April 5 - The Contest is Over

2010 Meltdown as of 04/02/2010

All is good in the world…

The Red Sox won their opening day (night) game against the Yankees, the crocus have started to bloom in Goshen and that southerly breeze that brought unseasonable 70 degree temperatures to the Hilltowns of western Massachusetts last Friday ushered in the end of the 2010 Meltdown.

2010 Meltdown as of 04/01/2010
As you can see, the Meltdown has been around for a long time.

I had Friday off from work so just before lunch I went down to the lake to check out the condition of the ice.  Earlier in the day, I had been accused of installing pontoons under the pallet.  As a result, I felt the need to defend my honor and integrity.  In my never-ending quest to bring you the finest entertainment a dollar can buy, I brought a camera with me to take a time-lapse video of the day’s events.  My plan was to set the camera up on the roof of the gatehouse and let it run for the day.  It was just after noon when I unlocked the door to get a stepladder and noticed an unplugged clock on the ground.  Could it be?  Had the block fallen through the ice?  Yes and no were the answers.  Yes, the contest was over.  No, the block was still standing tall.  Recall that the rules of the Meltdown state that the contest ends when the clock becomes disconnected from outlet.  This is the first year in Meltdown history that it ended because the ice floe floated away from the dam putting enough tension on the line to pull the plug.

Since the block and pallet were still stationed on top of the ice, I decided to set up the camera anyway.  This 2:36 minute video spans approximately 5 hours and shows how much the ice moved during the afternoon.  Standing on the shoreline of the lake, the naked eye doesn’t pick up on the subtle changes that occur but when you record a time lapse sequence and show it at double speed, you get to see how much the wind affects the ice floe.

The contest officially came to an end at 11:52 AM on 4/2.

With a total of 1,498 tickets sold, the most popular date was April 1st with 121 picks.  April 2nd was next with 109 and April 4th with 90.  The range of this years picks stretched from 2/27 at 2:12 PM to midnight on 7/4.  That’s right, July 4th.  Steve Mollison’s pick of 11:55 AM was the closest to the actual time.  However, we all know that the Price is Right rules govern the contest and as such, Steve was over.  The second closest pick was 11:46 AM and was made by Denise Banister of Williamsburg.  Denise has been a longtime supporter of the Meltdown and was lured to the contest by Goshen Fire Department Alumni Bill Benoit.  Bill just happened to be on the same cruise ship with Denise a few years ago when he sold her a book of tickets.  She’s been hooked ever since.

2010 Meltdown as of 04/01/2010

When I spoke to Denise yesterday, I asked her what was so special about her 5 picks.  She said that she had a feeling that the ice would go early.  That’s why 3 of her 5 picks were in March.  The best part of the conversation was yet to come.  Before I had a chance to ask her what she was going to do with her winnings, she mentioned that the Chesterfield’s Davenport Daycare and the Williamsburg Congregational Church would directly benefit from her good fortune.  As I mentioned above, all is good in the world.

There were 17 people that were within an hour either way of the winning time.  Richard Bonasiak of Easthampton submitted a pick of 11:45 AM.  Two more minutes and he would have won the contest.

2010 Meltdown as of 04/02/2010 at 9:00AM
2010 Meltdown as of 04/02/2010 at 9:00AM
2010 Meltdown as of 04/02/2010 at 9:00AM
2010 Meltdown as of 04/02/2010 at 9:00AM
2010 Meltdown as of 04/02/2010 at 9:00AM

Clearly, the contest has fans everywhere.  I was told by my sister over the weekend that when ABC 40’s morning news host Faye Hoffman recently announced her departure from the station, she mentioned that she wanted to have a job like ‘that guy in Goshen’ who sits around watching the ice melt all day.  Her broadcast partner Eric Fisher, who just happens to be a meteorologist for the station, not only participated in the contest but had also mentioned the contest on air several times.  If he was a better salesman, Faye would have been a participant as well.

