Chronicle of a weather event

February 18, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 18, 2016

Sunday, Feb. 14, 9:58 p.m.: I walked to my car in the cold, taking an extremely roundabout route in an effort to reach my goal of 10,000 steps per day. I wound up going just shy of 0.8 miles in 13 minutes and 50 seconds.

10:12 p.m.: I returned to my car. Since my gas tank was near empty, I opened up the Gas Guru app on my smartphone and scoped out stations with low prices. I settled on one in Durham near where I used to live, not too far from my current residence.

I started driving back to Durham from a joint on the southeast side of Cary, sandwiched between Apex and southwest Raleigh. The weather was clear, with no sign of precipitation, although snow was forecast for early Monday morning.

10:50 p.m.: I pulled off of N.C. 147, a.k.a. the Durham Freeway, at the Hillandale Road exit. I vaguely noticed that the streets were wet. I navigated my way onto Hillsborough Road and went to the gas station I’d chosen. Not only was it not open at this time of day, I suspected that it wouldn’t be open at any time of day.

Also relevant: The ground around the pumps was covered by snow. The coating was so thin that the snow would disappear beneath the impact of a human footfall. There had been a light flurry in Durham, not rain, as I’d initially thought; the streets appeared to be wet because they were wet — dampened by snow that had evaporated under passing car tires.

I pulled out my phone again and quickly scanned Gas Guru. I decided to drive back home by hopping on Interstate 85, with a quick stop at the gas stations on Guess Road just north of the highway.

I steered my car back onto Hillsborough and made a quick turn onto Georgia Avenue, a quiet residential street. A block and a half later, I turned left onto the western-most stretch of Club Boulevard. A moment’s drive brought me to Club’s terminus at Hillandale, slightly north of the N.C. 147 interchange.

11:15 p.m.: Shortly after I’d turned right and begun driving north, I came to Hillandale Golf Course. At this point, the street is a relatively narrow two-lane — that is, one lane going in each direction. A ditch runs along the eastern side. (I think the same is true of the western side too, but I’m not 100 percent positive about that.)

As I came to the corner of Hillandale Road and Indian Trail, I saw that a car had run off the road. I pulled into the turnoff for the golf course’s parking lot, hit my hazard lights, donned my hat and walked off to the car. It appeared to be empty. I got my phone from my pocket and briefly played its flashlight around the cabin to make sure it was vacant; it was.

As I was doing this, a small truck had driven past my location on Hillandale, hung a right onto Indian Trail, made a U-turn and then pulled over. The driver got out of his vehicle after I made my pass by the abandoned car. He said it belonged to a friend’s cousin, or a cousin’s friend, or some such, and he was going to try to pull it out of the ditch. I asked him if he wanted any help; he declined.

I headed back to my car. Another small truck came by and parked behind the abandoned vehicle. They didn’t want to engage with me, but I turned around and asked the man if these were his friends; he said they were.

I got back into my car and cautiously pulled back onto the road. The newly arrived vehicle was blocking part of the lane and also obstructing my view of oncoming traffic.

I was able to get going again with only a slight delay. A few minutes later, I was at a gas station, although I had to switch pumps because the one I’d pulled up to had some kind of malfunction. A few minutes after that, I backed into the part of the yard at my home that functions as a de facto driveway. (I avoid parking on the street when the roads are going to be snowy or icy — this way, there’s less chance of an out-of-control vehicle smacking into mine.)

Monday, Feb. 15, 6:06 a.m.: I awoke and used the bathroom. I heard some meowing outside, as I have off and on for the past several weeks. After stalling for a while, I donned some clothing and went outside to take a look.

The cat did not appear, but I quickly got a sense of what the weather had done: Coat all horizontal surfaces with a thin but slick layer of ice. I went back inside and went back to bed.

1 p.m.: After lunch, I walked to a nearby coffee shop. A little bit of the ice had melted — the temperature would rise throughout the day, as forecast — but the sidewalks were terrible, and it was difficult to predict which patches of roadway would be slippery and which would not be.

2:40 p.m.: I walked back home and hurriedly began clearing the ice off of my car. I had an appointment to be at, and the roads seemed to be safe to drive on as long as one kept in mind the possibility of ice.

Still, I hadn’t left quite as much time to clean up my car and get to my appointment as I would have liked. I grumbled and growled and cursed to myself as I hacked at the ice.

Unexpectedly, I heard a noise behind me. With a startled yelp, I whirled. It was my neighbor, a 20something woman. She apologized for frightening me.

“We haven’t been properly introduced,” she said, striding toward me with her hand held out. “I’m C—.” (I did not take notes or record these comments, so words contained in quotation marks are approximate.)

“Hi, C—,” I said, holding out my hand. “I’m Matthew.”

C— asked if her puppy could run around in my enclosed yard; she would clean up after him. I agreed readily.

“Nice to meet you, C—,” I said, and turned back to my car.

6:50 p.m.: I walked around a parking lot near what passes for downtown Cary, speaking on the phone. It was brisk, but the ground was much clearer.

11:30 p.m.: The evening done, I walked outside to my car.

There was a strange noise. I peered around before realizing what it was.

The temperature had risen to 35 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. The ice that had coated the trees was transitioning to liquid, and that liquid was raining down on the other side of the street.

Tuesday, Feb. 16, noon: I stepped out of my house to drive to the dry cleaners. I had a scarf on, but I soon doffed it. The skies were bright blue, and the air was warm, and the birds were singing. The ice that had coated the region yesterday seemed a distant memory.

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