Hold back the sun; I’m on my way.
The past few winters in Washington, we didn’t need a full team of experts and eyes to track the snow. You’d simply look up at the sky sneezing a flurry of flakes or down at the white duvet cushioning your feet. But this season, I had to recruit other people, and states, to achieve the simplest of frosty feats: finding enough snow to build a snowman, -woman or -child.
What a sad, sad winter we are having. Even the National Weather Service says so: Many of the lower 48 states logged warmer-than-average temperatures in December and January; the first two months of winter rank as the fourth-steamiest on record countrywide. In Washington, we’ve trotted out our mukluks for a measly 1.7 inches of snow, almost 10 inches below the norm for this period. And Wednesday’s teaspoon of snow hardly sated my winter cravings. I want to construct a snowman, not a snowflea.
For help with my quest, I contacted NOAA’s National Weather Service, which pointed its antennae at Upstate New York. (I was short on time, so road-tripping to Alaska or Colorado was not an option.) To lock down a specific destination, I called Syracuse native Pat DeCoursey, who runs two snow-accumulation contests: the Golden Snowball Award, which crowns the snowiest of five Upstate New York cities, and the Golden Snow Globe, which expands the competition to 60 U.S. cities with populations of 100,000 or more.
Pat’s home town, about 40 miles east of Lake Ontario, has won the local trophy every year in the past decade, vanquishing the blizzard vortexes of Buffalo, Albany, Binghamton and Rochester. It also nabbed the national prize two years in a row but has a snowball’s chance in Hades of toppling Anchorage and Denver this season.
But the city does rank first in the local competition with 31.8 inches. Encouraging news. At the very least, I could fashion the patriarch of the snow family out of leftovers from a recent storm that had dumped eight inches. At the most ambitious, I could erect the entire clan, complete with estranged wives.
On the drive from Washington, a nearly straight-arrow 360 miles north, I established some rules of the road. Foremost, upon the first sighting of snow, I had to stop the car and start construction. I kept my instruments at the ready: gloves, a windshield scraper and a carrot as long as the fibbing Pinocchio’s nose.
Prospects were slim on the first half of the journey. I felt as if I were driving through a bowl of shredded wheat without the milk. The land was so dry, I started to see mirages. Ribbons of white in the trees resembled icicles but turned out to be strips of plastic bags. Sun-bleached rocks along the highway appeared as snow mounds, until the light shifted and exposed their true, hard skin. I tailed a blue car with white patches on its rooftop, hood and trunk, roadster designs inspired by the Arctic. I threw up my hands through the sunroof and passed the guy.