Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Minor, Regular-Type Snow Tonight, And How The Rest Of The Winter Should Go

Ocean Bluff, MA
The blizzard's moving in
Looks like you're wrong again
When cabin fever hits
It sends us into fits
Of innkeeper's disease
And screaming in the trees
The blizzard never ends
The blizzard buries them...

People who aren't as into the weather as I am often ask me the same series of questions. "Will there be school?" "Is it going to rain on my race/parade/party/wedding/graduation?" "Is the hurricane going to hit us?" You know the deal, or can at least imagine a good % of it.

Lately, I get another question, one I usually only get during sex and conversations.

Sagamore, MA
"When is it going to end?"

They're referring to Winter, or at least this perpetual state of snowfall and Siberian cold that we seem to be in. I don't have the actual numbers, but I think we had 9000 inches of snow this last month. We had our coldest month on record, and our snowiest.

My little area of Cape Cod, which isn't known for excessive snowfall, had 12+" of snow three Mondays in a row, with two storms over 2 feet and one storm pushing 3 feet. We broke the streak not by a cessation in snowfall, but by the next snowstorm hitting on a Saturday.

Here are some odd things I've done, heard or said in the last month:

- "I felt good, really good. I had no idea why. Then I realized that I head been working out almost 8 hours daily with the shovel, and had been doing so for 3 weeks."

- "We'll be happy to shovel your car out, Ma'am, we just have to find it.".... sweeps arm in a manner that shows I am searching an area roughly 50'x50'....... "I think it's over here somewhere."

- Walked 150 yards and back to get some medicine for a lady... took me 25 minutes.

- "I can't tell where the snowbank ends and the 43 room hotel wall begins."

- "You can come down to the cottage whenever you want.... just if you come at high tide, you'll be killed."
Sandwich, MA

- Bought not one but two iced coffees from Marylou's when the temperature outside was -8.

- "No, not that Monday blizzard, the other one.... no, not the Groundhog one."

- (guy from Miami, seeing snow in person for the first time, and he got a blizzard)..... "On TV, it looks more fun. Do people actually go out and skate in this?" I eventually gave this man a sled, and he gleefully threw himself around a tavern parking lot. He was in his 20s, and was up North for a military funeral.

- "Does the Army come and take all the snow away?" OK, that's an old one, from the April Fool's blizzard.

- I knew an Indian woman would start jabbering at me if I used the main entrance and got rock salt everywhere, so I walked up a snowbank and entered my room through a 2nd floor porch. I had to shovel my way in, but the accent of a Calcutta woman raised in England and living in America and who now has to mop up after you for the tenth time is pretty much a high-pitched yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip. I had been outside smoking after 18 hours of shovel work, so the extra effort was worthwhile.
Bourne, MA

We're getting some more snow tonight, but a mere 2-5 inches is nothing at all by this point. I actually look forward to the snowbanks getting a fresh coat of powder

The snow will start at 10 PM or so, and should be done around when you start the morning commute. It will be more of a coastal affair, and they are looking at 2-5". Inland locations (central and western MA) will get a coating to 2".

Merely a flurry.

Then, we get a streak of highs in the 20s and lows around 10. You'll be frigid for the rest of the week, but at least the heavens won't be pouring powder on your head.

We then have one more round of bad weather (March 3rd looks to have accumulating snowfall, and the period bookending it looks to have minor and nuisance snowfall), and then things get drastically better. 

Duxbury, MA
I use the resources I have to keep a month and a half ahead of the weather. Anything beyond a week is guess work, but it is educated guess work. It's not 100%, as no 45 day forecast saw any of our blizzards- or even a period of frequent snowfall- until they were a short time away. Even the TV stations missed the first blizzard until about 30 hours before.

However, Accuweather is a voice of authority, and they see some promise for us in this next 45 day period. 

The best part? After tomorrow, you may not see temperatures below 10 degrees for 9-10 months. That's not enough for you? We should see temperatures in the mid 50s a week from a day after tomorrow. Granted, it will snow that morning, but the afternoon should rule.

