The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Friday, April 8, 2011

Snow Day

This is a story of me being an idiot and not checking the weather reports. Let it be a lesson to you all.

Yesterday was one of those "joys of fieldwork" days. I was sent out with a fairly simple task, to check on some potential ground disturbance near or within the boundaries of an archaeological site. A simple task - go out, use a GPS unit to map the trees and a few site features for reference, determine whether the removal of the trees was likely to impact the site, and return to make my report.

Then the weather happened.

It has been sunny and warm all of the last week. Uncomfortably warm, in fact. And so when, at the end of the day Wednesday, I was asked to go up into the mountains and check on these potential impacts, I figured it was no problem. The weather was good, the task was simple, and I was prepared.

As I left my apartment this morning, it began to sprinkle. And, as I headed along the highway towards the project area, it began to rain. No problem, I had a raincoat and a notebook made out of some weird mutant paper that is not harmed by water. I was still good to go.

Then I hit the mountain pass, and I noticed that the raindrops hitting my windhield were no longer splattering in a normal fashion. I knew what this meant: snow was coming. And sure enough, as I climbed another 100 feet or so, the rain gave way to snow, splotchy wet snow that would smack against my window at first, but flaky, powdery snow that just flitted past the car as I gained more altitude.

Damn. I didn't have snow chains.

Well, I continued to the site, figuring that, given the tempurature, the snow would quickly melt away from the black asphalt, and this appeared to hold true. I reached the site, and discovered that the GPS unit was not receiving any satellite signals due to a combination of tree canopy and atmospheric disturbance. So, I pulled out a 60-meter tape measure and my compass and got to work getting the bearing and distance to each possible disturbance area from the established site features. The entire time, my boots were covered in snow and my feet were becoming cold and wet (I had left my water-resistant boots at home, thinking that the lighter boots would be sufficient), and the process took a couple of hours to complete. Up until the last twenty minutes, the snow continued to melt off of the road. And then, just as I was finishing up, the snow began to stick, and a crust of white was visible on the road surface.

I have worked in the snow, and I have driven in the snow, but I have not lived in areas with regular snowfall, and as such I am willing to admit that I am largely ignorant of the point at which a layer of snow on the road goes from being a "drive slowly" situation to a "you'd better have chains on that car" situation*. And I didn't want to find out right then or there.

So, I climbed in the car, and headed out of the work site. the problem, though, is that the work site is in a valley, and my office is in another valley, so I was having to gain elevation again, heading into thicker snowfall and denser snow cover on the road, in order to get home.

None of the photos below are from the site (those photos are considered confidential), but to give you an idea of what this was like, the landscape in the area during this time of year normally looks like this:

Yesterday it looked like this:

And apparently the snow brought out the Sasquatch:

*No doubt a reader who lives in a colder climate is laughing at me right now. All I can say is come spend a summer in the place where I grew up. I may not know how to deal with snow, but extreme heat is an old friend. The kind of friend who comes to your hosue uninvited and drinks all of your beer without asking, but an old friend nonetheless.


gchpaco said...

Even people who grow up in areas like that sometimes don't understand the difference. But without knowing how it felt to drive there that looks like "meh, all weather tires ought to handle that" to me. Another couple hours of it I could see being a real issue, tho.

Anthroslug said...

I waited to take the photos until I was out of the mountain pass and in a somewhat warmer (and less snowy) area. Your comment may very well also apply to where I was concerned about it, but I didn't want to find out.

Unknown said...

As someone that grew up in snow and works in snow, I say that this still happens to me. I was on a pedestrian survey project in Wyoming last August when this happened. Our rig had bald-ish tires, no holders for the chains and we were on a 4x4 road on a mountain saddle. So while I may be laughing, it's because I also feel inadequate and silly at these times of life.