2010 Meltdown as of 04/03/2010 at 7:30AM.
2010 Meltdown as of 04/03/2010 at 7:30AM

I hope you appreciated the connection between last week’s April fool’s update and the Goshen Historical Commission.  The picture of the men harvesting the ice was taken by Albert E. Wilcutt of Goshen.  Albert lived in town at the turn of the prevoius century.  Through the generosity of his great niece Ruth Fairman, the Historical Commission now has digital copies of over 300 of his photographs.  The proceeds of this years Meltdown will help the Commission purchase equipment that will allow for the capture, storage, and display of digital media like these pictures and other documents of historical significance.  While I didn’t expect to fool too many of you, I did receive a comment from one who was fooled last year.  His note to me said “I was ready for you this year.  Fool me once…”  Thanks for being a good sport.

Denise expressed a concern that this would mean the end of my regular updates and suggested that I needed to find another reason to keep them going.  Just to make Denise happy, I’ll be sending out one last update before ending the contest for the 6th time.  In the meantime, I’ve attached several pictures that were taken between 4/1 and 4/3 for your viewing pleasure.

March 31 - Here Comes the Rain

In a week where the cherry blossoms are in full bloom in the nation’s capital, Massachusetts has declared a state of emergency and has mobilized the National Guard.  Rain from the spring storm that hit the region over the past several days has caused significant flooding to the southeastern part of the state.  Goshen received just over 4 inches since Sunday night.  The water level in the lake rose approximately 2 feet as a result of the drenching that left standing water everywhere you look.  If you had a tee time at Beaver Brook golf course in Williamsburg, I highly recommend you call ahead since a good portion of the fairways are flooded.  Same holds true for anyone planning to play soccer on the fields by the Oxbow Marina in Northampton this coming weekend.  The water level of the Connecticut River has reached the base of several of the goal posts.

2010 Meltdown as of 03/29/2010
2010 Meltdown as of 03/29/2010

Remember the crocus I mentioned a few weeks ago that I said was still frozen under 18 inches of snow?  Well, coming home tonight, I noticed that the snow in the flower garden was gone and crocus were sticking out of the ground by 2 inches.

To everyone’s surprise (including my own), the ice is still intact.  It no longer clings to the shoreline.  In fact, the wind that accompanied yesterday’s storm has blown the ice floe a few feet south and closer to the dam and the gatehouse.  As a result, I had to take up the slack in the line tied to the electric clock which resulted from that shift.  I checked on all the connections tonight to ensure everything is ready to go.  With temperatures in Goshen expected to reach all the way up to the 70-degree mark over the weekend, it won’t be long before the kayaks, flip flops and shorts come out.

2010 Meltdown as of 04/01/2010
2010 Meltdown as of 04/01/2010

As of the most recent count, tomorrow is the most popular date of the nearly 1,400 tickets that have been submitted.  Well over 100 picks were made ranging in time from 1AM to 11PM.  If the block goes down at 1PM tomorrow, 7 people will share in the winnings.  Noon and 3PM each have 5 people that will be splitting the pot.

2010 Meltdown as of 03/29/2010
2010 Meltdown as of 03/29/2010

March 28 - Warm vs. Cold

According to WAMC Meteorologist Garret Argianis, Hartford had 40 days of above normal daily temperatures as of Friday.  That changed dramatically Friday night when an arctic cold front blasted its way into the region.  While Mother Nature made a run at record low temperatures, the thermometer read 22 degrees when I woke up yesterday and prepared for my last day of skiing at Butternut in Great Barrington.

When the day was over, I needed to make my way to Hampshire Regional High School in Westhampton to see a performance of The Wizard of Oz.  In his poem titled ‘The Road Not Taken’, Robert Frost spoke about how taking the road less traveled had made all the difference.  With that in mind, I decided to take the back roads to get there.  Instead of taking the turnpike and getting off in Westfield, I instead took Route 20 – a road that would take me through Lee, Becket, Chester and Huntington.  Along the way, I saw a flock of wild turkeys.  I passed by a carving done out of a large tree trunk of a hand making a peace sign.  Driving on Westfield River on County Road in Huntington, I could see that while the river was high, it was lower than it had recently been.  The Huntington General Store had their ‘Real Ice Cream’ sign out front.  I drove past a house that had a bright red cooler at the end of their driveway with a sign that read ‘Fresh Eggs, $2.00’.  I reached the top of the hill in Westhampton as witnessed by the cell phone towers that dotted the skyline.  From this vantage point on Route 66, one could see the Pioneer Valley stretch as far as the eyes could see.  The one thing I didn’t see anywhere along the way was snow.