March 6th is that special day, and dare I say a very New England day. We'll start with a mere coating of snow, winds will go past 65 mph, and we'll hit the mid 50s. After that day, only 4 days of the next 40 will see high temperatures not reach the 40s. We'll have 10 days in the 50s. There is no snow at all forecast in this period.

Duxbury, MA
After that, it will be:



Highs in the 40s and 50s.

There's some minor snow called for on April 7th, and that may be this winter's last slap at us. The latest I've seen heavy snow was April 28th, but that was in Worcester.

You can handle that, right?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Sharks In Cape Cod Bay

Duxbury Beach, MA

Cranberry County Magazine was in the house last week when Dr. Gregory Skomal spoke at the Duxbury Performing Arts Center, or whatever they call the auditorium in a Duxbury High School that used to be so familiar to me.

He was there thanks to the efforts of Jack Kent at Bayside Marine, via the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. There were around 100 people in the crowd, which isn't bad on a snowy Thursday night.

Dr.Skomal isn't one of those doctors who can take out your appendix, psychoanalyze your childhood, or implant larger breasts onto you. Nope, he's a shark guy, the big fish in the Massachusetts shark study business.

If you saw reports of Great White Sharks being tagged off of Chatham for the last few summers, Dr. Skomal was the man with the harpoon. He tags the sharks with a variety of tracers, and records their movements. His research allows us to get somewhat of a grip on what I reluctantly call the Shark Problem.

It's not really a problem. "Sharks coming back to Massachusetts" is a sign that our ecosystem is healthy. It's just that this healthy ecosystem has what they call an apex predator at one end of it. This apex predator can appear out of nowhere and tear a swimmer in half. That's stretching "healthy" a bit. However, 10000% of all shark attacks on man happen in the environment of the shark, where the human is the intruder and sort of gets what he has coming to him.

But the key to understanding these things is to study them, and Dr. Skomal is in the business of learning about sharks. When he goes to Duxbury and speaks for 2 hours, he is then in the business of teaching us about sharks.

I didn't videotape or anything, so I'll just go through some highlights of his speech, as well as some of the fascinatin'-and-fun fish facts I unearthed prepping this article:
Scituate, MA

- We've been chasing Dr. Skomal for an interview for 2 years, back from when we were with Cape Cod TODAY. He wasn't being shady, we'd just always ask him during his peak activity periods. He promised us, in an email, that he'd get back to us in the winter, and he was as good as his word. I got ten minutes alone with him, even after I started asking my stupid questions. I did buy a hat, so I didn't totally waste his time.

- I barely resisted the urge to cut off one of his answers with "Love to prove that, wouldn't ya? Get your name in the National Geographic."

- Sharks are here for one reason. They eat seals. After that, it becomes, as we say, pure algebra... sharks eat seals, seals live on Cape Cod, so therefore....

- Seals are not the exclusive food of sharks. Many of the tagged sharks end up in the middle of the ocean, where no seals are found. They're eating something out there, and it most likely isn't Seal Jerky that they carry on long trips.

- There is no way to know exactly how many GWS can be found on Cape Cod. Dr. Skomal tagged 68 this summer, 43 of them males.

- From what I gather, Dr. Skomal gets shark sightings from the air, then closes in on the GWS aboard a fishing boat, and applies the tags with a modified harpoon.

- He uses 3 different types of tags, and even as I type this, I'm not sure if I remember all of them. My notes got messed up during the blizzard, and I hadn't saved them. He uses a tag that is read by a bouy, he uses one that is read like GPS by a satellite, and he uses another one that pops off the shark and contains his info.

- He also will put a camera on the sharks, and even has a torpedo-looking thing that will follow a tagged shark. He needs some Discovery Channel money for this project, however. At least one shark tried to eat it.

- The tagged sharks get names. Mary Lee, Weezie, a KIA soldier who I don't want to disrespect by mauling his name without my notes, Katharine, and so forth.

