Sunday, December 20, 2009

Observations from a Snowfall

We received maybe 18 inches of snow in Bowie during this weekend's storm. I haven't heard the official snow totals yet. I spent a good part of Saturday shoveling. A snow blower would have come in handy, but it's hard to justify that purchase when storms like this don't come all that often to Bowie and I don't get as much exercise as I should.

I've lived in a city in New York with an average annual snowfall of 96 inches, and I lived in a city in New Hampshire with an average annual snowfall of 56 inches. So I've seen a lot of storms, and I've shoveled a lot of snow. During the 1977-78 winter, more than 169 inches of snow fell where I lived.

When I was a kid, snow meant money. My customers were mostly older ladies. I would shovel their walkways, and I would shovel their driveways if they still drove. Sometimes they would have me come inside to do odd jobs while I was there.

One of my regular customers was Mrs. Sykes. She would always invite me inside, and she would always prolong the payment process. To use accounting lingo, I was hoping for "terms net 30 seconds," and she preferred "terms net 30 minutes." I think she probably liked the company. I mean, who wouldn't want to spend 30 minutes talking to me.

During one of my visits in 1979, I recall Mrs. Sykes showing me the newspaper coverage of the Nelson Rockefeller funeral. "We lost a good man," she said. "We lost a good man."

I don't see many young entrepreneurs looking for snow shoveling jobs after storms in Bowie. I'm not sure if it's a regional difference or a generational difference. I did hire a couple of kids to clear my driveway a few years ago. They threw a lot of snowballs at each other, and they did a shitty job on the driveway.

The woman that lives next door to me was out shoveling her driveway yesterday. I saw her son walking down the street toward her house. "Good news," I yelled. "Looks like you've got some help." "Yeah, right," she yelled back. Sure enough, he walked right by her and into the house.

All that time shoveling yesterday gave me plenty of time to think about my next blog post. I had to post something about the storm, of course. I knew the blogsphere would be full of plenty of beautiful pictures of the snow, and I knew there would probably be some bitchin' and moanin' about ruined plans. So I decided to focus on my observations of various snow removal techniques.

This is the "Park Close to the Street" technique. By parking close to the street before the snow starts, you limit the amount of shoveling that you have to do. A clear footpath from the house to the car is all that's necessary. Unfortunately, your car could get hit by a plow if you park too close to the road.

Here is the "Wait Until It's Over" technique. By waiting until the snow stops, you don't have to keep re-shoveling sections of your driveway.

This is the "Make Narrowest Path Possible" technique. There's no use shoveling more than necessary - just wide enough to get the car out. This works in the D.C. area because there's a good chance that the narrow path will soon be widened when the temperature rises. This homeowner also practices the "Park Close to the Street" technique, but there's plenty of room for the plow to clear the street without hitting the car in this driveway.

This is the "Shovel Everything" technique. This homeowner may have migrated from a place with a colder climate. People living in colder climates can't rely on the snow melting between storms - as it usually does in the greater D.C. area. Driveways in colder climates should be completely cleared after each storm so the driveway can be used all winter.

Shoveling everything was important when I lived in New Hampshire. We had a rural style mailbox, and if you didn't shovel a clear path for the letter carrier to drive up to your mailbox, you wouldn't get your mail. Sometimes I would see people stick a temporary mailbox on a stick into the snowbank. I also came across this design for a mailbox on a sliding arm.

Putting the windshield wipers in an upright position keeps them from freezing to the windshield. I don't recall people in the North utilizing this technique very often, but it seems popular around here - perhaps because it's more common in the D.C. area to have icy conditions.

Leaving your car in the street during a storm is not allowed in some communities, but it is allowed in Bowie. The trick is to dig your car out before the heavy mounds of snow turn to ice.

In urban areas like Boston's Dorchester community, some residents believe in an unwritten code that gives someone rights to a public parking spot on the street if that person cleared the snow from the spot. People will place folding chairs, garbage cans and other objects in parking spots to save the spot while they're away. It's not always legal to do this, and plenty of fights have occurred when a driver took a spot that someone else cleared.

Here is an example of "Wait Until the Plow Finishes" technique. There's no point in spending too much time clearing the section of the driveway closest to the road until the plows have made their final trip down your street. Where I lived in New York, people commonly refer to this section of the driveway as the apron. I've never heard anyone use that term in Maryland.

People in snowy climates are better prepared to protect their shrubs and bushes from heavy snow. Some homeowners keep the heavy snow from crushing plants by supporting them with snow fences or covering them with an A-shaped shrub structure (see pic here). I also found this picture of people in Japan making a tee-pee like structure out of bamboo.

If you have kids, you have to get them their own equipment. Otherwise they'll be fighting you for your shovel.

A broom may be more effective than a snow brush when the snow is piled high.

I sometimes see people in Bowie ride by on ATVs while I'm shoveling. In New Hampshire, I would sometimes see people on snowmobiles riding on the snow covered streets.


  1. Great pics, and a very unique take on a "Blizzard 2009" blog post. :)

  2. Finally, a useful post about this past weekend's snow! We used many of the techniques, but not the park near the street one or the shovel while it's still snowing one. We finally got out after 4 hours of work.

    Today we'll be applying the wait-til-the afternoon-when-the-snow-is-softer technique to dig our way IN to the foamcore fantasy. Good times.

  3. Thanks MorningLight. Hope the post came in handy. Do your little ones have shovels?

    Cyndy, I should have thought about the wait-til-the afternoon-when-the-snow-is-softer technique. Maybe I would have thought of it if I had given myself another day to edit the post.

    I do have an update on the "Wait Until It's Over" technique. When the couple featured above that practiced that technique came out to shovel on Sunday, they were giggling like a couple of teenagers. So whatever they did in their house during the storm must have been some great therapy. I may have to update my post to inform readers of the benefits of that technique.

  4. I usually am out after a snow storm digging out but I have a sore toe as the result of ramming into a chair, separating the toes, OUCH!! I am looking for a couple of kids who know what they are doing to shovel my driveay. It is not a long driveway and it is attached to a townhouse. Got any tips?

    Highridge Park
    Bowie, MD

    Our streets are driveable.

  5. Ouch is right! Hope your toe feels better soon. I don't see a lot of kids out looking for shoveling work, although I did see a couple on my street today. Other than searching the Internet or talking to your neighbors, I'm not sure how you might find someone. City Hall deals with a lot of snow removal contractors, and they might be able to put you in touch with someone.