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Another load of bees being brought in for loading

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Sunday 20 April 2003
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We returned home and caught up on a few things.

Monday 21 April 2003
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I went over to Taylors yard and picked everything up.  There were 38 hives there and I'd been a bit worried, since it had been one of the few to show some tracheal.  The access was very muddy and intimidated my crew, so it was the second last yard we got to, but the loss was zero. It turned out that when they were checked later, all were okay.

I then picked up Dennis and we went to Meglis.  By then the bees were flying and bringing in pollen, but Dennis smoked, and I loaded, and we we managed to settle them down.  The truck was full and there was lots of junk to get later, so we left six catch hives.  I think we must have left a few pounds of bees behind, but the catch hives were well distributed and we didn't lose too many.  We forgot to treat and medicate the yard.

Later in the day, we got a call that the doctors were inducing labour and so El & I drove back to Edmonton in late afternoon, and waited.

On the right is a picture of one of our smoker boxes.  A smoker sits on either side and in the middle compartment, we keep pre-cut burlap, pre-cut paper, and matches and/or a butane lighter.  Sometimes we carry a coffee can to receive the burnt material when dumping smokers in tinder-dry conditions, since a smoker may still be smoldering as much as a day after use.

Today :   Sunny. Wind light. High 22. / Tonight :   Partly cloudy. Wind southeast 20 km/h. Low 3. / Normals for the period :   Low minus 1. High plus 13.

Tuesday 22 April 2003
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Dennis picked up Halsteads, checked the hives and also loaded 52 hives in the evening for High Prairie.

Today :   A mix of sun and cloud. Wind southeast 20. High 22.

Wednesday 23 April 2003
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  • Granddaughter born at 4:25 AM.  3lbs 3oz.  Breathing under her own power.  Mom and baby OK.
  • Dennis picked up hives at Klassens. Clutch slave cylinder fell apart, but Dennis made it back
  • Almost record temperatures today: 22º C
  • I came back from Edmonton, arriving by 5

Today :   Mainly cloudy. Low 3. High 17.

Thursday 24 April 2003
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From Scotland, regarding polystyrene hives from an enthusiastic user of them...

Not long back from Denmark, so still a little groggy. Forgot the camera too, noticed in the airport and did not feel like buying another one. Nothing too remarkable to report in pictures though. However, 1% losses of parent stock, and 9% losses of the overwintered nucs (similar to the Tegart ones) is something pretty remarkable. There was barely a small colony to be seen and I looked at over 400 in the one operators holding.

One thing I noticed immediately about your trial of the poly hives was the timing of your changeover.  In all documentation and verbal advice the issue of adjusting to the temperature profile inside an insulated box with a ventilated floor was the same. Do not attempt to move bees over after July and expect a good wintering. October is considered very late and they are surprised at the HIGH number you got through successfully.

Apparently the reformatting the bees do to the radically different environment is quite subtle and takes quite some time. Don't shoot me, I'm only the messenger and I do not quite comprehend why this should be so, especially as they will happily rip out 80% of the drawn comb and get them to draw foundation in September. Seems at least as radical to me. Strangely though it works!

That was my guess too. 

I am always advising bee-ginners (and others who should know better), that any drastic manipulation of the brood chambers after July in our country is a prescription for increased risk of winter death.  I guess I just didn't figure that simply pushing the frames out of one box and into a new one would be as drastic as it proved to be, and I did not figure that the environment was that drastically different.  We move hives between yards in fall with no noticeable ill effects, but this was obviously very disruptive.  We also had problems with the top seal on these hives, since our pillows didn't seal as well on these hives due to lack of the outer wrap and due to the lid design. 

This was not a fair trial by any means.  We've moved the hives home and will monitor them this spring.

We began the morning by pulling the water supply hose through the steel casing under the tracks and measuring the water and sewer lines.  Dennis was going to get a yard of bees, but the home bees were flying by the time he was ready -- he had to change trucks -- and we had to abort the mission.

