March 22nd, 2012 - The Contest is Over

2012 Meltdown as of 03/20/2012
2012 Meltdown as of 03/20/2012
On a day that the temperature in Goshen is expected to peak at around 75 degrees, I am writing to you to say that it’s official.  The 2012 Meltdown is over.  The block went down on March 19th, the first day of Spring, at 2:14:50 in the afternoon.  I waited until now to make the announcement so I could include tickets mailed over the weekend in the final tally.
 
Unless a few more tickets come in over the next several days, the final tally of tickets sold is 2,528.  From Adams to Waquoit (Look it up. It’s in MA), Key West Florida and Corona Del Mar California to Eagle River Alaska and Providence Rhode Island, tickets came in from all corners of the state and the country.
 
As I hinted in my last update, warm temperatures were going to be at work on the ice.  In fact, the wide swath of the U.S. being impacted by the unusual heat event, along with the margins by which records are being broken, the time of year this is occurring, and the duration of it are all indications that this may be an unprecedented event since modern U.S. weather records began in the late 19th century.  On Monday, Boston, Hartford, Providence and Worcester all set daily high-temperature records.  Caribou Maine recorded its earliest 70 degree day on record Tuesday.  As of today, 1,728 high temperature records have been broken in the United States so far this year according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
 
Full Disclosure – I put away my skis and snow shovels on Sunday.  That typically means that we’ll have a significant snowfall at least one more time before July 4th.  However, NOAA predicts that the unusually warm weather will continue through April.  Let’s hope they’re right.
 
Late last week, the ice still appeared white and opaque but as each warm day passed, it’s color darkened and became translucent.  It was melting thinner by the minute.  Rain and fog blanketed Hammond Pond last Friday as shown in the attached picture taken on March 16th.  The block initially fell over in the afternoon of Sunday, March 18th.  However, the rules have always been that the contest is over when the movement of the block causes the cord for the clock to be disconnected.  This year, it looks like the ice melted around the pallet.  Since the pallet was still encased in ice, it simply fell over and continued to float like an ice cube in a drink.  If you look closely at the picture taken on the 18th, you can see the block and pallet underwater and a section of the floating ice chunk that’s attached to it.
2012 Meltdown as of 03/19/2012 as of 2:15PM.
2012 Meltdown as of 03/19/2012 as of 2:15PM.
2012 Meltdown as of 03/19/2012 as of 7:00AM.
2012 Meltdown as of 03/19/2012 as of 7:00AM.
2012 Meltdown as of 03/18/2012 as of 7:30PM.
2012 Meltdown as of 03/18/2012 as of 7:30PM.
2012 Meltdown as of 03/18/2012 as of 4:30PM.
2012 Meltdown as of 03/18/2012 as of 4:30PM.
2012 Meltdown as of 03/18/2012 as of 4:11PM.
2012 Meltdown as of 03/18/2012 as of 4:11PM.

I received a number of calls on Sunday from people saying that the block had gone through.  Each time I went to check the clock to see if it had stopped I noticed a number of vehicles slowing down and checking out the pond as they drove by on South Chesterfield Road.  Even when we were called out for a motor vehicle crash Sunday at 3AM, the flashing red lights of GFD’s Car 1 illuminated the flag enough as we passed by it to let me know that nothing had changed.  I was actually at the back of the gatehouse on Monday taking pictures when I saw the rope move.  The motion made me think that a fish had just nibbled the end of my line by the way it became taught.  However, in this case, the ‘fishing line’ was actually the rope attached to the block.  When I unlocked the gatehouse door to check on things, the extension cord had been pulled and the clock had stopped.

2012 Meltdown as of 03/19/2012 as of 2:15PM.
2012 Meltdown as of 03/19/2012 as of 2:15PM.
Thirty-two individuals had picks on March 19th.  Of those individuals, nine had picks that were within one hour of the 2:14:50 p.m. time.  Amazingly, Kimberly Plourd of Springfield was within ten seconds of winning the contest with her 2:15 p.m. pick.  However, we all know it’s the person who comes the closest without going over that wins.  So, for the first time in Meltdown history, someone picked the exact day and time the block finally dropped.  Congratulations to Lisa Johnson of Southington CT for her winning pick of 2:14 p.m.  Lisa had submitted 10 tickets overall – 5 were on 3/19, 5 were on 3/29.  When I spoke to Lisa to tell her the good news, I asked her the significance of her dates and times.  She told me that 3/19 and 3/29 were the birthdays of her mother and uncle respectively.  The 2:14 p.m. time was simply chosen at random.  Lisa’s random pick will net her a winning check in excess of $1,000.  I still need to finish the accounting before I know the exact amount.
 
