Monday, February 14, 2011

Extremely blustery Valley winds reminiscent of chinooks ... red flag warnings for Augusta, Shenandoah, Rockingham, Page

Did someone skip over February when flipping the calendar pages? The high winds so far this month have been reminiscent of the blustery days identified with March.

After an extremely windy Sunday followed by a very blustery night that buffeted the house tossing around anything outdoors that wasn't nailed down and causing the house to creak on its foundation, Monday has been more of the same as the winds sweep down the eastern slopes of the Appalachian Mountains and whoosh through the mountain gaps.

Red flag warnings remain posted for Augusta, Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Page counties as WHSV TV-3 posts the latest alerts:
A Red Flag Warning is in effect from 9am to 6pm on Monday for Shenandoah, Page, Augusta, and Rockingham counties. 20-30 mph sustained with with gusts of 40-50 mph possible. Combined with the low humidity fire weather conditions are possible. A Wind Advisory is in effect for the entire viewing area until 10pm Monday night. Gusts up to 50 mph are possible, especially along ridge tops.
They further explain that the combination of gusty winds, dry conditions, and low fuel moisture could cause a fire to spread quickly. "Any open burning is considered hazardous in these conditions. A wind advisory remains in effect for the entire viewing area until 10 pm," says the alert crawl at the top of the website. Indeed, a brush fire in Augusta County has been reported in the Springhill Road area north of Staunton.

NBC-29 in Charlottesville is also reporting red flag conditions for much of central Virginia including the counties of Albemarle, Fluvanna, Green, Louisa, Madison, Orange, Nelson, and Buckingham.

With puffy white clouds in a blue sky and leaves swirling and flying through the air, the winds are reminiscent of the chinooks described by Laura Ingalls Wilder in her Little House book, The Long Winter.

The chinooks are described as warm, drying winds blowing down from the Rocky Mountains in western Canada and the inland northwest of the United States. That describes what we are dealing with in the Shenandoah Valley ... kind of like a "chinook east" with the thermometer reading 60 degrees at mid-day after days/weeks of bitterly cold weather.

Anyone who has read the Little House series remembers The Long Winter, a lesson in perseverance, determination, hard work, and hope. Living in Dakota Territory, later to be known as South Dakota, the Ingalls family as well as the entire town faced starvation during the severe winter of 1880-81 when a series of blizzards brought deep snows that blocked the railroad tracks and cut them off from civilization and supplies. That winter has gone down in the history books as one of the worst in that part of the country.

As food supplies dwindled, the Ingalls family also faced the possibility of death from freezing temperatures when their firewood ran out leaving them with nothing other than a stockpile of wheat for both food and heat. They survived on coarse brown bread, and twisted the wheat stalks into dense sticks to use in the place of firewood. It provided little heat causing the family to huddle around the woodstove day after day as they wove the wheat stalks and ate bread.

It was a dreary time. Pa didn't play the fiddle. The girls were glum. The family was in survival mode. The blizzard winds howled and snow sifted through cracks in the house, settling on blankets as Laura shivered through the night. It was bleak, and the winter that had begun in October delivered seven months of blizzards that lasted until April.

That was when, late one night, Laura heard the chinook wind as it began to blow. She called it the wind of spring and, as its warmth began to melt the snow and ice, she added that, because it was the chinook, "That makes all the difference."

The warmth of today's wind is a reminder that spring will return although we will have more cold weather before winter is finally over. Indeed, the 25-30 mph winds today have a cold edge to them, but it's providing a brief warm-up and, for many, that makes it possible to hold on until spring arrives.

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