Category Archives: Weather

April Summer Thunder

Much too dark for 5 PM

I strolled downtown this evening for a Thai New Year celebration with friends. As I left home, the sky was ominous, again, battleship-dark clouds heavy with rain lurking in the distance. I gambled and walked the mile, flipping my music to minor-keyed songs that seemed fitting.

All night, the perfect summer storm had raged, shaking the house and setting off car alarms as July-intensity thunder roared for hours. Strobe-lightning pierced my blackout curtains, lighting up my bedroom like daytime. The cat burrowed her face under a blanket, snoring deeply, but I kept waking, peering out over the river as lightning danced through town.

Before

Typically, I love summer storms, but this one was particularly ferocious, and I fought the urge to go check the basement as sheets of rain pinged against the siding. (In the  morning light, wet pawprints on the basement stairs confirmed what I had assumed. Luckily, the seepage was minimal and quickly squeegeed away. Looks like I’ll be cleaning gutters again soon.)

After

After such a strangely warm spring that brought a blaze of tulips nearly a month early, the summer storm seemed out of place. Nights are still cool, perfect for my lightest flannel pants and deliciously bare feet under a blanket. But the storm decimated the tulips, scattering petals across the yard, and brought down still-naked branches and twigs.

And now, thunder rumbles again, bringing another round.

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Floating on a Sunday Afternoon

Sunday morning, I left the house at 5:30 and drove west, through the cornfields where the land begins to roll gently towards the Mississippi. The sun was growing brighter and stronger, and water vapor rose from the corn tassels, setting up for another humid day as the sky turned from rose to blue. It reminded me of a Van Gogh painting, with ready-to-harvest crops on one side of the country highway and freshly harvested grain on the other, the landscape dotted by the occasional farmhouse. I cruised along with the sunroof open, feeling the breeze, smelling the manure, slowing when approaching small-town speed traps.

I arrived in Oregon, IL, not quite 70 miles west of Elgin, and found my way to Castle Rock State Park, where other runners began to appear as I slathered on sunscreen.

Soon my friends arrived for the Oregon Trail Days Run-A-Muck 8k. They had done it last year and were eager for the “muck” part of the event. We all looked at the 8k portion – a run along open country roads that reflected the sun – as a necessary evil to get to the downriver floating afterwards.

It was hot and sticky, with full sunshine and high humidity. We all carried water – last year there wasn’t enough – and set off.

The run itself did indeed suck. It was so very hot, and there was no shelter along the majority of the route. It was relatively flat, except for one big “hill” as we ran up and over a railroad bridge. My allergies and the humidity made breathing difficult, so Danielle, Shelley and I took it relatively easy, with short walk breaks every mile. We may have slowed a bit when we hit a couple of blissfully shaded residential blocks, where one homeowner had his sprinkler aimed out at the street. Near the end, firefighters had a hose spraying a gorgeous arc of cool water.

Like last year, the course was shorter than its advertised 8k (4.97 mi). Everyone with Garmins clocked it at 7.24k or 4.47 mi, but given the heat, we didn’t really care. We were glistening with sweat and grossness when we arrived at the finish, where we sucked down Gatorade and water before our Lions Club pancake breakfast. (This is one of the cheapest races I’ve done – $25 – and you get a shirt, breakfast, and innertube rental.)

Our merry band, before we hopped in the tubes. Not pictured: Iggy the dog.

After we ate, we started preparing for the main attraction: an innertube float down the tranquil Rock River, back to our cars. We reapplied all the sweated-off sunscreen because last year, my friends discovered that such a float takes 3+ hours. We strung our tubes into a flotilla for nine adults, two kids, a dog, and coolers full of snacks. We waded into the river, settled into our tubes, and slowly – so slowly – began our float.

It was magical. Divine. Blissful. Exactly what I needed after spending all day Saturday chained to my desk after a long hard week. I had no concept of time. There was no wind, and the dry summer means the river is low, so the current was lazier than a lazy river – we (literally) bottomed out in several places. We intermittently kicked and paddled a bit, and when we hit the shallower sections, we would walk forward a bit, but for the most part, it was just idle relaxation. We had nothing to do but lounge and sunbathe and chat. I alternated between sprawling on top of the tube and dangling my legs in the perfectly cool water. We passed around granola bars, chips and water and enjoyed the peace and quiet, watching hawks swoop overhead.