In addition to receiving half of the proceeds of the contest, Chesterfield’s 250th Anniversary Community Fireworks Display will benefit from the generosity of several individuals that contributed $150 in straight donations to the cause.  If you feel bad that you weren’t able to participate in this year’s contest, rest assured that I will continue accepting donations well into June.
 
Once again, I’d like to thank the scores of people that helped make this contest a success.  Your efforts and generosity make this a worthwhile community event.

Until next time, THINK SUMMER!

2012 Meltdown as of 03/16/2012
2012 Meltdown as of 03/16/2012

March 15th, 2012 - Blown Away

Warm temperatures are starting to have an impact on life in the Hilltowns of Western Massachusetts.  Those of us that live on dirt roads know that their surfaces have gotten soft in spots as mud season has emerged.  Our fire department had a drill down in Williamsburg on Tuesday night where we noticed the familiar drone of blood sucking mosquitoes buzzing around our heads as we worked outside.  There’s something wrong with the world when mosquitoes make a showing before peepers do.  Does this mean that we’ll have mayflies in April?  Will March showers bring April flowers?  Has anyone else noticed the spiders and stink bugs in their houses besides me?

When I was out checking the condition of the ice a few days ago, I chuckled to myself when I watched these two geese do a flyover of Hammond Pond.  When they noticed that there was no open water to land on, they just kept flapping their wings and flew off into the distance.  I think I’m going to suggest to the Hammond Acres Board of Directors that we install cooling pipes in the pond in order to keep the surface of the lake frozen until June.  Goose problem?  What goose problem?
 
According to the National Park Service, the cherry trees surrounding the tidal basin in Washington DC are expected to start blossoming on March 18th – almost three weeks or 18 days sooner than the average date of April 4th.  So, if I were a betting man and I knew that April 10th was the average date the block went down over the past 7 years, one could make a correlation and the argument that the 2012 Meltdown will come to an end on March 23rd.  Let’s see how the Law of Averages plays out this year.
2012 Meltdown as of 03/13/2012
2012 Meltdown as of 03/13/2012
2012 Meltdown as of 03/13/2012
2012 Meltdown as of 03/13/2012
As you can see from the recent pictures, the ice is looking less and less like ice.  The mild temperatures earlier this week brought early morning fog that permeated the region.  Most of the fog was gone by mid-day providing the sun a chance to work on the ice floe.  The picture taken on Tuesday, March 13th shows how there is now open water along the shoreline at the southern end of Hammond Pond where the block is.  The view from the northern end of the pond taken this morning paints a very different picture, namely, a reflection off the open water.  The ice on Hammond Pond typically melts from the north to the south so this isn’t anything new.  What is new is the timing of that event.

When you look at the two pictures below of the northern part of Hammond Pond, notice the silimarities between them then recognize that the first one was taken this year on March 15 while the other one was taken last year on April 7th.   Said another way, the amount of open water on Hammond Pond today was equivalent to what the pond looked like a week into April of 2011.

2012 Meltdown as of 03/15/2012 looking south from Pond Hill Road
2012 Meltdown as of 03/15/2012 looking south from Pond Hill Road
On the ticket front, I’m happy to say that we’re fast approaching the 2,400 mark.  The good news is that we’re several hundred tickets ahead of where we were last year at this time.  The bad news is that there isn’t that much time left to sell the 1,000 tickets that will put us past last year’s tally of 3,327.
 
Timing is everything in life.  Such was the case with the update I sent out last Friday night.  It just so happened that the Gazette ran an article in Saturday’s paper appropriately titled “It’s on ice: Goshen Meltdown a good bet” (http://gazettenet.com/2012/03/10/it039s-on-ice-goshen-meltdown-a-good-bet).  Thanks to reporter Fran Ryan for doing a nice job on the story.
 
For those of you who are still waiting for the right time to submit your tickets, let me see if this will convince you that that time has come.  Here is the Goshen forecast for next week:
 
Monday – Sunny, 72 degrees
Tuesday – Sunny, 74 degrees
Wednesday – Sunny, 76 degrees
Thursday – Sunny, 73 degrees
 
It looks like the Village Green in Williamsburg did the right thing by opening up this week.  Next week, the line for ice cream will stretch down Route 9.
 
Lastly, some of you have asked how the Harry family is doing.  Recall that the proceeds from last year’s contest went towards the purchase of a wheelchair accessible van for their daughter Naomi.  I’m happy to say that the Toyota Sienna van was purchased, converted and put in service by the family as you can see in the picture below.  The smiles on their faces say it all.
The Harry Family
The Harry Family

March 9th, 2012 - Blown Away

You know how every now and then something happens that just blows you away?  Well, that’s what happened to me this past week.

