Northeast Weather Blog

Spring clean-up time! Week 1

By: sullivanweather, 11:33 PM GMT on March 26, 2013

Spring is here, barely, and those of us lucky enough to not have snow cover can finally get out into the garden and commence spring cleaning. If your garden is like mine you're likely facing the following; leaves, lot and lots of leaves, sticks, branches, last year's dead plants, last year's plant supports still in ground, winter weeds and areas of still frozen dirt. It can all seem overwhelming but one must start somewhere and if done in an organized manner, spring clean can go smoothly.

What I try to accomplish first is removal of last year's plant supports. I typically run across a few stakes or cages still frozen into the ground but most of them 'phslurk' right out. Stack all stakes and cages in neat piles outside the garden to keep them easy to access once your plants are growing and it's time to use them. Ridding the garden of obstacles makes the next step go much smoother. This next step is giving the garden a good raking to get rid of all the leaves and branchlets that blew in over the cold season. There are options for this leaf litter other than throwing them into the woods or bagging it up for haul away. This leaf litter will typically break down quickly in the spring when composed, so most of what falls into my garden finds its way into the compost heap. But I do find other uses for this leaf litter. Beds reserved for warm season crops which are not planted with spring crops I typically cover with this leaf litter. During the 4-7 weeks of being covered by the leaf litter there's typically a colony of earthworms which move in under the pile of leaf litter, leaving a coating of castings on the top layer of soil. About 3-5 days before I plant those beds I remove the leaf litter to allow the soil to warm more efficiently and mix the castings into the top two inches of soil. The leftover left litter is then added to the compost heap.

Now that the beds are cleaned and hopefully rid of all supports, it is now ready to prep the cool season beds for planting. I will post a follow up blog on garden preparation (for those starting from scratch) but what follows here is mainly for established beds. First thing to figure out is whether or not your cool season crop has a taproot or not. For the most part, a cool season crop with a taproot will typically not need to have the soil turned. The thawing ground provides all the space in the soil these plants need and as it rains natural micro drainage paths within the soil, which left undisturbed from not turning the bed, provides channels for root hairs of the plant to grab all the necessary nutrients the plant needs. Just feed these crops as prescribed by your choice of plant food/fertilizer and these beds will produce a healthy harvest. Other crops which do need to have the soil turned, this is the best time to amend the soil. Typically I like to add a mix of rich organic matter from my own compost and composted cow manure, a new bag of top soil and a combination of iron-tone and garden-tone, Espoma products. These 'tone' products provide organic micro-nutrients to the soil which are essential to promote strong root growth, vigorous stem and foliage growth and gives the plant the ability to fend off disease. More on cool season crops will follow in a blog dedicated to them.

Along with a series of blogs on some of the basics of gardening this blog will also document the progress of my garden this season. Therefore I will have plenty of pictures to illustrate these changes.
Here's what I'm looking at this spring...

Here's the backyard. The garden is in the background on the left side of the photo. There's still plenty of snow in the shady areas but where the sun shines the ground is mostly bare. The tree down is courtesy of Sandy.

Close up shot of the downed tree from Sandy. As you can see, the top of the tree came down pretty close to the garden fence.

Entrance to the garden looking in. There's quite a mess in there.

This is the center bed with the best soil in the garden. Typically, this is where I grow lettuce during the cool season. After mid-June the lettuce is usually done and this bed slowly fills in with warm season crops started indoors. I do plan on making some layout changes to this area of the garden this week as I will be digging a new path for the drainage channel.

An expanded image showing the center bed (left side) and the path and drainage ditch which runs alongside it. The bed along the right side of the path/drainage ditch are strawberries. This area will be expanded this spring as I will be moving the outer fence out about 6-7 feet from where it is now. This is the area of the garden likely to see the biggest change in layout this year as that drainage ditch will no longer run along the path, the path will be changed and new terraced beds created within the center bed.

Top of the drainage ditch looking toward the front of the garden. Wind has blown planting containers into the ditch and it is clogged down below, so it's holding its water. Instead of cutting left it will soon be re-excavated, bisect the center bed and empty into the bottom part of the garden where I plan on growing pumpkins.

About two-dozen strawberry plants I rooted at the end of last summer. These plants will be planted in the expanded strawberry bed.

The part of the drainage ditch which 'cuts to the left.' This is where the ditch is clogged as the freeze/thaw cycle of the soil has expanded and pushed the rock wall into the ditch. This is also the part of the drainage ditch which will be eliminated.

This view is facing left after walking into the garden. The center bed is now on the right side of the image with last year's tomato bed (and the trellis I built for them) on the left side of the path. This is also a section of the garden I'm planning radical changes to as the drainage ditch will now cut through here. Final plans for this section are still not 100% but I will make the best use of the space somehow. The fence post on the far left side of the photo has a length of fence attached to it which extends to the back of the garden along which I grew snow/snap peas. This year that fence will be coming out and added to the outside fence to extend the strawberry bed.

Green shoots! The first ones up in the garden. These are chives.

The back three beds of the garden. The drainage ditch is in the immediate foreground. Thus far I'm not planning on any major changes to these beds this year.

This is the herb garden and it is a mess. Hopefully, the mint and lavender will be up in short order. By early May an assortment of herbs will be added to fill in the gaps.

This is the row along one of the backsides of the garden. On the left side of the path is the center bed (looking from the back of the garden toward the front). Last year winter squash was grown in this section.

Collapsed section of the drainage ditch wall.

Bottom of the garden where the drainage ditch will empty into. Usually I plant peas and spring mix in this section of the garden in the spring and pumpkins in the summer. Since there will be construction occurring in this section of the garden this spring I may lose the cool season crop from this part of the garden.

Another view of the tomato bed from the pumpkins section. This is one big mess right now.

The weather station!


Day 1

Center bed now bisected by the new drainage ditch. I do believe that I will be changing the structure of this bed now too.


View looking up the garden. Yesterday this was a jumble of cages, stakes and a length of fencing. All removed now to open this space up. The drainage ditch will empty into this part of the garden and is where I will plant pumpkins later in the year.


A better view of the new section of drainage ditch I dug this afternoon. New paths and beds are in order.


Many of the rocks which made last year's bedding borders. These will soon be re-stacked to make new beds.


Top half of the new ditch bisecting the center bed. I guess it will no longer be the center bed after today.


Entire length of new ditch from near-ground level.


Looking down the garden from the top of the old section of ditch. Compare with similar image posted yesterday.


View from the top of the new ditch looking down the garden.

_________________________________________________ ___

Day 4

Here's the outside of the garden where it will soon be extended. Still quite messy out here.


Looking in the garden from the front gate. Lots of progress being made thus far.


A closer look at the new paths and beds where last year's tomato plants were. The bed in the foreground still needs to be expanded slightly and terraced.


View of new beds/paths and ditch from a head-on angle. The new bed on the left is complete and sowed with spinach seeds. The bed on the right side needs to be expanded (rock wall on right side of the bed will be removed to extend the bed horizontally) and the rock wall of the center bed will also be taken down to combine both beds, which will then be terraced.


Close up view of the new spinach bed.


Close up ground-level view of one baby spinach hill.


View of spinach bed from the topside of the garden.


My farm dog asking if she can help dig holes.


Updated: 2:35 AM GMT on March 31, 2013


New direction

By: sullivanweather, 5:30 AM GMT on March 26, 2013

First and foremost, a few thoughts. This winter has been quite a busy one for me. I've been working several jobs to try and get ahead, consuming just about all my time in the process. Both Kate and I are really trying to stack our proverbial chips to be able to afford a down payment on a house. With five-figure student loan debt and a couple credit cards debts funneling money out of our budget every month, it's been quite a chore trying to find something to put away every month. I do know full well the benefit of reducing our debt when it ultimately comes time to purchase a house but having to live through the reality of paying off debt and save money at the same time is one long haul (and it doesn't help when it suddenly comes time to fill that oil tank). So, in a nutshell, that more or less explains why I haven't been around the last several months. What started out as a seasonal job ended up being something a bit longer. That combined with my route job and life, generally, took up most of my waking moments over the last 14 weeks. I must admit it was rather successful because we were able to put away good money but the loss of free time has really kept me away from my hobbies.