2010 Meltdown as of 03/27/2010

As I write this on Sunday morning, there are clouds in the sky with an occasional light snow flurry and a temperature of 30 degrees.  However, changes are on the horizon.  Forecasters are calling for showers tonight turning to a steady rain by morning.  This storm could dump between 1-2 inches of liquid precipitation before ending on Thursday.  The real change comes as we look ahead to next weekend.  Temperatures in Goshen are expected to creep up into the 60’s on Thursday and Friday on their way past the 70-degree mark on Saturday.

2010 Meltdown as of 03/27/2010

As you can see in the pictures attached to this update, the block still sits atop solid ice.  In one of the photos, snow can still be seen in the background.  With another bout of rain on the way, I don’t expect the snow or the block to last much longer.

It was back in 2006 that the block went through the ice on April 1st.  Thinking that we’re close to ice out, I want to remind people that only tickets postmarked on April 1st or the day before the block sinks to the bottom of Hammond Pond will count.  These are the same rules that applied back then and remain valid now.  If you have tickets you need to submit, I urge you to get them to me soon.

March 25 - The Clock is Connected

Just a quick update on the status of the block…

I connected the clock yesterday morning on my way to work.  Tuesday’s fog had a significant impact on the condition of the ice.  As you look across the lake today, most of the snow that had been on top of the ice has now melted.  However, we did have flurries Tuesday night that left a visible coating on the ground Wednesday morning.

2010 Meltdown as of 03/24/2010
2010 Meltdown as of 03/24/2010

It still appears that the block and pallet are sitting on a thick portion of ice.  Actually, it’s right on the edge of a dark section of ice which leads me to think that the ice is a bit thinner there than a few feet closer to the dam.

The crack that had developed just off the shoreline hasn’t moved much since it was first noticed a few weeks ago.  At 8 a.m. yesterday, the temperature was 32 degrees in the Hilltowns which isn’t conducive to wholesale melting.  Over the next several days, an arctic blast will descend upon the Northeast which will bring temperatures back below seasonal norms.  Tonight’s forecast is calling for rain overnight mixing with and changing to snow by morning with about an inch of overall accumulation.  Tomorrow’s high temperature is 32 degrees.  Clearing skies overnight will allow for radiational cooling that will bring temperatures down to 11 degrees.  That’s right, 11 degrees!  Calm air and temperatures like this will cause any open water to refreeze.

All of the snow that had been is Goshen has made its way to the Connecticut River prompting flood warnings throughout the valley.  The river is expected to crest at 2-3 feet above flood stage at the normally low-lying spots in Northampton, Hadley and Hatfield.  For those of us who grew up in this region, these warnings are as typical as crocus blooming in the spring.

I’ve received requests from several of you as to the status of ticket sales.  As of tonight, the count stands at just under 1,200 tickets.

The final push is on.  For those of you that have waited until the end, the end is near.  With April 1st right around the corner, there are only 7 days left to submit your guesses.  Just as a reminder, ticket sales end on April 1st at 11:59:59 p.m. or when the ice melts – whichever comes first.

2010 Meltdown as of 03/24/2010
2010 Meltdown as of 03/24/2010

March 21 - Spring Has Arrived

Spring arrived with a vengeance yesterday with temperatures soaring into the 70’s.

We spent the past few days in Boston where people were in shorts and t-shirts and either outside jogging or walking their dogs.  The grass on the Boston Common was as green as the beer that was flowing in recognition of St. Patrick’s Day.  It was an unusual feeling as we walked on the brick sidewalks of Boston’s Back Bay with the family last night only to realize that today I would be skiing at Butternut.  In spite of what it looks like in the rest of the world, there are still pockets of snow in Goshen – some of them really deep.

For me, one sure sign of spring are when the bugs start get squished on my windshield driving home at night.  For others, it’s when the Cummington Lions Club starts selling Easter lily’s.

When I woke up this morning, the temperature outside was 38 degrees.  Even though the last forecast I had heard was for mostly cloudy skies today, I saw sunshine throughout most of it.  The extended forecast is calling for rain tomorrow and Tuesday with a return to more seasonal temperatures for the rest of the week.  I also noticed several evening lows that were below the freezing mark.