- You can name one yourself for $1000. The money goes to support research. It would suck to lose a relative to a shark attack, and then find out that the shark in question was named "Nomar," "Da'Quan," "Hugh G. Rection," or "Big Toothy."

- No, "Mary Lee" wasn't named for the Quint limerick from Jaws. I asked, and it was named after someone's Mom. Same goes for Weezie, who I thought might have been named by a fan of The Jeffersons.

Ocean Bluff, MA
- A tagged shark performed neither the Truro attack a few years ago, nor the Manomet attack last summer. Dr. Skomal said nothing that made me think he'd avoid letting that information out if a tagged shark ate a Cape Codder.

- Sharks are not unusual in Cape Cod Bay. You can see that a monster was caught off Duxbury (in February, nonetheless) in the 1930s. One of the three fatal shark attacks on Massachusetts people happened off Scituate, and one of the remaining two went down even further north, in Boston Harbor. The last fatal shark attack was off of Mattapoisett in the 1930s.

- Rhode Island and Connecticut have each had one fatal attack I could find anything about. The first white guy (I assume many Native Americans were devoured at some point, but they don't put that history anywhere that Google could find) to get a Sharkin' in the times of our forefathers was actually swimming in the East River when "the devil appeared, in the form of a fish" to bring the pain.

- New Jersey has had as many shark deaths in a month as Massachusetts has in her White Guy history.

- Sharks don't mature until their 20s and 30s, and they can live 70 years.

- Expect to get more GWS sightings in Cape Cod Bay. The seal population on Cape Cod is exploding, and the seals diffuse into the neighboring waters. Where the seals go, the sharks follow. Duxbury has long supported a small seal population, and it is expected to grow as Cape Cod's seals spread out.

- A shark off of Duxbury Beach isn't sick, lost, too old to hunt normally, or even out of his element. It's exactly where he belongs, and he's doing exactly what he is supposed to be doing.
Mattapoisett, MA

- If we look at Chatham as the big city for Massachusetts sharks, Duxbury would serve pretty much the same suburban purpose to sharks that it does to humans.... a less populated location, good scenery, tasty seafood, and the occasional kayaker.

- Duxbury has recently (the last ten years or so) been host to a large Sand Tiger Shark population. The STS is a frightening shark, a toothy fellow who can grow to 9 feet long. They are docile, and any attacks on humans are rare. They are usually associated with fishing or feeding. The STS has a mouth that is too small to cause a human fatality, but it could take some fingers off your hand.

- Old-timers say the ST sharks weren't around Duxbury until recently, although I had heard tales of sharks in the back marshes as a child. Sand Tiger Sharks are frequently caught off of the Powder Point Bridge.

- I had a dogfish wash into my cellar after the Halloween Gale of 1991.

- The titular shark character from the Jaws franchise is probably the most well-known fictional New Englander. Really, who else is in his league? Captain Ahab? Hester Prynne? The Pina Colada Song protagonist? Carrie? Spenser For Hire? Sam Malone? OK, maybe Sam Malone, but I'm still betting on Ol' Toothy.

- The shark from the Jaws novel was actually terrorizing a fictional Long Island community, but the movie made him a New Englander. Doesn't quite make up for Babe Ruth, but it's a start.

- Dr. Hooper was off the mark with his Territoriality theory, although the sharks as a species are now territorial to Cape Cod and eventually Duxbury. True territoriality would involve an individual shark driving away the other sharks, which I guess doesn't happen. Sharks have to move to breathe, and that movement sort of trumps the desire to hang around in one place.

- There are two kinds of shark attacks. One is Exploratory, where the human is some tasty looking but exotic menu item for a shark that he has a little nibble of. Granted, that little nibble might tear off your leg, but it also generally voids the human as a food source. The Truro attack on a boogie boarder was one of these types.

