Snow! Good Job!
March 2, 2015
In the Pennines of North Yorkshire, where I was raised, we had a 14 mile bus trip to school each day, and it was quite hilly. So when snow arrived, travel was difficult. So most years we got a few days off school, and unlike here, they did not need to be made up. There were also legendary years, 1947 before I was born, 1963 when I was in high school, when the snow fell and the east wind blew and three- to six-foot drifts were not unusual. The road over the moor next to our village was marked with ten-foot-high painted telegraph poles.
Living in Switzerland, we fell in love with snow; on the mountains of course. Downtown Geneva didn’t handle things so well, and in February hordes of Parisians arrived for the annual “vacances de neige”. I saw more than one car being fitted with snow chains on the wrong (non-drive) pair of wheels.
In Chicago there was snow, and especially the year, 1983, we arrived there, there was snow on the ground, beautiful blue skies but incredible cold. Keeping our sons indoors was very difficult. But it was serious; gas lines in cars would be blocked by the water vapor freezing and the car would just stop on the highway. The houses in the Fermilab village grew icicles on the indoor electrical sockets, and we learned why an engine block heater might be a useful aid to getting the engine to turn over.
But then we came to Virginia, and we became spoilt. It was very nice to be able to ride my bike in January (I am not like Arne Freyberger or Mat Wright, who ride every day). It was also fun to have conversations with my ex-colleagues about the differences in weather conditions. I would joke about rain being sufficient to slow Virginia traffic to a crawl and a dusting of snow to cause the schools to close. I do recall once, when snow accumulated on my car when I left it in Richmond Staples Mill station for a day, while I was in DC, but the reason I remember was because it was rare.
But not so this year! We seem to be paying our dues. I missed the snowfall a couple of weeks ago; I was in Europe visiting our magnet fabricator in Vannes, France and the CLAS12 Meeting in Sicily. But arriving home late on Thursday evening I found that I could not drive my car onto my driveway without risking getting stuck. It was clear that the single snow plough owned by York County had not yet found its way to Running Man.
And then came this past week. We were scheduled to host the International Committee for Future Accelerators. We had gone up the chain in DOE to make sure I could bring Russian delegates to the lab; I was anticipating showing off the lab to a whole raft of laboratory directors, deputies and associates from across the world. What happened? Well the weather forecast said snow 3-8 inches overnight Wednesday to Thursday, so the lab would be closed Thursday! With the help of many, we moved the meeting to the Marriott at the City Center where the visitors would anyway be staying if they could get here. In fact, many did but a few did not. For them we had to rely on using Blue Jeans from my computer, and with me driving it; not ideal!
The snow did arrive, and as far as I could see, it was closer to eight inches than three. I received lots of questions. “Where is that warm weather Mont?” “Is this exceptional Mont?” “I haven’t seen any ploughs Mont!” But it turned out that for several delegates, this was just a repeat of what had happened at Brookhaven National Lab, a couple of years ago, when the lab closed while the meeting was going on.
On this occasion, anticipating a late opening we stayed at the hotel for the Friday meeting, but we did manage to bring three groups to the lab during the day and they got to visit the accelerator and the SRF facilities. I got uniformly congratulatory comments. For most it was their first visit to the lab, and the scale of some of the facilities, the array of vertical dewars, for example, impressed them. There were others, who having been involved in the International Linear Collider work, were familiar with our facilities and our scientists who have been members of that team.
Coming on to the lab site late on Friday afternoon, the thing that struck me was the size of the piles of snow! Compared to previous episodes of this ilk, they were, still are, huge. The effort from our maintenance crews during the two days to ensure that the lab could open on Friday was monumental. I appreciate that and the willingness of y’all to put out, not only for the visitors, but also to facilitate our own business, our everyday work, and operation of the accelerator for physics.