2011: December – Snow Squall! You’ve gotta be kidding me!

Before my Mother moved to New Jersey I would take trips up to her place near White Haven. They have a great diner (White Haven Diner) that is definitely one place for a motorcycling stop. Great breakfast and service. We would go there to enjoy a breakfast or brunch together, the three of us; my mom and step-dad and I. It was a great time that I looked forward to.

I would travel north either on I-476 or take Route 309 because of the hills and twisties. This day I decided upon Route 309. Weather forecast was overall looking good, low POPs for the day, mostly sunny.

All was going well as planned and my northbound travel was relaxing and enjoying fresh air and sun. As I approached the incline just north of the Germanville exit (where you have a great view of the Blue Ridge there were only a few clouds around and lots of blue sky. perfect conditions for a ride. Continuing up and over and around the twists in the highway, things were great on this ride. Down the other side of the mountain and into a little borough, I made a quick pit-stop at the Tamaqua Burger King as I usually do then back on the road north. Conditions are still looking very good. Some cloud cover mixed with blue skies.

North of the Blue Ridge mountain, things looked beautiful and I was expecting to get to White Haven Diner with my family for a nice breakfast without any problems. You have to traverse about several large hills to get there from south of Tamaqua all the way to Hazleton and north. Awseome highway twists for which you can lean and glide through. The twists are not too tight and make for pleasurable travel. As I was approaching the next hill just south of McAdoo I noticed it getting more cloudy, and kind of quickly. Temps started to drop. I continued heading north. At the top of the hill I noticed clouds rolling in pretty fast. As I reached the borough limits it started flurrying, which I believed to be temporary because of the blue skies I just came from minutes ago.

That all changed very quickly. I continued and by the time I got to the main intersection in McAdoo, it was a full out snow. The distance traveled was less than a mile and maybe 2-3 minutes. I was in a snow squall. A snow squall is an intense, but limited duration, period of moderate to heavy snowfall, accompanied by strong, gusty surface winds and possibly lightning (generally moderate to heavy snow showers). Snow accumulation may be significant.They tend to hit quick and hard and then they are done. At this point I was worried. (see below for pictures that help describe what I was in, they are not exact but representative only – I wish I had the mind to take some pics… Oh well.)

Snow is now about half an inch and as I slowed you could hear snow crunching under the tires. I had touring tires mounted currently, not knobbies, nor did I have studs on. The road also quickly got slippery. Snow is coming down fast and it is very windy and almost blinding. At this point I was just outside of McAdoo to the north in a village called Audenreid and that half inch was getting deeper and quick. I was able to maintain balance and a steady slow speed using 1st and 2nd gears, friction and throttle control; no quick adjustments more so fluid in my actions. I carefully navigated a balanced, left tun where I could stop to momentarily regroup, assess and position myself to turn around out of a traffic lane.

I called my mother (Bluetooth with voice dialing). “…Mom, I’m in a snowstorm on my bike in McAdoo, I’m about 30 miles from you but I’m turning back we will have to reschedule…”

Tangent Alert: small topic digression here:

My Dads 1975 CB400-Hawk looked almost exactly like this picture as I remember it.

Sorry, Tangent Alert: This picture looks almost exactly like my Dads 1975 CB400-Hawk. I loved this bike. It was the second bike I rode, ever (passenger), with my step-dad that stayed with me all these years later. A great memory that deserved some web time. {;^{D>>

(L to R) Ken (My Step-Dad, Me, my son Scot. Three generations of riders.

(L to R) Ken (My Step-Dad), Me, my son Scot. Three generations of riders.

If you know my mom, she does not like me riding a motorcycle (due to what happened to my step-dad a couple times being laid up from motorcycle accidents – that were not his fault ~ he had a beautiful 1975 Honda CB400 Hawk), so those words were not happy ones but she was glad I was heading back. Add a few more greys for my Mom on that one. I’m sure it brought back some memories for her when I was younger and still at home. She was understandably concerned, I was. I was in the middle of a snow storm on a motorcycle!! My Step-Dad’s accidents brought back to me my his pain in the hospital and recovery but I still had that hankering curiosity about motorcycling. He wanted to get back on and ride but agreed with my mom that would not be the best since he had two accidents and accidents that were not his fault; the risks being higher than they wanted. I know he still had the desire to ride, when I visited one time he asked me if he could give my KLR a try. At 72 he  was a little shaky but still had it in him to make a short spin by his home, but he knew his riding was over. Thinking on it now, it must have been a hard realization for him but I’m glad he at least gave it one last try. when the motorcycling season is over for me it will be a sad moment but I will have to trust God to continue to fill any voids in my life as He so lovingly does each day and each season of my life. Until then throttle up and safely down the roads.