I would have been okay if the float portion was a bit shorter – there was no shade whatsoever, and I was worried about sunburn – but overall, it was exactly right. When we arrived back at Castle Rock, we rinsed off our legs and feet, changed into dry clothes, and set off for the east.

When I finally got back to my car, it was 3:30 PM and 94 degrees – but I didn’t care. I can’t imagine a more perfect way to spend a summer day than outside with friends, floating lazily down a river.

And I didn’t even really get sunburned, just a nice golden tan and a couple mildly burned spots in a place I didn’t even consider putting sunscreen: my armpits.

I need to find out if you can do similar tubing down the Fox River anywhere, without the pesky 8k first.

Cruel, Cruel April

April really is the cruelest month. This month has been the grayest, dreariest, cloudiest and rainiest on record. Early in the month, we had a random 80 degree day, which offered up such hope for spring, but then we fell back into an ugly pattern  of rain, clouds, and melancholy, with the occasional rumble of thunder. We even had a couple days of snow – including some that stuck as late as  the 18th, which made my opening daffodils shrink back for a few days.

Yesterday and this morning, things were looking up, with sunshine and 60s. My 7 mile run mid-day was sunsoaked and created fresh tanlines along my arms, for the Garmin and RoadID. I even have tanlines in my elbows, which I suppose indicates my running form is good.

After my run, I dragged my patio table and chairs out of the garage, and set out to mow the lawn for the first time this year. All the rain has made it jungle-thick and vibrantly verdant, and the mower struggled through some of the especially thick spots. When I got done I saw on the steps with some water and closed my eyes, inhaling the intoxicating aroma of fresh-cut grass. It smelled like summer, like sunscreen and caramel-spiked iced coffee and sweat. The sun felt so nice on my face, and I was tempted to pull out the lawn chair and a book and go relax in the backyard.

But after a very windy day, with gusts over 45 mph, clouds are rolling in for another evening of storms. And April will go out as it began, dreary, gloomy and damp.

Despite the rain, I had my biggest running month ever, clocking 60 miles. (My previous record was 55 last September.) And the tulips and daffodils seem to be thriving. So while April has been cruel, all is not lost. Here’s to an even better May.

Snug as a Bug…

We’ve had snow twice in the last week. Twice! Saturday’s rain and drizzle turned into snow mid-afternoon, though thankfully didn’t stick. But Monday morning, I woke up to a dusting of snow on the grass, rooftops and tulips. It could be worse, though. Colleagues in Wisconsin have had 6+ inches of accumulation this week. At least our snow melted by noon.

While I’m not thrilled with the late-season cold snap, I’ve been trying to find the silver lining. I had new windows installed mid-March, so at least the cold is giving me a chance to test the improvement in warmth over the leaky old windows.

Like last time, I went with Advanced Window Systems out of Loves Park. They have been fabulous both times I’ve worked with them. And the new windows have already proved their worth, keeping out the cold and wind. It also seems quieter  upstairs, with less ambient street noise.

My cold-weather testing has conclusive results, so now I need to do more spring testing and learn how well the new windows let in the fresh air. I’ve had a couple days to enjoy the breeze, but I’m ready for more extensive testing.

Spring-ization

We have winterization in our lexicon, but not the springtime equivalent. Regardless, that’s how I spent part of my Saturday.

I had four more windows replaced a couple weeks ago (both bathrooms, guest room and upstairs hallway – the latter used to funnel cold air directly into my bedroom), so I had no storm windows to put away this year. Now, I’ve replaced all the windows in the living areas of the house. All that remain are the back hallway, basement and front porch, none of which are a huge priority.

Tulips! And daffodils!

I also cleaned out a winter’s worth of detritus from my flower beds and backyard. I filled an entire yard bag with dead leaves and other junk, and was thrilled to find stuff already sprouting underneath. In the front beds, I had seen tulips beginning to grow, but after removing the leaves, I found daffodil sprouts, too. Along the back fence, I found the early shoots that will become June’s tiger lilies.

Inside, I drained and cleaned the humidifiers, and now they’re air drying until I store them for the summer. I dusted and organized.

Still to do:

The missing piece was finally found in the backyard once the snow melted.

