Peter Shelton

100 Names for Snow

Posted in Watch columns, Weather & Climate by pshelton on January 12, 2013

This week’s lexicon: snow on cars.

The other day after work, I grabbed the scraper and broom thinking I’d need both to prepare my windshield for the drive home. It had snowed lightly during the day in Ridgway; the Saab was dusted all over, like a powdered donut.

I assumed I’d be scraping. More often than not when I park the car, with a warm windshield from the morning’s commute, new snow freezes on the glass. But this time when I brushed away the powder layer, there was only a smattering of pearl-sized, clear hemispheres glued to the glass. I left them there and drove off with the holiday lights of town refracting green and gold and red in the tiny prisms.

What to call this unexpected delight? “Diamond windshield snow.”

There are, of course, many more mundane kinds of car snow. There’s the chunky, dirty snow you kick off the car’s mud flaps, or out from under the wheel wells. There is the snow mixed with magnesium chloride that falls from the bottoms of the doors like so much dog poop.

Unfortunately, the liquid salt the state uses to “improve” our winter driving doesn’t usually fall off of its own accord. It welds to a car’s underside like a congealed mud-and-salt facial. That’s one of its drawbacks, and a big reason, I maintain, that CDOT is in cahoots with Colorado’s car wash industry.

Then there’s “lock-tight snow.” This happens when Footsie (all of our cars have names) is parked for a day or two following a snow. Whether the temp climbs above freezing or not, that bright Colorado sun melts her white cap along the edges, especially along the east and south sides. Come sundown, those icicles freeze in place, often as not in the crevices around the doors. I come out to drive away on Monday morning, and the door is frozen solid, not to be opened even with a swift kick from the inside.

It’s kind of fun driving with a layer of fresh snow on the roof. Due to Footsie’s particular aerodynamics, what is, when I start out, a uniform frosting across the top becomes, by the time I stop, an arrowhead wedge of white, a wind-sculpted haircut: “Mohawk snow.”

The corollary to “Mohawk snow” is “raccoon-tail snow.” Once up to speed, the crystals flying off the roof will sometimes reassemble in the vortex of the hatchback’s rear window. They don’t alight. They swish around like a fat, translucent tail – maybe more like an irked Cheshire cat than the raccoon tail on my Davey Crocket hat.

Last weekend, driving up on the Grand Mesa, I saw a phenomenon I’ll call “artificial release snow.” (Borrowing a term from avalanche terminology.)

On a still, clear morning following an overnight snow, I came up behind what looked like a mini blizzard rolling down the road. You see it now and then when following a snowplow that is kicking up great clouds from the road. You know it’s a plow, the hint of orange paint, the red and blue lights flashing from inside the cloud.

This one had no lights, and no plow scraping the surface. It was a pickup towing an enclosed snowmobile trailer. They must have spent the night up on the Mesa, which is a big snowmobiling area, because the trailer had acquired a top hat, a full Lincoln stovepipe hat’s worth, of snow on its roof. And that fine, goose-feather snow was flying off in such profusion, I couldn’t see the dually pulling it, or see ahead to pass.

Sometimes, of course, you want a plow ahead of you in the worst way. Like when you’re coming home from a New Year’s Eve party over one of the passes and it’s snowing so hard and the snow coat is thick as yogurt, and there are no tracks to guide you, and you can’t tell the edges from the edge of the world. I call that “death blanket snow.”

The best kind of car snow? That’s easy, “perfect disguise snow.” I’ve only seen it a few times, on mornings after mammoth snowstorms at Alta, Utah and Bear Valley, Calif. You come out to the parking lot in the morning, and you can’t tell which of the shaggy white lumps is your car. It’s just a powder mogul field. Three feet of snow overnight makes them all equal in the morning light. Jiggers the flow of normal human business.

And promises a godlike day on skis.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: