Things I’ve Learned about Snow Since Moving to Maine

I’ve always been a fan of snow. Still am, even on days right after I’ve had to snow blow for an hour or so. We get plenty of the white stuff here in Maine, and having dealt with it and homeownership for a decade or so now, I thought it might be interesting to go over some of the things I’ve learned about dealing with snow since I moved up here.

First off, it’s got a life cycle. The best time to deal with snow is right after it’s fallen. It’s still fluffy and beautiful then. Wait for a day or two, and it starts to compact down. The sun melts it, and if you’re in Maine, anything that melts in the winter must freeze in the night. If you don’t do a good job keeping your driveway and steps and the sidewalk absolutely clear of snow, then they’re going to turn into a skating rink. And that skating rink might take a month or more to melt. During that melting process? It’s just going to get more slippery, and you’ll wish you’d gone out to clear off the snow right after it had come down.

Second, there are definitely types of snow. Fluffy snow is the easiest to handle. It’s light and doesn’t protest to being flung around with abandon. Then again, it makes terrible snowmen. For that, you want the temperatures to be warmer when it’s snowing. That gets you the good packing snow you’ll need to create anything you want to hang around for a while. (Waiting for the snow to melt some doesn’t do the same thing. You just wind up with fluffy snow covered by a crusty layer of ice. The colder it is when it snows, the more snow you get. This is because fluffy snow accumulates faster than dense snow. Same amount of precipitation, wildly different snow totals.

Driving in the snow isn’t terribly difficult as long as you take your time and watch out for curves. Give yourself a wide cushion around your vehicle. Remember it’s going to take you a longer time to stop than it would otherwise. Sadly, many other people on the road will forget this, especially if they have four wheel drive. It will also be complicated by the fact that the more snow you get, the higher the snow banks become. The higher they get, the less you can see when leaving your driveway. That’s a bad thing.

“Plowed roads” don’t necessarily mean “bare roads.” In Maine, they get most of the snow off the road, but there’s usually an inch or so left until the sun and the salt have done their job. If I waited for the roads to be completely clear after a storm before I went out, I’d be waiting a few days.

Snow is a great insulator. Ideally, you pile it up against the foundation of your house. It keeps the wind out and the warmth in. I’ve been having issues in my bathroom with the pipes freezing, so today when I was out clearing the driveway, I made sure to pile a bunch of snow next to my bathroom wall. I’ll be surprised if the problem persists. (Until the snow melts, that is.)

Snow is heavy. Get enough of it, and your house can have issues, so you’ll want to think about getting a roof rake. This is basically a scoop with a loooooong handle. You stand on the ground and rake the snow down off your roof so that your roof doesn’t collapse. I usually don’t worry about this until there’s a foot or so on my roof, or if I know it’s going to rain. (Yes, we do get rain in the winter here in Maine. Now and then.) Rain + snow = heaviest snow. Wait for that slush to freeze and you’ve got serious issues on your hand.

Snow also insulates ice, meaning if you’re walking across a snow-covered pond in Maine, the ice might be much thinner than you’d assume. It doesn’t matter if the temperature was 20 below. Give that ice a good coat of snow, and it might still be dangerous. This does not keep people from driving snowmobiles or even trucks out onto the lakes. Then again, not all people are sensible.

To really enjoy snow, you need to have a good plan in place for how to deal with it. The first winter we lived here, we had a bad system. We tried to plow it with our lawn tractor. It makes sense in theory, but you only get one real shot to create snow banks. Push the fluffy stuff into piles, and it turns into bitter hard mounds of ice. Trying to push fluffy snow into bitter piles of ice doesn’t go well for a lawn tractor. It doesn’t have enough oomph behind it to get the job done.

That first winter we got hammered with snow. Life was pretty rough. As soon as we had a snow blower? Life got so much better. That said, there’s a learning curve with a blower as well. Knowing when to do it, how to approach it, and how to keep the blower from going through shear pins. (They’re set up so that the auger cuts through a metal pin that keeps it in moving if it encounters anything that might overwhelm the engine, like big branches or shards of ice. This is good, because it keeps you from ruining your blower. It’s bad, because replacing those pins is mighty tricky and cold at 6am on a winter morning. So you want to avoid it if possible.)

These days, we’ve got it down to a science. I know when to snow blow and how to do it effectively. That lets me look forward to the snow instead of dreading it. It also helps to work for an institution that regularly cancels work because of the snow. I don’t care how many times people in warmer climes brag to me about how they don’t have to deal with the cold. They also don’t get to wake up one morning and stay in bed without having to go to work, just because it snowed. Snow days as an adult are fantastic.

Anyway. That’s not an exhaustive list. I rattled it off the top of my head as I wrote. But it’s certainly much  more than I knew about snow before coming here to Maine. I continue to love it, and I always look forward to big storms on the horizon. That said, I can see why it wouldn’t be for everyone. If you’re not properly set up for it, snow can be a really dangerous thing.

On that note, I’m going to head back to a comfy chair and maybe a video game or two. I’ve got a snow day today.


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