Fix the soffit that the blizzard tore off the side of the garage. Though it’s not very high, it requires a ladder, and thus I won’t tackle this quick fix unless I have someone spot me. Especially at the back of the house, I’m wary of doing anything where I could fall and no one would notice.

Close, but not quite latchable

Fix the frost heave/front gate situation. A couple years ago, a frost heave appeared in the middle of my driveway. As soon as the weather warmed, it collapsed back into itself, enabling me to seal it and move on. A couple weeks ago, when I first tried to close the gates, I couldn’t get the gate over the heave. Now, it’s collapsed, so I can close the gates, but they’re misaligned so they don’t meet in the middle and latch. I’m weighing my options: raise up the gates (oh-so-heavy and cumbersome; would require a second and potentially third set of hands) and install new hinges, sand off the bottom of the gate that currently rests on the ground, or just leave hope that the warm weather adjusts the driveway a bit more.

Put away the boots and clean, clean, clean. I’m afraid that putting away my winter boots right now might tempt fate, so I’ll hold off at least another week on this one. I also need to pull out the hose, turn on the water and get ready to plant.

And I can’t wait to drag the patio furniture out for the year.

What do you have to do for spring?

Snowpocalypse 2011

As you might have heard, we got a bit of snow last week. Snowpocalypse, or #snOMG as Twitter was calling it, was unlike anything I’ve ever seen or experienced. I vaguely remember the 1999 storm, but I was a senior in high school still on Christmas break.

This storm was incredible for its fury. All week, Skilling and others kept raising the expected accumulation totals and narrowing down the exact hour the storm hit. And they were right.

I woke up Tuesday morning to a fresh inch or so of snow and word that Metra was rearranging their afternoon schedules to help people get home ahead of the storm. All day, the skies were relatively clear. Until 2 PM, when suddenly, I looked out the 22nd floor windows and saw snow blowing horizontally, swirling violently.

The few coworkers who had come into the office started leaving to catch the special early Metra trains. I heard that Union Station was chaotic, so I decided to wait an hour to let things thin out a bit.

I left work at 4:15 and hunched against the wind and snow until I got to the eerily empty Union Station. I boarded the 4:50 train, which closed the doors right on time, with several empty seats. We sat for 10 minutes and then departed. Just past Western Avenue, we stopped. And sat. For nearly two hours. The conductors had no information, but I was able to learn from Twitter that there was a switch failure ahead. We sat on a bridge, near Damen and Grand, as the wind rocked the train back and forth. I was hungry and cursed myself for leaving an apple on my desk. Another passenger joked about ordering a pizza, if we could convince someone to come to the rail bridge.

Eventually, we pulled into Elgin just before 8 PM, and I made a very difficult walk home, as the 40 mph winds flung snow at and around me, obscuring my vision and sucking my breath. Scenes from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Long Winter filled my head, as I thought of pioneers getting lost in blizzards, stringing clothesline to navigate from house to stable. I wish I had a rope to follow home.

As I killed time on the train, I had seen several Twitter friends mention power outages. When I finally got close to my house and saw the porchlights, I breathed a sigh of relief. But as I trudged through the drifts on the driveway, I found a couple shingles. I think they’re from my roof, but I’m still not quite sure. I had made it home, but had to dig out my back door, which was already encased in snow nearly up to the doorknob.

As I left work, I had hoped to settle in early and study, but after a four hour commute, I curled up with a glass of wine and listened to the storm. I’ve been in this house nearly five years, and I’ve never heard it rock and shake and creak quite like it did Tuesday night. I followed the storm on Twitter, as Elgin’s city manager tweeted from a snowplow, and crossed my fingers every time the power flickered. Finally I went to bed, but laid awake, listening to the howling storm.

No wonder my kitchen was so dark! That's a six-foot tall fence

When I woke up, the winds had died down quite a bit, but the house seemed very odd. I realized it was because nearly every window was covered with frozen-on snow, obscuring much of the light. I surveyed the damage: officially, we got 20 inches, and I had drifts nearly 4 and 5 feet tall, some next to bare patches of pavement. A piece of my garage roof soffit was lying in the backyard.

The driveway: 4 ft drifts next to bare pavement

But since I was working from home, there wasn’t really a snow day. I went out at lunchtime and began shoveling – after I tunneled to the garage to retrieve my shovel.

I went out for a couple brief spells in the afternoon, thankful I didn’t really need the car until Saturday.

