POCATELLO — Chances are high that several Southeast Idahoans who peered out their windows Wednesday morning to the sight of a surprise snowstorm decided not to leave their homes for the day, but for some professionals that’s not an option.
So long as it’s not Sunday or a federal holiday, the mail must be delivered and for U.S. Postal Service letter carrier Brett Hochhalter, a mail bag wasn’t the only thing slung over his shoulder Wednesday afternoon.
After delivering mail to the many Pocatello residents along his 8-mile route near Idaho State University, Hochhalter grabbed a snow shovel and proceeded to clear the sidewalks and some of the driveways for several homes along his route, which encompasses approximately 50 blocks.
“Nobody knew we were going to get 4 to 5 inches of snow today, and I’m 53 years old,” Hochhalter said. “I get pretty tired trudging through the snow. And while it’s not a part of my job description, at the end of the day it’s worth it.”
Hochhalter has been delivering mail to the homes on Sixth, Seventh and Eighth avenues between Oak Street and Idaho State University for 16 years. After all the mail has been delivered, he has often shoveled the snow for senior citizens and those who get home from work later in the evening for at least the last decade.
“I take care of the ones who can’t do it themselves,” Hochhalter said. “This helps everybody: The people who are walking to class at ISU, the homeowner and then me delivering the mail.”
Though the National Weather Service issued a round of winter weather advisories on Monday night for East Idaho, much like it did prior to the snow that fell Monday morning and afternoon, no prior warning was given regarding the heavy snow and powerful winds that hit the Pocatello area on Wednesday morning.
And while Dawn Harmon, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, was unable to speak about the lack of a winter advisory for the weather on Wednesday, she said general forecasting in East Idaho can be difficult at times because of its unique geographic makeup.
“East Idaho is incredibly unique because of the combination of terrain features that we have,” Harmon said. “Air can’t flow through the mountains, so when it goes over them it comes back down with a different temperature profile. A shift in wind direction by as little as 10 to 30 degrees can drastically change the temperature of the lower atmosphere and that can make all the difference in whether or not we actually get precipitation.”
Furthermore, Harmon says the the atmosphere is dynamic, in that it’s constantly changing, which requires meteorologists to remain fluid in their predictions as well as the weekly forecasts develop.
“We need to be dynamic to keep up with it,” Harmon said. “We will never be right if we send out a forecast one week ahead of the storm and don’t follow up on it.”
Harmon added, “And we’re not always going to get it right, unfortunately. But we put our heart and soul into this and most people understand that, so it’s nice when we can find some common ground.”