2010 Meltdown as of 03/21/2010
2010 Meltdown as of 03/21/2010

A good number of you heeded my call to get tickets in to me sooner than later.  I stopped to pick up mail on my way home from work Thursday to find no less than 25 envelopes addressed to the 2010 Meltdown.  Still others either stopped by the house or dropped them off with friends who could get them to me.  I had a chance to stop by and visit with Francis and Ruth Dresser tonight.  They can see Lower Highland Lake from their house at the corner of Routes 9 and 112.  They mentioned that they noticed a change in the color of the ice.  It’s getting darker, which is a sign that the ice is thinning and will soon be gone.  However, the ice on Lower Highland Lake historically melts sooner than the ice on Hammond Pond.  The theory behind this is that there are more springs there which increase the flow of water through it.

2010 Meltdown as of 03/21/2010
2010 Meltdown as of 03/21/2010

There is open water on the northern end of Hammond Pond but not as much as you would expect with all of the rain and warm weather that we’ve been experiencing recently.  The ice will melt from this end of the lake as it works its way to the southern end where the block sits.  While you can see the dark ice in the northern section, there’s still plenty of lighter colored (and thicker) ice that still has snow on it at the other end of the pond.

As of today, the block and pallet sit on top of the ice which is where I placed it a few months ago.   There is still snow on top of a good portion of the ice.  While there is some water showing along the shoreline, it’s not enough to say that’s it’s released its grip on the ice.

For those of you still waiting for the last minute to get your tickets in, a reminder that ticket sales end on April 1st or when the ice goes out.  Whichever comes first.

March 15 - Snow, Rain, Winds

When it comes to winter storms, elevation means everything.  Over the weekend, Massachusetts was nailed with everything from 10” of rain near Boston, to a winter storm warning for the Berkshires.  On Saturday, I travelled to Adams MA for the Thunderbolt downhill ski race on Mt. Greylock.  The mountain, which is about 40 minutes to the northeast of Goshen, is the tallest in the state.

The day started out with light rain and temperatures around the freezing mark.  By the time the day was finished, high wind advisories had been posted, freezing rain was falling and we were being pelted by ice pellets at the top of the mountain.  Driving home that night, the roads were coated by an inch of heavy, wet slush.

2010 Meltdown as of 03/08/2010
2010 Meltdown as of 03/08/2010

Goshen woke up to an inch of that same slush Sunday morning.  Throughout the night, we could hear a combination of wind-driven rain and ice pellets hitting the windows of the house as we tried to sleep.

Compared to previous years, this March seems to be much wetter, much wilder and much milder.

High winds over the weekend brought down power lines leaving tens of thousands of people throughout the state in the dark.  The combination of rain and rapidly melting snow has brought a rush of water through Hammond Pond.  Since the ice is still clinging to the shoreline, puddles have formed on the ice surface since the water had nowhere to go.  While taking pictures on Sunday, I noticed a crack in the ice just offshore that stretched from the spillway to the gatehouse.  This crack may have been formed when water from this week’s storm raised the level of the lake and forced the ice to go with it.  It may be nothing, but it will be interesting to see what impact that crack will play in the melting of the ice.

2010 Meltdown as of 03/12/2010
2010 Meltdown as of 03/12/2010

I received a report from Tommy Thomas from his home in St. Petersburg Florida.  Apparently, some friends of his who are down there had heard from some people who were ice fishing on the lake last week and reported that the ice was 13” thick.  Another family down there called back home to have someone check on the condition of the ice so they could make a better educated guess with their picks.

While my own rules don’t allow me to share my opinions on when I think the ice will give way, let me urge those of you who have not sent in your tickets yet to get them in sooner than later.  Ticket sales will end on April 1st or when the ice goes out – whichever comes first.

2010 Meltdown as of 03/14/2010
2010 Meltdown as of 03/14/2010

I often reference the Oxbow in Northampton in my updates simply because I drive by it every day on my way to work but also because is serves as a good gauge of how things are progressing weather-wise down in the valley.  As I drove by it today, I saw waterfowl floating on the open water.  Gone were the ice fishermen.  Gone were their shanties.  Gone was our chance to run any ice rescue drills with Northampton Fire.