My tunnel, from house to street

Late in the afternoon, I started to dig out the end of the driveway, where it was drifted pretty deep, and finally had a tunnel to the street. My neighbor stopped by with his ATV, to which he had strapped a plow blade. He had a great time, riding up my drifts and then barreling downhill towards the street, pushing mountains of snow as he went. As he plowed, a former neighbor pulled up with his snowblower and asked if I wanted some help. Other neighbors also offered help. (I love this town.)

Luckily, I had no pressing need to take out the trash.

Later, I met up with some neighbors and helped clear the sidewalks of the main street in the neighborhood. Afterwards, we went to the local bar for chili and beer.

So while I didn’t get a traditional snow day, it was still a pretty good day. I even settled in with a mug of tea and pulled out The Long Winter before bed.

But that said, I think I’d be okay if we didn’t get any more snow this winter.

Though it was kind of pretty.

I do love the view over the river.

Daylight

It’s five o’clock, and there’s still a hint of daylight to the west. We’ve turned the corner on winter, I hope. Meterologically, we’re not quite there yet, and yesterday the windchill dropped to 21 below zero as frost froze on my windows and the cat burrowed under the down comforter. My garage door froze shut, too.

This is always the toughest part of the year, when I start to believe the hype about Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly acronymed SAD). The days are short and dark, and we see stats tossed around about getting only 6% of the possible sunshine over a week’s period. All the Christmas cheer has been boxed up (well, except my tree, since I couldn’t get it back into the box, but it’s in the basement awaiting purchase of a giant Rubbermaid tote). The next holiday off work isn’t until Memorial Day. This past Monday was what some term “Blue Monday,” for the most depressing day of the year, as the pre-Christmas credit card bills come due, resolutions are being abandoned, and people are beginning to tire of the darkness.

The cold and dark drain you, indeed, and I’ve considered buying a wake-up light (which is inexplicably sold by the ounce on Amazon) to combat the hardest part of the season: waking up – and leaving the house – before dawn. I’m sleepy and crabby, as is everyone else. I just want to hibernate and curl up on the couch under a blanket, drinking mug after mug of tea. And sleep. I really want to sleep.

But there’s hope in the form of a few weak rays of sunshine. Heck, not even sunshine, though that has magic restorative powers that we could all really use right now. Daylight would suffice. Daylight during non-work hours is huge. I’m lucky this year in that I’m working from home more, which means I get to see my house by daylight. In previous years, entire weeks have gone by where I’ve done all my coming and going before dawn and after sunset, marveling on Saturday mornings at the accumulated dust.

Hang in there, fellow Elginites and Chicagoans. February is usually the hardest, grayest month, but it’s also the shortest. We’ll make it, I promise.

Cold Weather Excuses

Happy New Year! After blogging every single day in December (32 posts in 31 days, in fact!), the new year hasn’t started off quite as strong.  That holds true for more than writing. I also haven’t run a single step since New Year’s Eve, when it was a gorgeous 50 degrees.

I kicked off my new year with a nasty bout of stomach flu, which threw my plans into disarray. Suddenly, rather than doing my first 10 mile run on the last day of vacation as planned, I was stuck lying on the couch, aching from head to toe, willing the misery to end. And sleeping. Lots of sleeping. I slept so much I was tired of sleeping. I couldn’t form a coherent thought, let alone write, but the new academic quarter started, so I dragged myself to the first Finance class and gingerly nibbled on some crackers.  (My classmate apparently wasn’t so lucky.)

So that was the first week of the year. By Friday I felt better but was making up for lost time on school and work. Then it got COLD.

When I started running last year, I waited until mid-March, thinking it would be easier to build a habit when it wasn’t miserable outside. And I was mostly right about that. But when October hit, I realized that to continue the habit, I would have to actually run in the cold and snow.

I did what I always do before embarking on anything new: I researched. My chief running instigator gave me lots of advice on dressing for the cold, and talked about how nice it is to run through fresh snow when everything else is quiet. I nodded enthusiastically, signed up for a winter race (the F*ing Freezing Frozen Lake Half, my first) and asked for cold weather gear for Christmas.

I really have enjoyed some of my runs out in the 25-40 degree range. Though I have to battle across the many (many!) uncleared sidewalks in my neighborhood, YakTrax do help, and it’s nice getting fresh air when most people are cooped up indoors.

