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Weather Watch: January Thaw and the Snow Monster

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Posted on January 25, 2012 | Blog Category:
By Charlie Hohn



IMG_5241.JPG

 

The January Thaw is a well-known weather event that occurs during most winters, but in a winter of thaws, which gets the official title?

(Above: the “Snow Monster” awaits the January Thaw)

Most years, after weeks or even months of almost entirely below freezing temperatures, the weather warms for a couple of days, usually around this time of year, it often rains, and the streams and rivers briefly babble back to life through the ice.  The phenomena is consistent enough to show up as a blip on average temperature charts in some areas.  Whether you hate the m (due to ruined snow or ice jams) or love them (if you hate the cold), these thaws are a part of Vermont's weather and hydrology.

This January's thaw, though, is a tricky one to a put a finger on.  Why?  We've had several thaws, complete with rain and temperatures reaching above 40.  We've also had several respectable if not unusual cold snaps, with temperatures below zero throughout the state.  In fact, just a few days ago I was up in Hyde Park and the temperature got down to -16.  The Lamoille River was steaming as if it was boiling, because the contrast between flowing water and subzero temperatures was so great.  Two days later it was raining and 40 degrees.  I’m calling this thaw the ‘official’ January thaw because it happened at the correct time of year, but really, we’ve had several this month that fit the bill.

And this brings me to the snow monster.  Last year was very snowy, and I spent a bit of time shoveling a walkway in Middlebury.  Much of what I shoveled ended up on top of a pile of snow that had slid off the roof, leading to a huge mound of snow.  This ‘snow monster’ easily survived the entire winter last year, despite being in a sunny location and under eaves where it was doused with meltwater.  This year's snow monster is smaller than last year's snow monster, but it's in a shady area away from rooftop runoff.  It was created in late December and has, in one form or another, survived every thaw including this one (though it is now much diminished in size).

It’s back around freezing, and we will probably get a bit of snow on Thursday night, so the snow monster is safe... for now.  Unless we get a heavier snow, it will probably be chipped away by any other thaws until it is gone.  Either way, of course, come April it is doomed.

Charlie Hohn is a recent graduate of the UVM Field Naturalist graduate program. He has been closely watching the weather ever since he was a child in southern California. Charlie will be posting occasional blog posts here about Addison County weather. He also maintains a blog about water at slowwatermovement.blogspot.com.

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