Cat Squall

squall 0220
Wind-assisted snow lofting to the east.

Wasn’t it the poet Carl Sandburg who had something creeping in on little cat feet? Well, that’s what the snow is doing here this morning, despite the shrieking alarm I just got on my phone.

While watching the news from my bed, surrounded by cats and dog, I saw one little flake wisp out of the sky. By the time most of us moved from the bed to the morning medication routine (a routine Marrakesh is content — and lucky enough — to ignore), the flakes were steadier, and while they are even more insistent right now, it still seems a gentle snowfall.

In contrast with my phone, which thinks this is so important it has sent the warning out a second time in 15 minutes. “Severe alert,” it says. “Snow squall warning til [no apostrophe] 8:45 a.m. MST. Sudden whiteouts. Icy roads. Slow down! – NWS.”

That seems like it should be signed, “Love, your National Weather Service,” doesn’t it?

I don’t really see how we can have icy roads just yet, since the snow is barely laying down ground cover. And at the moment, we are nowhere near whiteout conditions, although I did hear the Denver weatherman tell his constituents to expect big wind today.

Wunderground, which has clearly already missed the mark, is calling for a 30 percent chance of snow today (100 percent already exceeded), starting at 11:15 this morning. It says winds at 15-28 miles per hour, with gusts higher than that. But no “squalls” at their website. Oh, wait: I just switched tabs, and there at the top is an “active warning” for squalls.

And when you go deeper, and get away from the text-message mentality, the full warning is available: the squall has been sighted in the Aspen area. Now, I didn’t know squalls were something visible, like a tornado. In fact, if pressed, I don’t know that I can define “squall” for you.

It doesn’t actually sound that major. A squalling Marrakesh, for instance, may not be a pleasurable sound, but it doesn’t imply a full-on blitz of tantrum to me. I’m starting to wonder about Merriam-Webster, which has always been my go-to, because here are the choices you can make with them: squall is either “to cry out raucously or scream,” or it’s the far less “to utter in a strident voice.” (That’s Marrakesh to a T, that second option.)

M-W does offer a weather definition: “a sudden violent wind often with rain or snow.” So I guess it is something visible like a tornado. Isn’t it great how much we learn here each morning?

So while I am here squalling about the weather (in the strident fashion, not the screaming way — we’ll leave that to the NWS on my phone), it turns out none of this is going to pertain to me; it is only going to impact the northern part of Gunnison County, from which I am safely removed.

So I imagine we will continue with our little cat feet snow for another half-hour at the most, just enough to lay down a coat over any existing icy spots, although the temperatures of the last couple of days have melted many of those.

People keep telling me it’s spring, and I keep disbelieving them despite the springlike temperatures and melting. I just think they’re setting themselves up for disappointment when we get days like this. Which has just now turned windy, and I am watching the not-terribly-significant amount of snow left on the ground billow up to be carried away to the east. A squallette in action!

I did once, now that I think about it, do pretty much what the NWS is advising people in a squall not to do: get out of their car on a roadway.

In South Park (yes, same as the TV show), the wind blows all the time, and the crosswise snow that I don’t usually see out my back windows is all too common there. In fact, I have been in ground blizzards where you can barely see in front of you and looked up above to see blue sky — all the whiteness is wind-driven.

One night Lynn and I were headed home from Denver when we saw a car on the opposite side of the road off in a ditch. So I stopped our car and — this was really, really stupid — did not pause to put on boots, gloves or cap. I went across a really icy road on foot to the car, which was stuck beyond what anyone was going to be able to push out. A man who was obviously local, because he knew the tow truck driver by first name, had stopped behind them, and he was counseling them to wait for the truck, but the car’s two occupants just wanted to be pushed out right then.

So we gamely gave it a try, to no avail. Since there was someone who knew the lay of the land on hand, and I wasn’t wearing appropriate winter protection in a horrible blowing wind and stinging snow — a squall, I understand now — I skittered back across the road and we continued on our way, only I was a lot colder than I had been. It’s like they tell you on airplanes: put your own oxygen on first before you attempt to help others.

Back in the here and now, our squallette seems to have subsided. I can still see all the grasses sticking up out of the snow bending to the will of the wind, but snow granules, for the moment, are remaining in place where they belong, on the ground or falling from the sky.

But it does seem as though today’s little cat feet come with claws, so let’s all heed our National Weather Service, or Sargent Phil Esterhaus from Hill Street Blues, and be careful out there. And don’t forget to “slow down!”

So it’s fog, not snow. Just roll with it, okay?

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