking cars buried under 8ft snow drifts! The vehicle closest too me is a freaking SUV! Totally nerding out at this point I quickly grab my cameras and start snapping photos and recording video as the full fledged blizzard was underway. I'm really glad I was alone this trip because my excitement couldn't be contained. I walk towards my car, look right, and what do I see? A CAR ALMOST COMPLETELY BURIED IN SNOW!
I am so glad I dug my car out twice before I fell asleep. This would later yet again, help me in getting out as early as I did. Venturing out, it was so odd walking around what was once a road jam packed with cars that now appeared to be a ghost town. Almost seemed like you were walking around a doomsday movie and you were the only human left on earth.
My routine was essentially rest for an hour, go back out for a couple, rest, repeat. The second time I ventured back out, I was live streaming on Periscope giving people a POV of what I was seeing, when I noticed abunch of amber lights down the road off the main drag. I quickly grabbed my camcorder and walked down the road because it appeared snow plows had gotten stuck, or some kind of traffic accident had occurred. Running down a road with snow up to my knees wasn't exactly the easiest things to do, but it was about to get much tougher. Because there was a backhoe behind me coming to pull out the snow plows and vehicles. So, I got off the road and fell into snow up to my waist. Up to my freaking waist! I'd never walked in snow this deep before, so by the time I got to the snow plows I was breathing heavily because it was such a workout. You know conditions are really screwed when even snow plows are getting trapped.
Then, out of no where, winds really ramped up and I was blasted with a 40mph wind gust as the backhoe was struggling to get everyone who was trapped on their way.
Somehow though, after about an hour all the vehicles were freed, including the older gentleman in the van. Sadly, he got stuck yet again just down the road as he pulled into the hotel parking lot. But hey, at least he was at the hotel. Ironically the same one I was staying at. When I walked back, I noticed people inside the Waffle House that was connected to my hotels lobby with an open sign in the front. Holy crap! They are open! They were letting employees sleep at the hotel for free for working. Hell yes! No more chips, peanut butter, and sandwiches! A nice warm meal! Could I have gotten any more lucky? Yep! Turns out, the hotel has their own people to plow the parking lot. They worked through the night and all day clearing it up. Suddenly, all my worries were all going away. Just like the previous times I said screw it and went on a trip, things were working themselves out. Another thing I couldn't believe, is how well they had kept the main drag through town plowed. It was unreal. Obviously that was their main, and only focus at that point along with main interstates (which I purposely got my hotel right by the main interstate) so I would have a better shot at getting out early.
While out filming I randomly stumbled across the only storm chaser that had seemed to of targets Frederick as well. His name was Nathan Rohrbough. We chit chatted for awhile before Jonas had really gotten underway saying how crazy it was going to get later before parting ways. Well, I later came across him again and he was nice enough to give me a ride into town for some photos and video since he was in a 4x4 vehicle. This is where my mind was really blown. Check out this collection of pictures from downtown Frederick!
I mean, are you kidding? These are scenes you only seen in old photos from many years ago, or in some kind of natural disaster movie. I can't get these scenes out of my head. Its surreal to me that you can go from 0in of snow to this in less than 24 hours. Nature is a powerful and interesting thing isn't it? I was only out briefly with Nathan, as I was still pretty tired and needed to get back to upload more footage and keep everyone updated that I was still okay.
Back at my hotel, it was time to do the final dig out of my car. Pretty crazy I had cleared it out twice now, and there was this much snow around it again!
Over an hour of digging I was free!
Night began to fall, the winds began to settle, and as if someone flipped a switch Blizzard Jonas was beginning to wined down. I took one last look outside before going to bed and wouldn't you know it? The moon was out. It was as if nature came, shown what it can do and left. Almost like a "Look what I did" attitude. I heard some unsettling news before I fell asleep. I-270 and I-70 had been shutdown. I was also hearing rumors that the plows were being called off for the night.
Like, what the hell? Why now? Why after the storm has already hit? I was a bit angry because I had my car cleared, my parking lot was clear, my road was clear, and the main drag to the highway was also cleared. I was even packed up and ready to leave. So, I fell asleep, woke up, and right away checked social media for any updates that morning. I didn't see anything, but went to hotel lobby and asked around if they had heard if any highways were open yet. Of course they all said "No" or "Not likely". Ugh. I just want to go home. Well, I saw a tweet from a news station that 270 had been open as of 7am. So I tweeted out and asked about 70. Which is the highway I needed to get home. I got a quick response stating "according to Highway Patrol I-70 was re-opened as of 7am" sweet!!!! I packed up my car, checked out of my hotel, and slowly made my way towards the interstate. I'm free!!!! The interstate is clear as a whistle, but the battle wounds remained as there was snow piled half up my car along both sides of the interstate.
Its way better to be over prepared than under prepared. Its the soul reason I got out as early as I did. I was only stuck for one day because of carefully calculating my next move. The hotel I checked out first hadn't been touched by plows and many cars were stuck until Tuesday. A big shout out to the folks at the Days Inn who were willing to work and keep people fed throughout the blizzard and for great customer service. The manger got wind I was a storm chaser and even took a selfie with me! She had always wanted to meet one. This was one for the record book and shattered all records for Maryland and the DC area and even into upstate New York. We ended up with 38 inches of snow with drifts as high as 8ft! I don't care what you say, blizzards like these and Buffalo are a freak of nature all their own and are freaking sweet to document! I am a storm chaser after all, not a tornado chaser.