This last Friday was my last day of work for my second job meaning I'm going to have a bit more free time to do the things I enjoy, things such as maintaining this blog. This is a wonderful website with a wonderful community and I've watched it grown from the time it used to be UM-Weather at the address of It amazes me that after almost twenty years I still remember the address to that website. That's the place I learned how to read computer models when the models were named the NGM, the ETA and the MRF. There was a particular gentleman named Gary Gray, whose winter forecasts were a regular read of mine and also facilitated my desire to really understand weather forecasting beyond what we were shown and told on television. Being immersed in weather models daily from a young age (I was 12 when I discovered UM-weather) till now (I will turn 32 in six weeks) reading computer model output has become akin to reading in one's native language. One learns nearly all the nuances of weather forecasting and after twenty years you've think you've seen it all. But forecasting the weather, no matter how much models improve, will never be an exact science. Sometimes the most confidently made of forecasts can go bust; weather forecasting is a humbling task indeed. I think this is why us forecasters are so passionate in our work because every storm presents its own set of challenges, both from a meteorological standpoint and a societal impact standpoint. The weather, which forms the climate, and society intricately linked. This connection becomes ever so apparent when the Sandy's of the world come barreling towards the coast and accurately forecasting storm surge has life or death consequences. So weather forecasts will return on a limited basis. I simply cannot help myself from writing about the weather. Though I'm sure my desire to put out the best, most detailed information I possibly can will likely override my goal of brevity in weather forecasting, I would really like to take this blog in a new direction over the next several months.

Instead of blogging mainly about the weather I will use this forum to document my garden over the course of the year. This really is something I've always wanted to do but never really put aside the time to do so. So for the next several months this blog will serve to catalog the changes and progress in the garden, complete with photos and notes. Winter has been dragging on and perhaps, just maybe, a little superstition will help to initiate the vernal season. "What superstition," you may ask? Well, the one where whatever you mention something not happening, or course happens almost immediately. So, I'll tout winter's persistence and hasten spring's arrival.


Superstorm, 20-year Anniversary

By: sullivanweather, 10:13 PM GMT on March 12, 2013

Hiya everyone! Not much time on my hands but I had to repost this blog being this is the 20th anniversary of this great blizzard. Still such a vividly fresh memory despite twenty years having passed.

Superstorm - March 12th(late morning)

"Storm of the Century" is a most fitting name to a storm which featured a blizzard of epic proportions, comparable to the "Great Blizzard of 1888", a derecho which produced tornados and winds up to the force of a category 4 hurricane, and an unexpected 8-12 foot storm surge along Florida's Gulf Coast. Although this blog is dedicated to the Northeast, I'll try to fit in all areas affected by this monster storm.

The "Superstorm" was the storm that had it all. A classic Miller Type-A Nor'easter, only much stronger. The "Superstorm" was also one of the first conquests of long-range forecasting by meteorologist of the time. A well-forecasted blizzard almost a week in advance was unheard of just 20 years ago. When many meteorologist hyped this storm a full week before its arrival many were skeptical. The only problem was this storm was under-forecasted, most likely due to the fact that few had ever seen such a storm.

As the storm grew near the impact that this storm would bring was beginning to become apparent. A strong low pressure developed in the western Gulf of Mexico and moved across the northern Gulf. Strong convection fired up, similar to a tropical system, as a tremendous amount of upper level energy was injected into this storm. This allowed the storm to gain even more strength, as low pressure dropped at near 980mb. The storm then made a sharp left and tore up the East Coast, just inland, setting low-pressure records up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

For the Northeast, if folks were looking for any indication for what this storm would bring they only had to look to the South, where blizzard conditions raged across Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia IN MARCH! Unprecedented snow and cold pummeled the region as over a foot of snow fell in major cities and snow even fell to the Gulf Coast in Mobile and Pensacola. The mountains of Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina saw the absolute worst of this storm with 3-5 feet of snow, wind gusts up to 100mph and below zero temperatures. Impressive snowfall totals of 20" Chattanooga, TN and 13" in Birmingham, AL collapsed many roofs and brought down many trees. The only blizzard on record previous to the "Superstorm" in the Southeast was a Great Blizzard of 1899.

