Had it with the snow and now the super-cold temperatures headed our way? Blame it on Punxsutawney Phil.
Granted, the groundhog doesn't make the weather — he just prognosticates it.
But with several inches of snow and sleet just dumped on Hampton Roads, to be followed Thursday night by an Arctic blast that some forecasts say will plunge air temperatures to zero — that's right, zero — before struggling into the teens and lower 20s over the next two days, then blame will be cast.
In fact, in New England the snow is so high and tempers so short that police in beleaguered Merrimack, N.H., wrote on their official Facebook page they'd issued an arrest warrant for the "little varmint." In response, a ski resort in the state is offering Phil asylum.
Here at home, though, meteorologist Jonathan McGee at the National Weather Service in Wakefield isn't ready to cast aspersions over the cold snap dropping in from Canada.
"It's just another cold air mass in a series of cold air masses that we've seen come southward in the last couple of weeks," McGee said. "The weather phenomenon has been going on forever."
The NWS forecast is a bit balmier than others — McGee said they expect low temperatures to hover around 5 degrees in the area Thursday night, and around 10 degrees Friday night into Saturday morning.
The normal low this time of year is about 33 degrees, he said.
"It's not the coldest it's ever been," McGee said, "but certainly the coldest we've seen in a number of years."
This week's cold and snow have wreaked havoc with residents trying to heat their homes, as well as run heating repair technicians ragged.
As snow fell Tuesday and the governor declared a state of emergency, Tom Hartman at Atlantic Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning says their Hampton-based business tripled as customers' heating systems were either underperforming or busted altogether.
Hartman fielded 64 calls that day and night and couldn't say how many his co-workers took. They triaged according to need.
Most callers had working systems but were worried their homes weren't as toasty as before. Hartman advised them to wait and see if their homes got up to temperature later in the day.
Those without any heat at all took priority. But getting to customers was tough on snow-caked roads and with more snow falling. All 14 service trucks were running, he said, and some of his men had to shovel their way out of customers' driveways.
"It was a rough day," Hartman said. "I just told my men, park your vehicle in the middle of the street and I'll pay the parking ticket."
They didn't get any tickets, he said.
"We're having things freeze and bust this year that we haven't had freeze and bust in 30 years," Hartman said Wednesday. "Just because of that — I think tomorrow night's going down to, I heard, 4 — so it's going to be a miserable night.
"It taxes your brain on days like yesterday and today."
Compounding the problem is that many houses in Hampton Roads just aren't built for this kind of weather, he said. In northern climes, for instance, wall insulation is typically 6 inches. Here, it's about 3 to 3 1/2 inches.
And this region is rich with older and historic homes that weren't designed for energy efficiency. Or, in many cases, for furnaces.
When Bonnie Pryor moved from her 70-year-old home in Virginia Beach last summer to a small, 215-year-old wood-frame colonial in historic downtown Smithfield, she had the interior tastefully renovated, including adding duct work for a new heat pump with forced air system.
So how warm was her home this week?
"Freezing," Pryor said with a laugh. "Freezing cold floors. I don't go downstairs without my clogs on anymore. Oh. My. Gosh. Lined clogs. And I've got boot socks."
While she knew older homes were harder to heat, she said, "I had no idea that the woodwork and floors would contract to such a degree that there would be space between the big floorboards and the only thing under them is dirt and a cold crawl space."
Some exterior walls were replastered and insulated during the renovation, she said, but the kitchen and one bathroom have no insulation at all. So she closes off rooms to conserve heat and installed a space heater in the bathroom. Sometimes she turns on the oven and cracks it to warm the kitchen.
Still, this week her heating system couldn't get beyond 55 degrees. In the kitchen and foyer, it was 40.
"It's one of the things you have to deal with if you want the charm and history of a home like this," Pryor said. "You have to put up with being very cold for a couple of months. Right now, it's keeping up. It's set at 63 and it's keeping up."
If she needs them, she said she has extra space heaters to battle the upcoming cold snap. But other homeowners might have trouble finding them.
Rodney Ashby at Home Depot in Hampton said his store sold out of space heaters four weeks ago.
"We're getting calls from customers," Ashby said, "but unfortunately we're not getting any more in the stores."
Customers still can buy them online, he said.
And at Smithfield True Value Hardware in Smithfield, Judson Little said their stock is "wiped out."
"We just got a load in and we're not sure how long they're going to be here," said Little. "We have precious few."
This Sunday, temperatures are expected to soar back into the more seasonable lower 50s, which is the norm this time of year, McGee said.
But don't get complacent. Early next week, another cold snap is brewing.
"Be prepared for the next one," McGee said. "Because it looks like a short reprieve from the cold weather for Sunday, then we get the cold again for Tuesday and Wednesday."
And if it makes you feel any better, blame it on the varmint.
Dietrich can be reached by phone at 757-247-7892.