I plan to hook up the clock this weekend.  It’s only a matter of time.

2010 Meltdown as of 03/14/2010
2010 Meltdown as of 03/14/2010

March 7 - Blackflies

You know you live in Goshen when you start making plans in March to go on vacation in May to avoid black flies.

Above average temperatures over the past few days have reduced the height of the snow banks that line the streets in town.  But as with most things in life, there are two sides to every story.  In this case, water from the melting snow has nowhere to go since the ground is still frozen.  As any child knows, combining water with dirt makes mud.  The freeze / thaw cycles that we’re currently experiencing are creating ruts and pot holes in our dirt roads that will eventually be graded and filled in the coming months.  Temperatures over the past several days have soared passed the 50 degree mark even though nighttime temperatures have been in the 20’s. 

I was up early on Saturday to go skiing with my daughter Sarah.  Since we’re both on the Ski Patrol, we have to be at Butternut in Great Barrington MA by 7:30 a.m.  I took a moment while packing the car with gear to just walk out onto the driveway and take a look around the homestead.  The light from a half moon was slowly giving way to daybreak.  The air was crisp.  The outdoor thermometer indicated that it was only 19 degrees.  In spite of the cold, my attention was focused on the sound of small birds chirping in the trees.  Goshen’s own Ginny Otis would be able to tell me their names.  All I know is that the birds are another sure sign that spring is just around the corner.  The Village Green in Williamsburg still has a ‘closed’ sign hanging on the wall but I don’t think it will be long before they’ll be open and serving ice cream for another season. 

It was well below freezing on Sunday when we responded to a chimney fire on Sears Road in Goshen.  This is just an indication that people are still using their wood stoves to take the chill out of the air in their homes.  Driving into Williamsburg over the weekend, both the Lawton Family and Zanoni sugarhouses were boiling.

While it’s clear that some melting has occurred, there’s still snow covering the base of the block and the base of the pallet on which it sits.  Driving by the Oxbow in Northampton on Sunday, there were still fishermen setting their lines on the ice that stretched from shoreline to shoreline.  For the most part, the snow in the Connecticut River valley is non-existent.

It didn’t surprise me to see bright yellow flowers in the south facing ‘Bishop’s Garden’ across the street from my parent’s house in Chicopee.  Contrast that scene to the crocus flowers that are still buried under 18” of snow in Goshen and you’ll get a sense for the climate differences between the two locations.  Our town highway crew spent a good portion of last week pushing the snow banks back to make room for the next snow storm.  Call it superstition, but it’s my firm belief that we won’t get another snow storm as a result of their work.

Over the past two years, Hampshire Regional High School has put on musical productions.  In 2008, it was Fiddler on the Roof, followed by The Music Man in 2009.  This year, it’s The Wizard of Oz.  In addition to creating a 2010 Meltdown page on Facebook, the Marketing Manager for the contest (that would be my 14-year old daughter Alyssa) recommended that I purchase an ad in the program for their upcoming play.  I borrowed a line from the script, which I felt was appropriate to promote the contest.  Hope you appreciate the humor in the attached ad.

To date, over 400 tickets have been submitted.  With rain forecasted for the upcoming weekend and warmer temperatures in the coming week, I suspect that we’ll be down to just ice on the lake before too long.  I’ll send out another update in a few days that will include another picture showing the condition of the block and the water body it sits on.

February 28 - You know you live in Goshen when...

You know you live in Goshen when you find snow banks that are taller than your driveway is wide.

It has not been a quiet week in the Land o’ Goshen.  As I write this, a light snow is falling outside with a temperature hovering right around the freezing mark.  On Wednesday, Goshen received 23” of snow, followed by several inches of rain on Thursday, followed by another 8” of snow on Friday.

To say that the 2010 Meltdown has started would be a stretch.  The heavy, wet snow made all our snow banks higher, all our roads narrower and caused most of the town to lose power earlier this week.  Yet, for most of the people who live in the Connecticut River valley, the storms of the past few days brought a little bit of snow that was washed away by a lot of rain.

The forecast for the next 10 days calls for snow showers over the period with temperatures slowly creeping over 32 degrees in the daytime but still in the 20’s at night.  The way I see it, it’s only a matter of time before the sap starts running.