As the storm made its way up to the Northeast the storm only grew in ferocity. Widespread snowfall totals of 2-4 feet along with strong winds of 40-60mph drifted snow to 15 feet. Syracuse, NY received 43" of snow. Albany, NY had 27", Pittsburgh, PA 25". The snow shut down municipalities for days after the storm as snow had to be trucked out of cities. Due to the inland track of this storm the 'Megalopolis" was spared the worst of the snow as precipitation changed to rain. Despite the changeover the storm was still paralyzing. Many roofs collapsed due to the weight of the snow weighed down furthermore by the rain. After the storm passed a strong arctic outbreak that followed froze the slush into impossible to move ice.

The "Superstorm" will not only be remembered for the impressive snowfall it brought from the Southeast to Canada but also for the intense derecho that swept through Florida and Cuba. An extremely intense line of thunderstorms developed along the attendant cold front as it crossed over Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. As this line of storms moved through Florida it produced winds of 70-90 mph. A tent city set up to provide shelter for victims of Hurricane Andrew was almost completely swept away when this line of storms moved through. When this line of storms made it to Cuba widespread hurricane force winds were felt across the island with some winds estimated to be as high as 130mph+, or equivalent to a category 4 hurricane. 10 tornados were reported in Florida as the line of storms blew through as well.

Another aspect of this storm that was totally unexpected was the storm surge along the Gulf Coast of Florida. Strong southerly winds ahead of the storm in the Gulf of Mexico piled water in the Northeast Gulf. As the strong cold front swept through during the overnight the winds shifted westerly, pushing all this water into the coast. What resulted was a storm surge up to 12 feet high which struck during the night, compounding the situation. When residents woke in the morning what they saw was truly surprising, a rising surge of water. Many of Florida's 44 deaths attributed to the "Superstorm" were of direct result of this storm surge.

Some estimates put damages from the "Superstorm" at over 6 billion dollars with 248 deaths attributed to the storm, more than 3 times the amount of people killed from Hugo and Andrew combined.

Storm of the Century - March 13th, 1993

The "Superstorm" didn't just make #1 on this list because it was the most ferocious storm to affect the Northeast in the last 25 years, perhaps ever. Personally it is also my most memorable storm, above the severe thunderstorm in August of 2002, above the blizzard of 1996, even above the Presidents' Day Storm of 2003. The intensity of the snow that fell, the fierce winds, thunder, lightning, how high the snow piled up, how fast it piled up, I haven't seen anything like it since.

Days before the event, the storm was being forecast as a potential BIG Nor'easter. When the main energy for this storm was still out in the Central Pacific I clearly remember watching Jim Cantore pointing it out, tapping his little clicker on that storm on the bluewall, saying "This is going to be a big one, about one week from now." He wasn't the only one. Word was spreading quickly about the storm. Local news stations were talking about it. The hype was there. How big will it be? Tales of the "Great Blizzard of 1888" were being thrown about, which ironically occurred on the same dates 105 years previous. There was precedent, but would history repeat itself?

On a side note, one of the strangest occurrences also happened to me the day before the storm. In school we had been learning about the Cuban Missile Crisis and watched the air raid drills performed in the 60's with school children ducking under their desks in the event of a nuclear detonation (like ducking under a desk in a fetal position would help). Anyway, Middletown has those 12 O'clock sirens which sounds like the air raid siren. My mother had picked me up from school that Friday and we went straight to the grocery store. On the way there, for some reason (it wasn't noon, it was a quarter after 3) those air raid sirens were going off. So I'm thinking to myself "Okay, this is weird...". Suddenly the Emergency Broadcast System comes on the radio with that long "BOOOOOO...P" sound. When the man with the creepy voice cuts in and usually says "This is only a test of the emergency broadcast system. In the event of a real emergency..." and so on didn't come on, it was even more weird. Then when the man with the creepy voice comes on and says "This is a real emergency." I as like "Oh no we're getting bombed!!"