Goshen received a 9″ blanket of snow last week – it’s first real storm since the pre-Halloween dumping we were hit with last October.  As is normally the case with these types of storms, lower elevations received a coating of slush that was mostly washed away by a lingering rain.  The mild temperatures that reached the Hilltowns following the storm caused the snow mass to start melting fairly quickly.  However, overnight temperatures that dipped down to the single digits one night and teens on the other added an additional 4″ to the ice on Hammond Pond.

According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), this past meteorological winter (Dec-Jan-Feb) marks the 4th warmest one on record in the US with temperatures across the entire country averaging 4 degrees higher than normal.  Thanks to a jet stream that’s running well up into northern Canada, arctic air that normally finds it’s way to the lower 48 has been trapped at its source.  That was evident this week when temperatures soared into the 60’s – even in Goshen.  As you can see from the attached picture, the combination of that recent snowfall coupled with record-setting warmth left puddles on top of the ice.  If you look closely at the picture, you’ll see that one of the reflectors holding up the rope has sunk through the ice.  When I brought my daughter to the bus stop this morning, I noticed that a second reflector had since fallen through as well.  To me, that’s a sure sign that the ice has been impacted by warm water below and warm air above.  While I’d love to walk out onto the ice to cut a hole in it and measure it for you, there’s a problem in that there’s now open water between the shore and the ice shelf.  

What’s ironic about this whole winter is that it’s snowing outside right now as I write this update.

Oh, that something that blew me away?  It was you.  My wife Sue went up to the firehouse this week and came home with two envelopes.  One very thick envelope contained 166 tickets from Tim Garner and what I refer to as the Northwest Territory.  Tim lives in Cheshire (a small town like Goshen in the northwest corner of Massachusetts) and has been a strong supporter of the Meltdown for years.  The tickets he submitted came from the Berkshire County towns of Adams, Cheshire, Dalton, North Adams, Pittsfield and Uruma City Japan where his brother lives.  The other very thin envelope had a note from John April that read in part “This check is for 1,440 tickets, one for each minute of (date omitted).

Many of you are new to the Meltdown contest and are receiving this e-mail for the first time.  For your benefit, John did the same thing for last years contest.  Thanks to his continued generosity, over 2,000 tickets have now been sold.  In addition, another $100 has been received in direct donations to the fireworks display.

We had a good week.

Looking ahead, overnight temperatures tonight and tomorrow night will dip into the low 20’s.  That should firm up the ice a bit.  However, the forecast for Monday and Tuesday is calling for temperatures in Goshen to reach into the 60’s.  Sunny skies on Monday followed by showers on Tuesday have me planning to hook up the clock this weekend.  As a reminder, ticket sales come to an end on April 1st unless the ice goes out before then.  If it does, I will not accept any ticket sales that I receive on the day the block sinks. Said another way, if you were waiting for the last minute to submit your picks, the last minute may be right around the corner.

2012 Meltdown as of 03/08/2012
2012 Meltdown as of 03/08/2012
2012 Meltdown as of 03/04/2012
2012 Meltdown as of 03/04/2012

Here’s another update from the ice.  In this video snipit, I use my chainsaw to cut a small hole in the ice in order to measure its thickness.  Even though we’ve had some fairly mild temperatures over the past week, the ice still measures 9 1/2″ thick.

Feb 24th, 2012 - The Wacky Winter Continues

Nestled on top of a hill, looking down into the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts lies the small town of Goshen.  Situated at 1,200′ feet above sea level is Hammond Pond.  Summers in this hilltown seem to be a little bit shorter and winters a little bit colder.  Many backyards in the lower Pioneer Valley have only brown grass showing yet our backyard in Goshen is still covered in a 6″ blanket of snow.
Like the rest of the region, winter hadn’t really set in like the good old days.
 
When I put the block out a few weeks ago, the ice on the pond measured 4″ thick and cracked when I walked on it.  Last week, the Goshen Fire Department held an ice water rescue drill on Hammond Pond.  As part of the exercise, we cut a hole in the ice for our ‘victims’ and took out blocks of ice that measured 10″ thick.
 
I asked Eric Fisher of the Weather Channel to send us down some arctic air to help the Meltdown contest last at least until April.  He said the best he could do is send us some cold weather last weekend but that we would return to unseasonably warm temperatures the rest of the week.  True to his word, we had overnight temperatures in the single digits Saturday night and teens the next night.  That helped bring the ice covering Hammond Pond to it’s greatest thickness of the season.
 
