Thursday, November 13, 2014

Winter announcing itself tonight

Sign of things to come? (Photo by S. Vardatira, 2013)

Winter is going to be announcing itself tonight, with light accumulating snowfall likely across much of Southern New England tonight into Friday Morning. Precipitation will start from west to east as rain changing to snow with a brief burst of heavier snow possible during the overnight. Total snowfall of a coating to 2" is expected area wide. And while the forecast calls for a slight warm up tomorrow (up to 40 during the day), temps stay pretty cold all the way through next weekend, with below freezing temps at night rising to the high 30s during the day. Time to haul out that winter coat!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Three years ago tonight...

Assessing the damage the next morning, 10/30/2014


Can you remember where you were 3 years ago tonight? Right about now, if you were fortunate to be inside and not marooned in a grocery store for the night or crawling down the highway, most locals were listening to the snapping and cracking of trees in the night. The breaking sound was explosive, followed quickly by the sound of branches and trees crashing to the ground. I remember staying up all night in the darkness (the power was gone by early evening) wondering when the next tree would come down on the house. And eventually that's exactly what I heard. We were without power for five days, and trapped in our house on the hill - trees entwined with electric line fell across our driveway, making it impossible to drive out. And the temperature kept dropping each day. Anyone living in the valley vividly remembers exactly what they were doing and where they were that week. What's your story?


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Not to set off "Post-Traumatic Snowtober Disorder," but...

Halloween lawn decoration buried in snow, "Snowtober" - 10/30/2011
Daily Hampshire Gazette front page, Halloween 2011
I have been avoiding posting about this because I didn't want to set off "PTSD" - by which I mean "Post-Traumatic Snowtober Disorder" - in Amherst residents, but I would be remiss not to mention that there's a distant possibility we *might* get some snow around Halloween. 

Now stay calm, keep breathing. 

The fine print may help - and then again, maybe not. Those harrowing memories from Halloween 2011 are hard to beat back.

Read on for details here:
Tricky Halloween Forcast

Layover at Quabbin

Layover at Quabbin Reservoir, 10/14/2014 - Photo by S. Vardatira
Pass by Quabbin these days, and you are sure to see geese - coming in for a landing, bobbing on the water, watching the sunset along with the day's final visitors hurrying back across the dam before nightfall. I took this photo a little over a week ago, at sunset. Perfect, serene setting.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

2015 Head in the Clouds Amherst Calendar - Now Available!


(Click on photo to enlarge)
Actual calendar photos and daily entries are high resolution, much sharper than the images shown here)

After such an enthusiastic reception last year, we are delighted to release our new Head in the Clouds Amherst 2015 Wall Calendar. Once again, the calendar features 12 of your favorite nature photos from our blog, all taken in Amherst and the surrounding area. And new this year, we've added photo titles and location captions so you can easily identify where each photo was taken. Printed on high quality, glossy paper, this calendar notes major holidays, as well as astronomical events visible from Amherst with the naked eye (full moon, new moon, meteor showers, and more). Our calendar also documents nearly 50 major weather events that occurred in Amherst and New England between 1660 and 2014. A perfect gift for friends and family, this calendar will delight and surprise month after month. Full size when open is 17" high and 11" wide. 

Price is $13.50 per calendar through this website. (Cost will be slightly higher at local retail stores.)

Buy here for delivery by mail, or purchase at Amherst Books or Hastings. Amherst Books is located at the center of downtown Amherst at 8 Main Street. Hastings is also downtown, at 45 South Pleasant Street on the Common






January: Snowing at South Beach - Puffer's Pond
February: Ski Trails - Kevin Flood Accessible Trail
March: Twilight Sky - Cushman Brook
April: Sunset - Puffer's Pond
May: Cumulus Mirrored - Atkins Reservoir
June: Summer Solstice at Stonehenge -
UMass Sunwheel (also known as "Stonehenge")
July: Path to Amherst - Looking towards Amherst from
South Maple Street, Hadley
August: Common Fog - Amherst Town Common
September: "Where the place called morning lies" -
The Homestead (birthplace and home of Emily Dickinson)
October: Traveling through Fall - Pulpit Hill Road,
 adjacent to Cherry Hill Golf Course
November: Nightfall over Simple Gifts Farm -
Pine Street, North Amherst
December: Snow in the Valley - Hadley/North Amherst


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Freeze Watch is just the beginning

