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Back In Blighty



So I'm back from New York and little seems to have changed here. People are still desperately hoping for some cold weather, the chances of which are obviously reducing with each passing day. I know it's supposed to get cold this week with the small possibility of snow for some, but after my experiences in New York I simply will not be able to get excited about an inch or two of snow any more!

The week went thus:

Saturday 11th Feb:

First leg of trip was from Gatwick to Raleigh/Durham in North Carolina. Part of my cheap-skate flight which meant I had to change and fly back to JFK. Cloudy pretty much from Ireland until we hit the North East coast of Newfoundland whereupon we were greeted by a winter wilderness of the most overwhelming beauty; barren rocky outcrops speckled with large areas of snow, with the whole being framed by meandering frozen rivers like ribbons of ice. Further on down into Maine, a few more trees, but pretty much the same. Winters are damned cold there!

The daft thing was that we passed New York on the way to Raleigh/Durham. By this time we were approaching the Low pressure which was later to cause such havoc, so we weren't able to see anything. On coming into the approach to RD, the cloud cover was very thick, and the temperature was just above freezing at about 3000 feet, so we were greeted by heavy rain.

Time for a quick beer in the bar, and a call to my uncle to say the flight was on time. "Jesus", he said, "it's already snowing here! I hope you get here before it really sets in."

The plane to JFH was an "American Eagle". Basically a bi-plane with a jet engine attached. I couldn't actually stand upright in the cabin. I'm not the best of fliers, but I'd drunk copious quantities of wine and so was well prepared for the trip. We took off, and when we'd finally cleared the clouds we were greeted by the most breathtaking sight: to the south and west, the last vestiges of daylight were clearly visible in an orange glow to the horizon. We were in pitch darkness apart from a glorious moon which lit up the tops of cloud in a beautifully woolly panorama.

So far so good. The fun started when we started our descent to JFK. As we went into the clouds visibility reduced greatly until the tip of the wing was barely visible and the lights were reflecting off the snow; much like the effect of a strobe light flashing against thousands of tiny crystals. It was getting really bumpy and, being such a small plane, there were more audible noises than I'd like to hear. Eventually I pretty much sat back and thought "what the hell!". We finally broke through the bottom of the clouds and were greeted by a city with white grass and grey streets. The snow hadn't yet started settling on tarmac, so my worst fears about the landing were not realised. Having said that, a Turkish airlines jet did slide off the runway later in the evening! They were spraying planes ready to depart with de-icer, large chunks of snow avalanching to the floor.

At this stage, the snow was described as "light showers", at least that's what the captain told us when we left RD. In Britain, some people would probably have called it a blizzard!

Driving to my uncle's apartment in Queens the talk was of the coming storm. New York media makes just as much of such weather as our own back home. Snow was still not settling on the roads, but pavements were starting to get a dusting.

At some time during the night I was briefly wakened by thunder. This was later confirmed by my Uncle and the TV news which mentioned thunder snow and falls of between 3-5 inches per hour. Looking outside on the Sunday morning was extremely deceptive. The snow looked like it was a couple of inches deep, but it was actually extremely difficult to walk in. The depth was probably about 18 inches by that stage and conditions were still pretty much a whiteout. Walking to the shop to buy some milk, a journey of about 300 yards took about ten minutes. It was amusing watching people trying to get their cars out. People often mention how we cannot cope with snow in this country; you should see a New York cabbie attempting to drive uphill in 18 inches of snow by repeatedly flooring the accelerator and leaving the most rancid smell of burning rubber imaginable. The upshot is that many people in New York were just as incapable of driving in the snow as we are in the UK, albeit the depths were much greater.

The snow eventually petered out at around 4pm on the Sunday, giving a total of 24 hours solid snowfall. Depths levelled out at 25 inches in Queens, with other depths being widely broadcast. I spent the best part of the Sunday afternoon clearing the sidewalk in front of my uncle's apartment block which is a requirement in New York or you are fined $100!

The following day the snowploughs had been at work all night, and as a result all the cars parked on the side of the streets were totally snowed in. It took us an hour to dig the van out of the garage (one of the few garages in the street!). Conditions were still extremely treacherous, but main streets were passable with care. Temperatures were barely above freezing on the Monday.

Over the next few days temperature recovered fairly rapidly. Tuesday reached 4oC, Wednesday, 9oC and Thursday topped out around 14oC. It was actually possible to walk around Manhattan with no jacket; quite strange considering the piles of snow still lining the streets! Even Friday was quite mild, although a cold front brought "frigid" air in from Canada which sparked a rapid cooldown. Walking the same streets of Manhattan on Saturday I though my chin and nose were going to freeze off! Temperatures were around freezing, but the wind chill was like nothing I've experienced for a long time. Overnight on Saturday the temperature was down to about 8oF, which I can't be bothered to calculate in new money at the moment!

So, you'll understand why I cannot get excited about the prospect of a few days with temperatures around 3-5oC!


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