As I sit here writing this tonight, Mother Nature is throwing us another curve ball.  I can hear the tick tack of sleet hitting the windows.  Earlier today we woke up to a dusting of snow that made everything white.  Wind advisories have been posted tomorrow for western Hampshire county.  Forecasters are predicting wind gusts up to 55 mile per hour.  Talk about wacky winter weather.
2012 Meltdown Update
Here is a map from the US Dept of Agriculture depicting the hardiness zones for MA.  On it, you’ll see that Goshen is in a zone that from 1976 to 2005 had an annual average extreme minimum temperature between -10 and -15 below zero.  I dare say that this year’s weather might skew those results just a bit since we have yet to see temperatures dip below zero this season.
 
Unseasonably mild temperatures this week of close to 50 degrees melted a light accumulation of snow that had coated the surface of Hammond Pond leaving it pock-marked with puddles that were frozen again this morning.  The 10-day forecast looks like a broken record with daytime temperatures around 40 degrees and nighttime temperatures in the 20’s.
 
Ticket sales have started to pick up thanks to some mailings that have gone out.  I am in the process of getting notices out on town bulletin boards and local businesses.  Now all I’m hoping for is the ice to last until April.
2012 Meltdown as of 02/22/2012
2012 Meltdown as of 02/18/2012
2012 Meltdown as of 02/18/2012
2012 Meltdown as of 02/18/2012
2012 Meltdown as of 02/18/2012

Here’s a short video update from the ice on Hammond Pond:

2012 Meltdown as of 02/18/2012
2012 Meltdown as of 02/14/2012
2012 Meltdown as of 02/14/2012
2012 Meltdown as of 02/11/2012
2012 Meltdown as of 02/11/2012
2012 Meltdown as of 02/11/2012
2012 Meltdown as of 02/11/2012
2012 Meltdown as of 02/10/2012
2012 Meltdown as of 02/10/2012

Feb 6th, 2012 - The 2012 Meltdown has Begun

Well, actually, it seems that it’s been going on for some time thanks to this winter’s unseasonable weather.  While I find it hard to believe, 2012 marks the 8th year of Goshen’s version of a winter classic.

THE RULES – come closest to guessing the exact day and time 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 Chesterfield’s 250th Anniversary Community Fireworks display.  The fireworks are the culmination of a weeklong celebration of Chesterfield’s incorporation into the Commonwealth and will be shot off from the Cummington Fairgrounds on Saturday, July 7th.  For those of you who would prefer to make a donation straight to the cause, you should know that 100% of those funds will go directly to the community fireworks fund.

Regular updates will be posted on the website of the Goshen Fire Department.  Additional tickets can be downloaded from this site using this link (http://www.goshenmafire.com/images/2012/meltdown/2012meltdowntickets.pdf).  Participants that include an e-mail address on their ticket stub will be added to a private 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 Sunday, April 1st.  If you recall from last year, the deadline was moved up a few weeks due to the effects that climate change is having on our contest.  Tickets received after that date (unless they were postmarked on or before 4/1) will be returned.  This date is weather dependant and might be made irrelevant if the block falls through the ice before then.  If the block sinks before 4/1, only tickets received before the final day will be accepted as valid entries.  It’s safe to say that this winter’s weather borders on the unusual.  I intend to continue to make this event fun and will do my best to keep it fair to everyone.

Here are some statistics from the past 7 year’s of Meltdown events to consider as you make your selections:

    • The most popular dates were 4/1 (409), 4/10 (417), 4/4 (400), 4/2 and 4/12 (396) and 4/15 (376).
    • The ratio of morning to afternoon picks was 25% and 75% respectively.
    • 81% of all guesses were for dates between April 1st and April 21st (hint, hint)
    • 33% of all guesses have been for times between 2PM and 4PM in spite of the fact that the block has only gone down once over the past 7 years in that timeframe.  Remember, 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 11th.  Keep that in mind when making your selection.

The official end of the previous contests were as follows:

    • 2011 – April 14th at 12:44PM
    • 2010 – April 2nd at 11:52AM
    • 2009 – April 5th at 11:02AM
    • 2008 – April 16th at 3:04PM
    • 2007 – April 21st at 12:00 Noon
    • 2006 – April 1st at 8:18 PM
    • 2005 – April 12th at 4:47 PM

Other significant dates to consider are as follows:

    • 4/13 at 1:05PM – First pitch on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium in New York
    • 4/13 at 2:05PM – First pitch on Opening Day at Fenway Park in Boston, a park that has been around since 1912.
    • 4/15 at 2:45AM – Day and time the Titanic sank in 1912

As always…THINK SPRING!

2012 Meltdown as of 02/05/2012
2012 Meltdown as of 02/05/2012