But really, it’s been so damn cold this winter.

I’ve lived nearly my entire life in the Chicago area, so I’m relatively used to the winters. (Really, I don’t know any better – I was too young to remember the five winters I spent in Indianapolis, and there was only one winter in Budapest.) But December was one of the coldest on record. And between the bitter cold, the ice and the 4 PM darkness, it has not been easy getting out to run. Heck, even Mr. Cold Weather Running himself has had enough.

Sunday morning, it was 8 degrees when I woke up. 8. Single digit. I couldn’t bear to look at the windchill. I threw a hoodie over my fleece pjs and shuffled downstairs for coffee. I went outside (danger! danger!) to retrieve the newspapers and thought about running. Screw this, I thought. It’s supposed to warm up into the 20s! I’ll run later!

Of course, as the day progressed, I ended up spending more time with my parents than planned (time well spent, though) and didn’t get home until after dark. So yes, it was 28 degrees, but too dark to safely run and see obstacles (like uneven or uncleared sidewalks) or be seen by cars. And while I’ve considered the headlamp route, I’m not quite there.

I have a 10k trail race this weekend, and the forecast is in the 20s, so I’m optimistic. I ran the 5k trail race of the series last month, and it was freezing, in the single digits even at noon. I discovered that trail racing is tough when there’s snow on the ground, and it sounds like this weekend will reinforce that discovery. But at least peer pressure will motivate me to get out there.

How are you handling the cold?

 

Winter Wonderland

Today’s #Reverb10 prompt couldn’t have come at a more perfect time:

Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?

When this prompt popped into my inbox about 11 PM last night, I had been sitting in silence, with just a single soft lamp casting light around a corner of the living room, staring out the window at the falling snow. The first snowfall is magical every year and always inspires a sense of wonder and smallness. (Even my very first snowfall in this house, which dumped a full foot of snow, was magical.)

Throughout the year, I’ve been taking – and making – more time to enjoy the wonder of the world around me. I’ve come to enjoy the marvels of a quiet house, with no sounds beyond the ticking of the clock and the snoring cat. I spend more time than ever outside, ostensibly to run, but really, it’s to be outside. Running or walking or just being in a place where you’re alone and small, surrounded by beauty and grace, is wonderful.

And it helps bring perspective to the chaos and busy rush of daily life. After a crazy week of deadlines and work and trying to squeeze it all in, twenty minutes in the backyard, lying in the grass and gazing up at the stars, listening to the chirp of crickets, makes it all better. While part of me shrieks that those twenty minutes could be better spent cleaning the bathroom or finishing a project, I’m getting better at silencing that voice.

Because taking time to appreciate the wonder around us makes everything else worth it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a driveway to shovel. I rather enjoy the quiet of the world when it’s snowing, when sounds are muffled and no one else it out. I don’t bother with music – I just marvel at the Currier & Ives scenery and am thankful that I can manage it by myself.

This post is part of #Reverb10, a month-long project to reflect on the year nearly gone. Read all my #Reverb10 posts, or learn more.

Hoodie Weather

I love hoodies. I love when evenings are just chilly enough to justify cuddling into a nice, fleecy hoodie, but not so cold that the heat needs to be on. Over the weekend, I had the windows cracked open just an inch, letting in the crisp fall air and making a hoodie a must.

At night, with that autumn air sneaking into the bedroom through a barely open window, the cat curls up against me, purring as she burrows into the blankets. The nights are lengthening, and hibernation season is approaching. It’s nearly time to swap out my summer bedding for the winter down, though the flannel sheets will come much later.

I spent yesterday walking through Bluff City Cemetery as part of Elgin’s annual Historic Cemetery Walk. As we followed our period-dressed guide through the cemetery, leaves crunching under our sneakers, we shuddered when the sun hid behind the clouds and the wind picked up. We climbed the hills to hear tales of those who shaped Elgin, and it grew chillier as evening approached and the clouds thickened. I was wearing a hoodie over a long-sleeved tee, but found myself wishing I had grabbed a thicker version as I pulled my hands into the sleeves.

The one downside of fall is that hoodies usually also require socks, and I hate having my feet enclosed. This year won’t be as foreign to my feet, as I’ve worn socks for running all summer.

For now, I’ll enjoy my hoodies. I am not nearly as enthusiastic as parka weather!

What’s your favorite time of year?