As it turned out it was a warning for the impending blizzard with expectations of 2-4 feet of snow. Pretty scary, huh?

The night before the storm the scope of what this storm would bring was becoming obvious. CNN and The Weather Channel showed video of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia experiencing white out conditions, snowfall of 6-10 inches, rivaling the most snow from all previous record snowfalls and the storm was only half over!

I woke up very early that Saturday morning expecting to see snow falling but I was early by a couple of hours. The local news cut to non-stop coverage of the storm during its onset. We had already gone through 'the biggest Nor'easter in 50 years' 3 months earlier (#11 event) so the assumption was this was going to be much worse. I watched as the snow advanced northward with reports from areas to the south, only a few hours into the storm, of 4-6 inches already. By the time the snow started in Middletown, just before 9 in the morning, areas around New York City had 3-6 inches, areas near Philadelphia had up to 10 inches and it was snowing harder by the minute.

Once the snow started the scene shifted from sitting in front of the television, to being outside. Snow engulfed the air. It seemed as though every parcel of air was filled with a snowflake. First they were small flakes, but gradually gained sized before the wind made everything a white blur. By noon about 6 inches lay on the ground, and only 2 hours later there was over a foot. It was a near constant whiteout from just before noon until 6 in the evening. Some very amazing events occurred during this storm as well. Thundersnow was prevalent throughout the afternoon. During the mid-afternoon one thunderstorm in particular demonstrated the true intensity of this storm.

The sky grew dark, dark enough to 'see' the flashes on lightning in the sky. The snow was falling so hard and the light so filtered it was more like a greyout, that brightened to a whiteout during the lightning, which was quite frequent. The thunder was muffled by the snow but loud none-the-less. Small hail even fell during the thunderstorm. It certainly wasn't sleet for the hail was about 3 times the size of a sleet pellet. Even despite this hail during this storm snow still accumulated 6 inches for the hour in which this storm occurred. The wind was most fierce during this storm as well. Due to the reduced visibilities no trees were within view to use as a gauge to how strong the wind actually was. But it was strong enough to rip the siding off a neighbors house.

The snow continued at an incredible rate until tapering around 6:30 that evening as out location got dry slotted. When the snow initially tapered off 27" of snow lay on the ground from this storm. 27 inches in 9 hours, 21 inches in the final 6 hours! After the snow tapered the wind calmed and an eerie fog settled over the area until around 11 later that night when snow began to fall again at a moderate clip. This time in large flakes. An additional 6 inches of snow fell during the overnight giving us a total of 33" all of which fell in a 24 hour period.

We took a walk that Sunday, a few hours after the storm. Snow was still blowing everywhere and the main road through down was desolate, with 10 foot high piles of snow along the road every so often. There were snow drifts over 8 feet high and could only be removed by front loaders and dump trucks. I remember Syracuse still getting pounded that morning and was almost disappointed that the snow was over where I lived. For some reason, you don't want these events to come to an end sometimes...

There's so many other memories from this storm that would be too much to list here. So I'll stop now and let everyone else give their story of this storm because everyone I'm sure has one, even if they didn't get hit...


"Superstorm" photos

Our car after the superstorm

This photo was taken the morning after the "Superstorm" on Sunday March 14th, 1993. Our car, a Dodge Colt, was buried across the entire front and half way up in the back of the car. What's amazing about this was my mother didn't get home from work until 1:30 the afternoon of the 13th after more than a foot had already fallen. In other words the car was parked long after the storm began.

This photo was taken on the morning of the 14th as well. This view of behind my house was very telling of how the snow formed huge drifts. Aided by a 8ft retaining wall, these drifts attained enormous heights of 10-12 feet in between the decks and the wall. This snow persisted until May due to the lack of sunlight behind the house.

This photo was of me and my little sister taken on the morning of the 14th. The wooden stick in the snow was a meter stick I made out of a piece of baseboard because my father didn't want me to 'ruin the meter stick'.

weather history


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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About sullivanweather

Thomas is an avid weather enthusiast, landscaper and organic gardener. This blog is dedicated to Northeast and tropical weather forecasting. Enjoy!

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