Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It Blew By One Night

Meteorology in Colorado is, to say the least, interesting. Mr. Spock would call it "fascinating". Especially as he watches one of his ears go whizzing off to Limon.

Large snowstorms are possible from September to May. 70 degrees in January. Pleasant, spring-like Mays. Violent, wild Mays. The dog days of summer in August. Trying to dig out the dogs amidst the drifts of record-breaking snowstorms in March.

You just never know around h'yar.

One phenomenon we see locally in the late fall, winter and early spring is, when conditions are right, winds off the foothills. Not kite-flying winds; not a rustle of the branches winds. Not a caress your cheek wind.

Something that is locally called a "chinook" wind.

A plus of the chinook is that, when it comes in the winter, frequently it is a warming wind, raising chilling temperatures and melting snow. And for the Denver Metro, a chinook can be welcome when winter temperature inversions are right to cloud the city horizon with a smogish haze. A chinook will send the smog east/northeast.

Kansas can't thank us enough.

But the chinook does have another side to it. They frequently come in at low-end hurricane force. Wind gusts during chinooks, in varying areas along the Colorado Front Range, have been known to exceed 100 mph. Some place called Wondervu once recorded a gust over 130 mph.

I can't find the place on a Colorado map, so it must be in Kansas, too.

At any rate, when the 'chinook' is predicted locally, meteorologist post high wind warnings for the Front Range, from the Wyoming border to New Mexico. For when the chinook is in not-so-rare form, it doesn't waste the appearance.

Just a lot of stuff in its path. The wind gusts in certain areas take things not nailed down. And sometimes, some things that were.

As I went to bed around Saturday noontime, November 12, 2011, high wind warnings were in effect for Denver and the Front Range until the morning hours of Sunday, November 13. At times as I tried to sleep, I could hear the sound of wind gusts on the roof.

The Fiddler never had a prayer. Hope he had a parachute.

As I prepared to leave for work late that Saturday night, the winds locally in Green Mountain didn't seem very bad. It seemed, at least from my view, that the chinook had been overplayed, at least in Lakewood.

Driving west toward Golden and Clear Creek Canyon however, I found where the chinook was lurking.

And from here on into work, it was more than just a chinook: it was a sch-muck.

I'm used to high winds in parts of Clear Creek Canyon and the US 6/Colorado 119 corridor to Black Hawk and Central City. Areas therein like "the Narrows", are frequently tickled by strong wind gusts. Deer and mountain lions in the area -- long used to the weather anomalies -- are equipped with sand bags.

This particular night was a bit unusual. Once I cleared Tunnel 1 -- just beyond the entrance to Clear Creek Canyon -- I noticed the tell-tale sideways 'nudge' of an unseen hand, pushing my car's front end. I didn't need to look beyond the debris in the headlights to see brush and tall grasses on the roadside, laying prone, to know that I'd found the sch-muck.

Or the gusts of wind that momentarily cut visibility with clouds of sand, gravel, tumble weeds, etc flying about. Or rocks knocked into the roadway from the canyon walls on either side. And/or occasional small animals, flying monkeys, houses with big-eyed farm girls, whirling by in the more prodigious gusts.

I won't mention the witch-looking broad on a bicycle. I hadn't had enough caffeine at that point to be sure that I saw that.

But as I approached the southern end of Black Hawk on 119, I was certain of the continuing presence of the sch-muck: a road side tree came down on the road behind me.

Allllll-righty then.

But better was ahead: a lot of road construction is taking place on the south end of Black Hawk. And a crapload of those 55 gallon drum-style orange traffic markers that block or define lane changes, were ahead at the second traffic light into Black Hawk.

Not all of them were where they had originally been placed. As I approached and slowed for a light going from yellow to red, I saw one barrel -- in the south bound lanes -- decide that it wanted to experience the thrill of flight. The sch-muck chose that moment to encourage it thus.

While I admired the dream and the effort, I was dubious of the aerodynamics and wisdom of the attempt. Worse, I was rather unimpressed with the sch-muck wind trajectory the barrel chose for re-entry and landing to terra firma.

Attempting to judge an unpiloted construction barrier barrel's irregular flight pattern, I reckoned it for a touchdown to the right of my vehicle. So I chose to steer left to evade.

I didn't realize, until too late, that the damned barrel was apparently socialist: and with a loud *WHUMPF*, we greeted each other just short of the 2nd light.

Thankfully, the impact was insufficient to trigger my steering wheel airbag. Perhaps it was the colorful metaphors I was at that moment unleashing, that kept the airbag from wanting to meet the foul-mouthed windbag behind the wheel.

At any rate, that particular 55 gallon sized, weighted orange plastic construction barrier barrel -- however long it had served its aforementioned function -- would never again seek the skies for high flight. Sch-muck winds or not.

At least, not in one piece.

The balance of the night was as could have been expected in this minature mountain Vegas venue: high winds, flying stuff, power 'bumps' and the joys of occasional folks having their wind breakers act like the Flying Nun's habit, in momentary stout gusts that continued until the daylight and meteorology combined to tame the sch-muck winds.

Perhaps the night was best summed up with the coming of dawn: hung up in a road side tree -- what was left of it -- was a flying monkey, tangled up with one half of a deer antler, a pair of panties and a bra, an empty margarita, and muttering something in flying monkeyese that I didn't quite catch as I drove by.

I'm not sure I could ever have had enough caffeine to be absolutely sure of what I thought I saw. But the 'gesture' I got in passing, was a universal one.

Obviously that flying monkey had negotiated traffic in Denver rush hour, too.

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Blogger Sueann said...

Here in the mountains of New Mexico...we get these kinds of winds all the time! Flying debris is an understatement!! If it is not weighted down, it could end up in Colorado!!!
Glad you survived!

15 November, 2011 02:57  
Blogger Unknown said...

Sounds like a hair-raising experience! Glad you lived to tell about it!

15 November, 2011 07:48  
Blogger Sandee said...

Yikes. Did you leave Seymour at home or did he ride along with you on that horrible ride to work? I'm glad you are okay.

Have a terrific day. My best to Seymour. :)

15 November, 2011 11:46  
Blogger Andy said...

Dang, Skunks! Did your vehicle get much damage?

When we lived in Colorado, we were on the western slope. I don't remember high winds being much of a problem over there. Maybe they were, but I don't think so.

Anyway, glad you survived the flight.

18 November, 2011 05:15  
Blogger Skunkfeathers said...

Andy: my plastic, going on 9 year old bumper got a scuff mark; I was more worried about the impact triggering the danged airbag. But, as I said...it's afraid of the windbag behind the wheel.

These winds don't seem to be a western slop issue; Front Range eastern slope, for whatever reasons. We'll see 'em again, perhaps once or twice during the winter into spring time.

18 November, 2011 10:26  

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