By Sean Comber
A polar vortex is an upper-level low-pressure area lying near one of the Earth's poles. Each polar vortex is a persistent, large-scale, low-pressure zone less than 1,000 kilometres in diameter, that rotates counter-clockwise at the North Pole and clockwise at the South Pole. The bases of the two polar vortices are located in the middle and upper troposphere and extend into the stratosphere. Beneath that lies a large mass of cold, dense Arctic air. When the polar vortex is weak, high-pressure zones of the mid-latitudes may push poleward, moving the polar vortex, jet stream, and polar front equatorward. The jet stream is seen to "buckle" and deviate south. This rapidly brings cold dry air into contact with the warm, moist air of the mid-latitudes, resulting in a rapid and dramatic change of weather known as a "cold snap”.
The cold snap arrived Thursday evening, it was indeed sudden and dramatic on the A30 near Bodmin where over 100 cars got trapped overnight. Haldon Hill and Telegraph Hill were closed from about 6pm to 11pm and accidents mushroomed on trunk roads as the rain washed away the grit applied by the spreaders and then as the warm moist air collided with the cold air mass that had been building for days, the snow settled and the tarmac surfaces turned to ice and compacted snow.
Friday morning in Cully the snow had begun to thaw and I carefully examined google maps between me and Plymouth for the faintest sign of orange, indicating slowing traffic on the M5/A38, anything I begged and I’d cry off for a snow day. But Haldon was clear and the gritters and ploughs had cleared the route – green all the way – bugger I’d have to go to work. By the time I returned home around 3pm to grab some winter wonderland photos, my wonder was somewhat truncated by rapidly thawing conditions – bugger again. I did at least hop on the XR200 and scuttle up the road to take a few photos on the top of the hill of a bit of whiteness in the corners of fields, the wind blowing through the leaf-less trees feeling raw on my bare hands as I clicked a few photos.
A bit of snow still around on Friday Afternoon above Bradninch
I was home alone for the weekend as Gaynor my wife had battled up the A303 on a coach to go skiing. I contacted Paul about riding options and we decided to throw the bikes in the Scud van and take off. I asked for preferences and he noted a Dartmoor loop he’d missed out in the autumn when the WR400 blew its water pump. No problem thinks I, the thaw is well established and we’ll still get a few wintry photos with moody trail bikes in the foreground above Honeybag Tor I thought……
I pitched up to Paul’s for about 8.30am and owing to a clear night the roads were a bit icy possibly, but hey ho, we were committed. I decided after a lot of imming and amming to park above Bridford and pick up my loop from there so we tooled down the M5/A30 to the Moretonhampstead road (B3212). However, I was already nervous as coming down the M5 the hills were obviously still very snowy. The B road had icy patches as we sank down into the Teign valley, but Longdown was a picture postcard with snow splattered trees giving off that Alpine vibe. Arriving at the carpark at the bottom of the byway through Bridford Woods which was a skating rink, I’d already made my mind up that if these roads were bad, the minor roads would by treacherous and having fallen a couple of times on ice, I know it is no fun. So as we skated across the car park we called common sense over valour and decided that may be trying to ride Dartmoor the day after the heaviest snowfall of winter was a little daft – who’s idea was this Paul……?
Low light, fluffy white snow…loads of fun off the road. On the tarmac – not so much….
We got back in the van cranked up the heating and considered or plan B options. Paul suggested dropping back o Honiton to ride a loop we failed a couple of weeks ago on account of his ‘new for him’ KTM450 had thrown a strop and had broken down (again…).
We’d park over by Northcote and cut out a 20 mile round trip from Cully. On paper this seems like a sound plan…. We skittered back up the Moretonhampstead B road, cruised up the A30-M5-A30 towards Honiton where I noticed the thaw that had occurred at home was not so advanced a bit further east and there was still significant snow lying on the ground. My sphincter muscle twitched….. We pulled up into the lay-by along Tunnel lane with a sheet of ice under the Scuds wheels. I was not comfortable, but we’d been in the van for an hour and a half and we decided to give it a go…. Bikes out and togged up we wobbled along the tarmac to the first UCR at the end of Tunnel Lane, it was lovely, soft snow in open places, nothing much under the tree canopy, lovely. Heated grips on the TTR turned up to max barely kept my fingers responsive in the crisp morning air. However, exiting onto Northcote Hill was a different matter there was compacted snow and ice everywhere! A chap was gingerly trying to ‘walk’ a trailer down the road across the slippery surface. He was bracing himself as best he could in front of the trailer and we watched in fascination, awaiting his inevitable slip followed by a comical but likely bruising scenario as he was runover by his own trailer. Miraculously he stayed upright and we wobbled across the road and up the increasingly washed out UCR. Best to keep right now, as the centre has been carved out by rain creating a gully where short arsed bikes like mine ground out. There’s not enough space on the left to pass without fouling the briar and thorn sprouting out of the hedge.
Much more snow still around near Wilmington