In keeping with the theme of this being a global contest, I received word from a few supporters who are in the process of selling tickets to friends in China and Russia.  In other developments, the 2010 Meltdown page currently has 24 fans.  That’s 23 more than when it was created a week ago so things are looking up.

2010 Meltdown as of 02/28/2010
2010 Meltdown as of 02/28/2010

The picture above was taken by my wife Sue just before sunset tonight.  Even though we had over 2 feet of snow this week, Thursday’s rain caused a good portion of it to melt and flow down the Westfield River.  Regardless, more than half the block remains covered by Friday’s snow.  Several unproven theories come into play as we make our way into March.  Did this week’s rainfall and resulting runoff start melting the ice from below?  Does the blanket of snow on top of the ice insulate it from the freezing temperatures above?  Is there a correlation between tonight’s full moon and the thickness of the ice?  In case you’re wondering, the next full moons are on March 30th and April 28th.

Ticket sales are starting to flow in.  I’ve received several dozen envelopes to date and will have an update on the numbers with my next update.

2010 Meltdown as of 02/14/2010
2010 Meltdown as of 02/14/201

February 6 - Let the Game Begin!

You know you’re in Goshen when directions to get here include the words ‘when you get to a paved road you’ve gone too far’.

Along the same lines, you know Spring can’t be far behind when you start getting e-mails from me promoting the 2010 Meltdown.

As many of you know, this is the sixth year of what has turned into an annual event in Goshen.  The rules are simple – come closest to guessing the exact time and day that a 69-pound concrete block falls through the ice (without going over) and you’ll win half of all the proceeds.  The block sits on a wooden pallet that holds a flag.  The flag is simply a marker that shows where the block is when it gets completely covered in snow.  The block is connected by a rope to an electric clock.  The clock is plugged into an outlet in the gatehouse on the dam holding back Hammond Pond.  Once the block falls through the ice or the ice floe moves away from the dam, the tension on the cord will pull the plug out of the wall socket and stop the clock.  It’s that straightforward.

This year’s fundraiser will benefit the Goshen Historical Commission in their mission to preserve and protect the historical assets of Goshen.  The Commission is a branch of town government with a very small budget but gladly accepts contributions that further their programs.  It is made up of a handful of townspeople that have dedicated a significant portion of their free time to document, inventory and safeguard the rich history that the town and this region possesses.

Thanks to my daughter Alyssa, we’re now on Facebook for 2010.  Help us grow by becoming a fan.

Participants that include an e-mail address on their ticket stub will be added to an e-mail distribution list that is used to provide periodic updates and snapshots of the block.  The current list includes several hundred addresses of people who are regularly entertained by these updates.  The sooner your tickets are returned, the sooner you can become part of that exclusive group.

The deadline for ticket submissions is Thursday, April 1st.  Tickets received after that date (unless they were postmarked on or before 4/1) will be returned.  This date is weather dependant and is subject to change.

Here are some statistics from the past 5 year’s of Meltdown events to consider as you make your selections:

    • Of the 5,715 tickets submitted, 2,694 were from women, 2,675 were from men, 279 were from couples, 53 were from anonymous donors and 16 were from animals (dogs, cats, birds).
    • The ratio of morning to afternoon picks was 18% and 82% respectively.
    • 77% of all the guesses were for times between April 1st and April 21st.
    • The most popular dates were 4/12 (264), 4/10 (262), 4/11 (255), 4/13 and 4/15 (249) and 4/8 (228).
    • The favorite times were 3 p.m. (221), 2 p.m. (210), 3:30 p.m. (178), 2:30 p.m. (166) and 1 p.m. (146).  The winner is the person who is the closest to the exact time the clock stops without going over.
    • Daylight savings time starts on Sunday, March 14th.  Keep that in mind when making your selection.

Other significant dates to consider are as follows:

    • 3/20 at 1PM     – Official start of the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Road Race
    • 3/21 at 11PM   – Official start of the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade
    • 4/04 at 8:05PM – First pitch on Opening Night at Fenway Park in Boston
    • 4/13 at 1:05PM – First pitch on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium
    • 4/15 at 2:45AM – Day and time the Titanic sank in 1912