Clouds ahead of cold front, Hadley MA (today, 10/18/14)
For those of you loving the warm up this past week, prepare for a rude awakening (literally, on Monday) – a Freeze Watch is in effect for much of interior Southern New England for late Sunday into Monday morning at 9 am. This isn’t a case of frost, mind you, but FREEZE. Minimum temperatures will be in the upper 20s and low 30s, and a newspaper canopy over your plants may not do the trick this time around. These sub-freezing temperatures tend to kill crops and other sensitive vegetation.
Meanwhile, as you have no doubt noticed, local talk has started to drift into musings on winter. What kind will we have? Mild or bitter cold, snowy or icy, and what will happen to Pine Street when deep freeze sets in? Indeed, the sorry state of Pine Street has practically displaced weather talk these days, and this being New England and all, that’s saying something.  Pine Street aside, forecasters from the Farmer’s Almanac to bona fide meteorologists (oops, did I betray a bias there?!) have been rolling out their predictions (Almanac) and forecasts (meteorologists) for the coming winter. 
The fun of the Farmer’s Almanac is the specificity of their predictions, right down to providing a summary for our own Amherst Center. So if you put any stock in what the Almanac has to say (or even if you don’t and are just curious), here’s their winter forecast for Amherst Center:
Winter will be much colder than normal, with near-normal precipitation and below-normal snowfall. The coldest periods will be in mid- and late December, early and mid-January, and mid- to late February. The snowiest periods will be in mid- to late November, mid- and late December, and early to mid-March.  (Farmer’s Almanac, 2014)
To be honest, that’s pretty typical for a lot of winters around here, except for the “near-normal precipitation and below-normal snowfall.” Last I checked, precipitation included snowfall.
It probably won’t surprise you to hear that meteorologists have their own take on matters, and while they are predicting a somewhat colder and snowier winter than normal for the Northeast, they don’t expect the record-breaking misery of last winter.  Cold air will surge into the Northeast in late November, but the brunt of the season should hold off until January and February (much as it did last year, as you may recall). And who can forget last winter’s “polar vortex,” which brought extended bouts of arctic temperatures?  We’ll see a few blasts like that again this year, but temperatures are not expected to stay so persistently sub-zero. So, take heart – winter is coming one way of another, just like you knew it would.
As for Pine Street lasting the winter (or even the next month), that’s another matter altogether.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

First frost, but not yet time to panic!

Ground frost, 2013 (Photo by S. Vardatira)

If you hoped (or feared) this would be the summer without end, time to revise your thinking! The National Weather Service in Taunton has issued a Frost Advisory, which is in effect from late tonight until tomorrow morning for Hampshire and Northern Worcester Counties in Massachusetts. Temperatures will be in the lower 30s. Sensitive vegetation should be protected, and potted plants normally left outdoors should be covered or brought inside away from the cold. Time to harvest the basil and tomatoes, folks. And for some ideas on how to protect your other plants, check out this garden helper website. After tonight, temps climb out of frost range, at least for the next 10 days, with lows in the mid-40s to mid-50s, highs in the mid-60s. Fortunately, there's still growing time to be had before winter arrives in earnest.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Storms Heading Our Way

Severe thunderstorm watch has just been issued for Hampshire County through 9 pm tonight. Although, to be sure, we are in for a whole series of stormy days ahead. What does this mean for July 4th fireworks around here? Well, too close to call - I'm going to guess that Arthur will probably have passed to our southeast by then, and we'll be in the clear around here. But even if we aren't clear on Friday night, Saturday and Sunday look great.

Here's the weather detail for Southern New England today and the next few days, straight from the NOAA Skywarn office in Taunton (complete with all their fun capitalization rules!):

"Weather Pattern expected to be active Wednesday Evening through Friday and possibly into Saturday Morning with several days of severe weather and flood to flash flood potential and the potential for some possible impacts from Tropical Storm Arthur or Arthur's interaction with a cold front that will move through the region.

After a relatively quiet stretch of weather over the past few weeks, the weather will turn active as we get into Wednesday Evening through Friday and possibly into the Saturday Morning timeframe. Hot and humid conditions will prevail over the region over the next few days. A Cold Front will be gradually approaching Southern New England from the west and will begin to affect our region Wednesday Evening. This will likely bring the first round of isolated to scattered strong to severe thunderstorms starting in Western New England Wednesday Evening. Strong to damaging winds, large hail and heavy rainfall with the potential for urban and poor drainage flooding to flash flooding are the main threats. 