- The other attack has a name which I forgot, but it is basically when the shark is All In on the attack, and hits at full speed with a wide-open-mouth CHOMP. The Plymouth attack, which left dental records on a pretty solid kayak that even the OJ prosecution could get a conviction with, was one of these.

- Professionals like Dr. Skomal refer to attacks on humans as "interactions."

- The chances of a shark attacking you are less than you being hit by lightning or winning the Powerball. Even an increased shark presence in Cape Cod Bay won't raise those odds much.

- If you want to lower your chances, there are a few rational things you can do:

One, do nothing at all seal-like, and don't even go near seals.

Two, try to not go too deep in the water, as sharks like to strike from below. Neither of our recent attack victims (nor any of the historical ones I read about) had any idea a shark was around until it bit them.

Three, don't swim at dawn, dusk, or dark. This is when sharks hunt the most.

Four, don't swim near surfcasters or boats fishing close to shore.

 "Five" could very well be "Swim with people who are fatter than you." I couldn't pin Dr. Skomal down with this one, but he didn't deny it outright. A good way to view it would be "It makes perfect sense, but the limited data doesn't support a trend in that direction."

Mattapoisett, MA

- Wondering about racial bias in shark attacks? New England and New York have had 6 fatal shark attacks I found records of, and two non-lethal ones. At least one (a Connecticut one) and maybe another (the Rhode Island one) involved black people, and I seem to remember the Truro victim having a name similar to my lawyer's, if you catch my drift.

- Call the ratio of attacks on blacks as 1.5 attacks out of 6, which I think is 25%. This is disproportionate to the US black racial ratio of 15%, and even more so when factoring in that white people probably go to the beach in greater numbers. I have no records of fishermen who suffered shark bites, although that would probably up the Portagee numbers in the equation, perhaps substantially.

- Two attacks (Connecticut and Mattapoisett) were on children swimming out to meet a boat. Two other attacks (Scituate and Boston) involved a shark deliberately swamping a small boat to dislodge the people in it. Two attacks (Manomet and Truro) were on people using either kayaks or boogie boards.
Caught off the Gurnet

- The New York attack was in a river, while the Rhode Island one was a bit offshore. Scituate and Boston were far (5 miles in the Scituate case) offshore. Truro was 400 yards offshore, while Manomet was maybe 100 yards offshore.

- The Connecticut one and the Mattapoisett one were about the same as Manomet, with the Buzzards Bay attack being described as "a baseball throw from the end of the pier (the pier in the picture above)." The 1930s Duxbury shark I mentioned earlier was caught 4 or 5 miles offshore.

- Dr. Skomal is interested in doing research on sharks in Cape Cod Bay. He'd have loved to have gotten a tag in that Manomet shark. Duxbury residents shouldn't feel neglected, as Dr. Skomal said that the sudden (?) presence of Great White Sharks along South Shore beaches is an important factor in the studies of the region as a whole.

- Any kid who loves Shark Week (which, at last count was all of them) views Dr. Skomal as a rock star. He gave out several autographs to kids, many of whom looked star-struck.

- For all of those times you see reports about how American kids are fat, stupid X-Boxers, know that I saw kids under 5 feet tall asking Dr. Skomal about how sharks regulate the pressure of deep-sea dives, whether Duxbury ever had Megladon (if you ask Dr.Skomal about Megladons, he immediately says "Next Question," even to a 12 year old), and detailed logistical questions about patrolling South Shore beaches with drone cameras.

- The children asked these intelligent questions right after I finished my Weezie Jefferson question, in case you were wondering about Generation X vs the Millenials.

- Sharks will almost certainly merge with technology to change the nature of lifeguarding. Gone or lessened in importance will be some kid on a beach chair, New lifeguards may be fanned out 100 yards on small boats, equipped with fishfinders, radios, and a siren. Drones would also be invaluable, although any idea we came up with was far from foolproof.

- Closing beaches after a shark attack would be near-ineffective, as seals don't obey beach closures.