Now, back to the squall.

Snow was coming down all around me, visibility was about 50 yards, if that not less than that. I just got off the phone with my Mom and assessing my situation and forming a decision. I had no knowledge if returning the way I came I was heading in the same direction of the storm, moving with the storm or if I would get out of it. It was nicer weather south of here, that I knew for sure and it was not that long ago; so that is where I headed. “White knuckling” it because I’ve never ridden in the snow before, I was able to maneuver and ride slowly, back through McAdoo Borough and back down towards the hill to safer ground.

Snow squalls can be very local. This one, thankfully, was. Honestly, by the time I left McAdoo borders and just a bit down the hill heading south near the exit for I-81, there was no snow… Zero snow on the ground and the clouds were clearing! In about a mile I was out from under the squall clouds and back into partial clear skies and sun. Unbelievable to describe but reality. It was surreal, scary and beautiful all at one time, almost something out of a dream where you feel a focused closed in feeling in a scene that does not seem real, but it is real. I was surrounded by a blanket of snow all around, it was quiet, peaceful but unnerving.

Now I was back in the sun and warming temps, heading back home. I had a great, relaxing return trip home but missed seeing my folks and having a White Haven Diner breakfast (Where they serve breakfast all day long!). My mom received a call from me that I was home safe and that ended what turned out to be a small adventure worth noting here if not only for myself but for my readers.

Amazingly, the whole time I was in the snow squall, I never dropped the bike while going through the snow.  I would not willingly just ride into such a situation. I will know what to look for the next time. I’m truly grateful to God for that (and yes, I was praying!).

I was feeling bad about getting caught in it, but, I was thankful for the experience; an experience that helped my riding recently on February 4, 2013 where I could have had a bad time of it on snow and ice. What I learned during the snow squall saved me on that recent ride. Muscle memory kicked in, I was calm, kept good balance and fluid actions. Also that is why Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) training is so vital. MSF courses help to develop good habits and mental training that does kick in at the right time. So my snow squall training helped me later. Everything happens for a reason. It helped me to be a better rider.

Key Skill Points – Working through a snow squall:

  • Never willingly ride into a snow squall… {;^{D>>
  • Always check the weather forecasts to prep yourself for what lies ahead; be a student of the weather and learn how to read it yourself.
  • If you get caught in a fast moving snow squall DO NOT PANIC.
  • Assume icy roads under the snow. Things freeze quickly and snow accumulates fast.
  • Keep your balance, try to relax muscles, allow some flexibility but steadiness in balance. Keep your head up and look forward, your body will follow.
  • Maintain good speed control with throttle and clutch; remember friction zone control.
  • Lower speed and gears will help you control your motorcycle better, even if dealing with ice.
  • Don’t pop the throttle or clutch, smooth fluid movements will be the best actions.
  • Lower speed will minimize injury and damage should you and/or the bike go down.
  • Try to get back to the safe zone, if not park it where you have coverage from the snow and wait it out.

The pictures below will give you an idea of how things looked for me. They are only estimates of what my riding environment turned into.

From a distance I did not see a problem with this cloud formation – DUH! It is a cumulonimbus (incus), the makings of a thunderstorm, no less. Add the season of the year and now it will ring a bell if I see it again during a ride… (Time of year (cold temps) + Cumulonimbus = potential snow squall)

snow squall example picture

Anvil shaped cumulonimbus cloud represents a Thunderstorm developing. Lightening and thunder may also accompany a snow squall as well as a rainbow.

 

snowsquall

This was closer to what I saw at a distance. Lot’s of blue sky all around. I never expected a local snow squall. Now I know differently!

 

 

 

This is another view depicting the same.

 

 

Snowsquall1

 

 

Yes, this is how the road looked to me; it came up pretty fast. There is a definite border between the squall zone and non-squall zone, just like someone hitting a light switch on or off.

snowsquall3

…and yes, it can happen quickly (in minutes) be blinding, windy and close you in…

snowsquall4

Not something to be afraid of, something to avoid, yes, but if you get caught in it keep your good rider’s sense and get to a safe place either back to where you came in from (since it only affects locally) or shelter in place and ride out the squall.

Be Responsible! Be Respectful! Ride Safe! Have Fun!