The Winter New England Missed Descends All on an April Day

A region laments with Keats, 'Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?'

Bill Weld evidently never read my fax. A year and a half ago, when Arctic chills nipped impatiently at September, threatening to overthrow Indian summer with early winter, I urgently requested that the Massachusetts governor intervene, establish a council on atmospheric deviancy, and save the state from unscheduled changings of the seasons.

I never checked, but assumed Governor Weld, as a trusted public servant, followed through on my recommendation.

Until April 1, that is, when 10 days after the vernal equinox, winter usurped spring with a vengeance. When I called Weld's office, I found no council to renounce this storm nor action plan to make the weather obey the calendar. The governor's only comment was, "how ironic."

How ironic indeed. Two months ago, we in New England were enjoying 70-degree days. Snow, if it fell at all this year, was an amusing diversion that lingered on the ground but for a few hours. A days ago my main concern was catching the squirrel that has been uprooting my sprouting bulbs (and wondering what I would do if the neighborhood skunk wandered into my cage trap instead). Now my tulips are buried under two feet of snow, and the squirrel has retreated to his den.

On this opening day of baseball and National Poetry Month, the rest of America is emerging from its winter woes - floods across California, the Midwest, and South.

But there'll be no franks in Fenway Park anytime soon; no "hey, and a ho, and hey nonino" for a lover and his lass along the banks of the Charles River. The winter Boston missed for months descended all in a day.

The record snowfall for April in Massachusetts is 13.2 inches. By early morning on April Fool's Day, the snow pack at Logan Airport was 15 inches and climbing. Through March, this winter dumped just 26.5 inches of snow in the state, a foot-and-a-half below average. By the time this festival of fleece was supposed to ease, most localities were expected to be buried under almost three feet of new snow.

ACROSS northern New England, hundreds of thousands of residents lost power. Schools closed. Snow emergency restrictions went into effect. Shops sat as cloaked and quiet as Keats's elusive songs of spring.

Rooftops heaved under lopsided mounds. Cars sat buried under pristine, wind-shorn domes. Spears of twisted ice hung from main-street awnings. Burdened tree boughs hung sallow or snapped. The only footprints on Massachusetts Avenue at a normally bustling time of morning were those stamped by a dog and its master.

What dampens he who tends the tulips, of course, dazzles they who watch the weather. Television meteorologists, bored for months by the redundant temperance, were roused by the late-season tempest. They stood in front of high-tech studio displays, enthusiastically describing how this storm circulated from land to sea and back, slobbering a wet lick upon Boston like a Labrador returning from a pond.

Indeed, inside a squat, storm-proof building in Tauton, Mass., home of the region's National Weather Service forecast office, meteorologists may well have slapped high-fives over the accuracy of their predictions.

"This was an incredible forecast," says an ebullient Tom Fair, a meteorologist at the facility. Last Friday, computer models were beginning to churn out hints of the storm to come. By 7 a.m. on Easter Sunday, the jet-stream Jeremiahs began their lamentation: Enjoy the Easter weather while ye may, for tomorrow it storms.

"It looks like this will be the biggest April snow storm on record," he says. "I've got an observer in Hopkinton who reported 30 inches of snow. If he hits 32, he'll match the blizzard of '78."

Science and snowy splendor aside, my calender says spring started 10 days ago, and I'm in tulip mode.

Because the governor refused to heed my previous warning, and the streets of Boston are now too empty to conduct a sidewalk referendum holding him accountable for wintry relapse, just as soon as I dig out my wheelbarrow, I'm going to fill it with the snow burying my garden, catch that squirrel, and take the whole load across town to his house.

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