As we get into Thursday and Friday, possibly extending into early Saturday Morning, impacts from Tropical Storm Arthur and the interaction of the approaching cold front could potentially lead to what is known as a 'predecessor rainfall event' also known as a PRE which could result in the potential for widespread heavy rainfall in the axis of where this event take place. It is unclear where this axis will setup across the region or if it stays south of our area. It is also unclear when this event will occur. This PRE event may not occur until Thursday Night into Friday.

Even without this event, the approaching cold front has the potential for another round of isolated to scattered strong to severe thunderstorms for Thursday to much of Southern New England with strong to damaging winds, hail and urban and poor drainage flooding to flash flooding as the primary threats. T

In terms of the exact track of Tropical Storm Arthur, the track currently brings Arthur around the 40 North/70 West Benchmark. While this track would keep the strongest winds south and east of Southern New England, the interaction of this system with the cold front and its transition to a post tropical system could change the impacts of this system on the region. In addition, the cone of uncertainty on the track guidance extends as far north as Southeast New England. It is also noted that model agreement on the track is not as strong as yesterday with some reliable models being much further offshore with Arthur while other models bring Arthur closer to Southern New England. In addition, the closest pass of Arthur to Southern New England will likely take place late Friday Night into Saturday Morning which is still approximately 4 days away. As the system organizes and continues its movement northward, model tracks should become more certain as we get into the Thursday Afternoon to Friday Morning timeframe. Interests in Southern New England should monitor the track of Tropical Storm Arthur as well as how this system interacts with the cold front as we get into the timeframe of impact late this week."

Stay safe everyone, and do not take shelter under trees!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Friends of Puffer's Pond Annual Pancake Breakfast

Spring at Puffer's Pond (Photo by S. Vardatira)
If you've been following Head in the Clouds Amherst for any time at all, you know that we are constantly writing about, enthusing over, and sharing photos of Puffer's Pond. So of course we are completely behind any opportunity to return some love to Puffer's Pond. Turns out, the perfect occasion is right around the corner, at the Friends of Puffer's Pond Annual Pancake Breakfast on Saturday morning, June 7. Great food, a chance to catch up with old friends, greet newcomers to town, and protect Puffer's along the way. Remember - the herons, beavers, frogs and turtles can’t raise the money to pay for pond maintenance, so come on over and do your pancake-eating duty! For more information visit the Friends of Puffer's Pond Facebook page.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Peregrine Falcon Webcam Returns for 2014



Anyone who pays even slight attention to the bird life in Amherst is sure to have seen our resident pair of peregrine falcons at some time in the last twelve years, as they nest every spring atop the W.E.B. Du Bois Library at UMass Amherst. I've been spotting them over the past few weeks swooping over the traffic on Route 116 between Amherst and Hadley. But now, even if you never travel through our town, you too can watch this nesting pair courtesy of the live "falcon webcam" made possible by the UMass Amherst Facilities Planning Division, the Office of Information Technology, the Libraries' Systems and Web Management Department, MassWildlife, and the Friends of the Libraries. I have to admit it's thrilling to see them "up close and personal," although there's nothing quite like seeing them in flight, diving (they can dive from great heights at up to 200 miles per hour) and swooping for prey over the nearby farmland.

UPDATE (As of April 16): Four eggs in the nest, parents sharing incubation duties. Blustery, snowy morning.

Daffodils Buried in Snow

Daffodils buried in snow - Wednesday, 4/16/2014 (N. Amherst, MA)
(Photo by S. Vardatira)
Ah, springtime in New England - sun pouring down, 28 degrees (at 7 am), and daffodils buried in snow. And black ice. All in all a delightful morning.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Fool's Flamingos


"Ichabod Crane," one of our April Fool's visitors, guarding our walk
during the period of the flock's five year sojourn in our garage, c. 2006
Earlier today, I met over coffee with a friend who I vowed I would never, ever again cross paths with on April Fool’s Day. I knew from years of experience that she would have devised some evil scheme to torture me, but because she now lives in New York City and is rarely in the area, I decided, against my better judgment, to chance it. And just so you understand the depths she will go to, this is the woman who, one year, when our Passover Seder happened to fall on April 1, sneaked fake ice cubes filled with plastic flies into the ritual, symbolic “Miriam’s Well” (a pitcher of water meant to represent the rejuvenating spring that followed and sustained the newly liberated Jewish people on their journey through the desert). Not. Cool. Another year, her terrified co-workers at her law firm ended up calling the police when they found the lower torso of a bloodied person (think Wicked Witch of the East meets Blacklist) under a parked car. My friend’s defense was that anyone should have been able to plainly see the torso was a fake. She has since claimed that the latter experience chastened her (the firm was none too pleased), and that, as a result, she is no longer a practicing prankster. Yeah, right. Clever way to lull me into a false sense of safety.