Duxbury Beach, MA
- Duxbury, with her long and uninhabited coastline, will be a prime spot for increased seal activity. This also means that they will see increased Monster Shark activity. Duxbury Beach is long and straight, exactly the sort of beach that is difficult to protect with shark netting.

- Dr. Skomal called Bullship on several of my get-rich-quick schemes that involved Great White Sharks. It would be very difficult to trap one in a bay as a tourist attraction. They get stuck in bays and ponds now and then, but it's impossible to know when they would do so. Once you had one, it would be difficult to feed it. You'd have to catch several seals a month, which is illegal. Even my own twisted research couldn't find out how many homeless people it would take to feed a shark. The shark wouldn't get enough fish to eat in, say, Buttermilk Bay.

- I also found out that, even if we trapped the shark and got him dependent on us for food, it would be unlikely that we could get him to perform tricks for us. I could find no records about a shark ever having been taught tricks.

- I did ask Dr. Skomal if he had ever met a friendly, seems-to-enjoy-being-around-people Great White Shark. He had never met one, although some sharks do associate boats with food. No, soft-bite attacks on humans are not a case of the shark saying "Hello" with a bit too much enthusiasm.

- I had a sense that he would get offended by my questions about catching a GWS from shore with a chain attached to a Jeep, so I left that one unasked. I can interview a fisherman some day to get that story written for a different article.

- I have a pretty good smoking habit, while my old friend Beth is a tri-athlete. About 3 summers ago, she passed me on the Might Die Suddenly scale, 100% because of the GWS presence in the area. I fully expect a triathalon attack in the future, and would be amazed if Duxbury were chosen as the site of a triathalon next summer.

- Most sharks are snowbirds, in that they summer up here before returning to the SE USA coast for winter. Some sharks hang around well into the winter.

- Props to Dr. Skomal, Bayside Marine, and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.

Plymouth, MA

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Another Blizzard? Why Not?

Bourne, MA

"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats."

- H.L. Mencken.

I hear ya, H.... we all love a little sugar on our cereal, but this is getting rucking fidiculous. We can't seem to begin or end a week without a major snow event, and this weekend.... oh, we'll get to that in a minute.

We'll be getting a bit of snow today, maybe 2-4" over SE Massachusetts. I'd bet on the 2" more than the 4". That barely makes a blip on the radar, with what we have coming this weekend. It really gets friggin' ponderous after a while.

We're not Canada, or Alaska, or Wisconsin, or even upstate New York. We get snow, but it's that pleasant Currier & Ives snow, the kind you go caroling in and build talking snowmen in. This is some straight-up Siberia we'e getting, and it sucks so hard that you are physically pulled towards the snowbank.

You start to wonder if Pat Robertson might have been on to something, and that we may right now be getting Smited by the good lord for some sin I can't quite put my finger on. Maybe it's gay marriage, maybe it's Governor Baker, and a great part of me feels that God is making us pay for the Snow Bowl/Tuck Rule game against the Oakland Raiders. We have offended ye, oh Lord, and the payback is Powder.

You could sort of see it coming. This is shaping up as a bad, bad, bad winter. Blizzards are a part of bad winters. You add the extra bad when we get a second blizzard, and throw in the third bad if the second blizzard happens before you clean up the first one. It gets even worse if it snows between those events, including two huge storms.

The Groundhog Storm and last Monday's storm, which dumped 2 feet over a wide area, barely crack the headlines. The Groundhog Storm was lucky enough to fall on a holiday, but I'm actually referring to a fairly historical storm from this week as "last Monday's storm." I can't see Sebastian Junger naming a book that.

Brant Rock, MA
Here are a few things to ponder about this Snowathon we've been having:

- One of the reasons that the Blizzard of '78 was so bad (and, concurrently, why no one talks about the 1969 storm that dropped .8" less than the '78 gale) is that the Blizz fell shortly (17 days) after we got nearly two feet of snow.

That snow had nowhere to go but on top of the old snow, which hadn't melted much. This led to those mammoth snow piles you recall if you lived through '78.

