Breathtaking Scenes in a Foot of Fresh Powder
By Tammy Rickman
On Saturday, January 30, 2010, winter made its presence known to the islands. The storm moved in late Friday night and the snow began to fall somewhere around dawn Saturday morning. Weather reports were calling for somewhere between 8 to 14 inches, a rarity along barrier islands which lay just off the coast line of the Eastern shore of Virginia and Maryland at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.
The snow continued to fall throughout the day and grew in intensity causing near whiteout conditions at about a quarter of a mile. As the snow fell, I ventured out and about taking what pictures visibility allowed, of scenes like the ducks huddled in large groups in unfrozen canals. The Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge gates were down so pictures and an investigation would have to wait.
Sunday dawned bright and clear. A crisp sharp wind blew and even though the sun shown bright temperatures never reached above 22 degrees. The scene was like something from a winter wonderland as evergreens hung heavy with heavy fluffy snow and the island was almost hushed in the early morning hours beneath a foot of snow. While taking it all in, the pristine…untouched hand of God, of nature, one became suddenly aware of how out of place it all felt.
A brief drive around the island found only more snow and out of place scenes. Hoping the refuge had been opened I headed out Beach Road and rejoiced when I found the entry gates in an upward reach and pushed forward. The scenes along beach road on Assateague were breath taking. Woodland floors were blanketed in a foot of fresh powder, evergreens hung heavy with fluff, and a quiet hush lay in the air…everything was fresh clean and new….
Wildlife ventured out into strange surrounding. Egrets tested ice sheets in the canal along the road and ponies grazed on tall grasses reaching through the snow. They looked oddly comfortable and out of place all at once. They created a beautiful scene in the snow covered marshes.
The beach was a mix of blown sand and snow drifts. A scene unlike anything I’d ever seen. Of course, I grew up in Mississippi. Walking was a chore at times because a light layer of sand covered portions of the snow creating an allusion of solid ground. As you attempted to step on the sand you sunk to your waist in a snow drift several feet thick. Wind and water created rippling effects in the landscape. Sand and snow mixed, mingled, danced, twirled, separated, and began the cycle over and over again as far as the eye could see.
Barrier islands are ever changing. They grow and shrink then rise and fall… their fate at the hands of the winds and waters that carve and shape them. The snow storm is just another reminder of how miraculous and surprising life here can be.
That said, the weather was not done throwing punches at us and the very next weekend February came roaring. Friday afternoon, February 5 a wet snow began to blow; occasionally sticking to the ground but not the roads or sidewalks.
Later, it turned to rain and the nor’easter dumped a couple inches of rain, melted snow from both storms, and caused some flooding. Winds howled somewhere around a sustained 45 mph with gusts reaching near 60 mph.
The winds blew into Saturday and temperatures fell, turning rain back into snow. The rain waters and melted snows began to freeze and the snow began to mount. The winds whipped the wet sticky snow and at times it almost seemed as if we had been transported to some foreign land in the middle of a blizzard.
Around 2 p.m. we lost power. Near dark the heat began to wear off. We opted to take a ride around the island before deciding whether to tough it out with the fireplace and wet wood or opt for a hotel.
We soon discovered that large parts of the island were out of power. The power company and Chincoteague Fire Department personnel were riding around inspecting the island. We decided riding around looking for down trees in a warm car was better than sitting in a cold dark house.
We did eventually find a tree down on Sunnywood and reported it about 8 p.m. but once they cut it down and tried to fire the power back up the lights flickered and then went out again. Somewhere in the blowing snow and darkness was another problem.
The snow slowed to a few floating flakes and I noticed the stars blinking brilliantly in a velvet black sky. The air was fresh and crisp and the world was quiet.
About 9 p.m. they finally found and fixed the problem and the lights went on and we returned home.
Sunday was clear and brilliantly bright. The sun sparkled on pristine snow. It seems Jack Frost is determined to make his icy presence known before giving way to a spring thaw. But if the weather forecast for the upcoming days are any indication, he’s not done yet….