I myself love to instigate a good joke, but I also believe that the best April Fool’s jokes have to walk that tricky line between scaring the living daylights out of someone (or scaring them at all), and being anemically pointless. You also can’t do something that would be devastatingly disappointing. For example, telling your partner you have won the lottery when you haven’t will only end up disappointing both of you. And any joy you might have experienced as a result of the “gotcha” moment will soon vanish with the fight that follows. Sometimes, even with the best planning, the fun in a joke will elude you. One year, helped by my then 10-year old son, we decided to surprise my wife by pretending we had found and taken in a stray kitten. We were positive this would not be a welcome addition to our two-cat household, and thus she would be relieved and pleased to eventually learn that no kitten was anywhere on the premises. But to our surprise, she was excited to hear about the kitten, wanted to see it immediately, and was inconsolably sad to learn we were fabricating the whole story.

Some of our best pranks have involved whole groups of people, like the year my wife convinced her amateur improvisational theater group that a representative from the TV show, Whose Line Is It Anyway, was going to be featuring amateur improv groups from around the country, and their group had been chosen to perform on TV. Everyone was over the moon! The gag went on way past April Fool’s, with e-mails flying about dates and travel plans, what games they would be playing, etc. Best of all, since this was an improv group, when the curtain fell on the whole tall tale, everyone was suitably impressed. Win-win all around. [By the way, aside to any TV producers out there: How great a show would that make? Reality collides with art? Think about it.] 

But far and away my favorite April Fool’s joke ever was played on our whole family. One April Fool’s morning, we awoke to find 17 pink flamingos perched on the hill in front of our house. Just to be clear, these pink flamingos were the plastic variety that one typically imagines – if you imagine them at all – gracing lawns in warmer climates, like Florida. But these were no ordinary plastic lawn ornaments. These flamingos, some small and some large, were dressed in a charming assortment of clothes - scarves and hats, jackets and capes. And affixed to their clothes were an odd assortment of items, including little plastic books, tennis racket, basketball, sunglasses, a snorkel, and, best of all, a poetic introduction in anapestic meter (think extended limerick) to our flock of April Fool’s flamingos. And what a bunch they were, with clever nom de plumes (yes, pun intended) like Larry Bird, Ichabod Crane, Mallard Fillmore, Ladybird Johnson, Blue Jay Leno, Oscar Wild Turkey, and Mynah Shore. Figuring out who gifted us took days, but eventually we figured it out. Delighted with our delight, our friends instructed us to pay it forward the next year.  

I’m ashamed to confess that the original flock lived in our garage for about five years before we got it together to send them back home, new poem in hand, one April Fool’s eve.  As much fun as we had looking out that April Fool’s morning and seeing the flock advancing up our hill, that was nothing compared to the excitement of our two-minute run in the middle of the night to bring them home. April Fool’s surprises don’t get any sweeter than that. 

That is, until today, when my friend presented me with a huge bag of bagels and cream cheese, straight from Zabar’s in New York City. No flies, no bloodied bodies. And nothing could have surprised (and delighted) me more.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

No, it's not spring yet (what were you thinking?)


So for all you folks who are merrily going along imagining that spring is on the horizon and winter a thing of the past, think again! This may be one winter advisory you really need to heed, precisely because it’s possibly the last thing you’re anticipating. Yes, you heard that right. A Winter Weather Advisory is in effect for our area overnight tonight, from 2AM-10Am on Friday. Expect snow accumulations of up to 1 inch, followed by sleet and freezing rain. Timing of this mixed bag of messiness will definitely impact the morning commute. And after the snow, we are forecast to get 2-4 inches of rain Saturday night into Monday morning (maybe even some snow on Sunday night). So, sure, 50 degree days are around the corner, but winter isn’t giving up yet.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

But does it feel like spring?


Hard though it is to believe, this is, in fact, the first day of Spring! It arrives officially in less than 2 hours (12:57 EST). And regardless of what this graphic depicts (however true it may feel), the forecast over the next few weeks is showing quite a few days with temps in the 50s. And before you know it, we'll all be complaining about the heat. I think. Well, pretty sure . . . um . . . keep your fingers crossed, anyway.

It didn't exactly help to wake up this morning to a dusting of snow, capped by a thin layer of ice over everything. It's 38 degrees out now, though, so at least the ice has melted. And is that a ray of sun I see trying to break through the clouds?