We have the same scenario now, just with more snow already on the ground. This storm isn't forecast to be a 2 footer, but any additional snow is trouble.

- You may not see 100% of your supermarket's parking lot until May. We had drifts last into June in the interior a few years ago.

- As you know, a blizzard is when you have three hours of blowing snow, 35+ mph winds, and markedly-reduced visibility. We should have that, no problem.
Sagamore, MA

- We wouldn't need much snow to have a blizzard, provided it is blowing around a lot. This will be important to keep in mind on Cape Cod, where a smaller amount of snow will still bring blizzard conditions with the wind she'll be seeing.

- Buffalo once had a blizzard just from a windstorm billowing up already-fallen snow that was resting on frozen Lake Erie. With our snowpack, that could happen with this storm even if we got no snow from it... but don't you worry, we'll get lots of snow.

- Beaches had tons of rocks and sand wash up against the seawalls. That will make for a ramp that will amp up an otherwise modest storm tide. This tide will slam into very vulnerable coastal locations who A) have nowhere for the floodwater to go, and B) have already taken a blizzardy beating a few weeks ago.

- We're some time away, but I think that the worst of the storm may high-tide us with the north wind. That would be good news for places like Chatham or Plymouth, and bad news for places like Scituate or Sandwich.

- A big issue will be the track of the storm. American forecast models show an Alberta Clipper plowing through New York and moving over Cape Cod on Saturday night and Sunday. The European models show it coming at us through Pennsylvania and tracking east just under Nantucket.

The American model speaks of heavy snow for coastal Massachusetts, about the same area that got slammed in the last storm. SE Mass would be spared the heavy hit, and the trouble would run from Boston north into Maine. The European model is more indicative of a SE Massachusetts inclusion in the epicenter.

It's the difference between 4-8" of snow and more than a foot of it.

- Cranberry County has taken a beating this year. We're not as bad as Worcester (we never are) or even as bad as MetroWest, but we bore the brunt of the last storm (Cohasset had 26.5" of snow), and stand a good chance of getting socked again.
Bridgewater, MA

Duxbury, for instance, got 2 feet from the blizzard. They got 6 more inches 3 days later, and then got 18" or so from the Groundhog storm. They got about 6 inches between that storm and last Monday, when they got almost 2 more feet. They have a very good chance of adding another foot or two this weekend.

- Duxbury is the same physical size as Boston, and has much more open area that needs plowing. Boston has 700,000 residents and countless businesses paying taxes to support clearing out Boston, while Duxbury has 13,000 or so.

- Truro, for instance, probably has a whole town to plow with the same amount of people you might find in two Boston housing projects that take up a supermarket's footprint on a map.

- Winds will be gusting up over 60 mph for much of the storm. That will snap power lines. Forecast low temperatures for relatively-temperate Bourne will be two degrees above zero. It should be fun with no heat and lights.

- Those winds and temperatures will make it very, very dangerous to be outside. If your car breaks down and you're a mile from help, you may die trying to get to it.

- If it helps ease the strain any, you can't call off school during school vacation, so we won't be adding June days to the school year for this storm. There is, somewhere, one family in Massachusetts who will be staring at the TV Monday, wondering why there are no school cancellations, and I wish I could be a guest in their kitchen that morning.

- Boy, I'd hate to live near a river when all of this snow starts melting in the spring.

- I haven't heard a peep from any local forecasters regarding a changeover to rain for anyone, even Cape Cod. That would be one of the things that could change with a wobble in the forecast track.

- Want me to mention that we weather geeks are already monitoring the possibility of another snow event, about a week from yesterday or so? Didn't think so!

- Please check out the GoFundMe page for Officer Jared MacDonald of the Bourne PD.

- Photo credits: Tristan, Jessica, Abby and Michelle.

We'll be back with an update as the storm nears. Remember, the storm's track could wobble a bit, and we would get off the hook . That doesn't seem likely, but I like to throw a disclaimer into these things.