We have a buyer coming to pick up bees tonight and another on the weekend, but still have quite a few hives here.  We leave them on the locations as long as possible, but some buyers prefer to pay us to bring them in here in small trucks rather than driving all over the country with big trucks picking up a few hives here and there.  In some yards, there are empty spots on some pallets, making loading difficult, and when we bring them in, we make sure that all pallets have four hives.  That way. loading is simple and quick.

I spent the day helping out with the water project and doing deskwork.  I had a call in the morning from an irate landowner.  We were supposed to move some bees off a location.  I'd sold the bees in that area, on their locations, and the new owner was to contact the land owners to make sure all was well -- and give them honey, since I have been a bit lax in that regard.  He hadn't, but did when I called him, and all's well that ends well.

Some buyers have paid us to bring the hives in for loading, or to deliver them, but others have taken them over, right on their locations.  Although the buyers are responsible for the bees from the date they purchase, some have not even visited all the locations or checked the hives.  In some cases, they have paid us to feed, medicate and add Apistan, but we are not responsible for checking queens, etc.  That makes me wonder. 

Klarence came by with his dad and a beekeeper friend to arrange to pick up some hives.  We had a good visit, and he'll be back tomorrow.  Another dad and his son from the north came for another load and left happy.  The bees were flying top and bottom from most of the hives in the yard. 

Today :   A mix of sun and cloud. 30 percent chance of showers or afternoon thunderstorms. Wind light becoming east 20 km/h this afternoon. High 22. / Tonight :   Occasional showers. Risk of an evening thunderstorm. Wind east 20. Low 8. / Normals for the period :   Low zero. High 13.

Friday 25 April 2003
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Eight more months 'til Christmas

Dennis came in early to move in some more bees, since we are expecting to send out two loads of about 100 hives each tonight.  The water project continues.  The trench is now across the tracks and road, and filled in to our property line.  There is still some smoothing, tilling, and seeding to do, but the worst is finished over there.

Dennis got a load of bees, then I went and got one after lunch.   By then, it had started to rain, and by three, the mud was bad enough that, when I unloaded at 3:30, I was spinning wheels on level ground in our yard. 

One of the buyers from the south phoned and reported heavy rain in his area, so we agreed to cancel.  The other was coming from farther away and from the north.  We could see that the yard was impassable and that the rain was only going to get worse, so we tried to call him, but he had left without calling ahead.  We finally managed to reach him, but by then he and his wife were nearing Camrose, an hour down the road from their home, and he argued with us, then threatened to abandon the truck and trailer we had lent him in Camrose.  What could we do?  How can you argue with weather?

We always tell people to phone before setting out for our place.  Things change constantly, and there is so much going on around here that someone might not be here for an appointment or an essential machine could break down at the last minute. 

I always phone to confirm before I go for an appointment.  It is quite normal to phone the doctor and find that he has been held up by an emergency and is running up to an hour late.   I just ask, when I should arrive to be sure of not sitting for an hour in the waiting room.  If the delay is an hour, I call back just before the new time to be sure. 

The same applies to just about anyone who has responsibilities.  Busy people are not always on schedule or could be called out at any time.  Confirming appointments makes sense.

Anyhow, we understood they were turning back home, but several hours later they called to report they had burned out the clutch in the truck we lent them, and they were quite a way further along the route towards Swalwell than they had previously reported.  They then tried to tell us that the clutch was burnt when they got the truck from us. Dennis had driven that same truck, loaded with bees up to the same customer's location the previous week, and into beeyards with no problems.  After that, the customer had driven it to Swalwell, then back home again loaded.  Dennis reports that while the customer came here with the truck and was being loaded with bees for his trip home, he had complained about everything but the clutch, so the claim appears to me to be without merit.

We rebuilt all the clutches in all our diesels when we rebuilt the engines in them all, a few years back, and have redone several clutches since, complete with pressure plate.  We hire kids, and sometimes they wreck clutches.  I guess everyone has to learn somewhere, sometime.   A good driver can get a lifetime out of a clutch, but an impatient or inexperienced driver can kill a clutch in minutes.   Our guess is that our customer (or maybe someone we had not cleared to drive the unit) got into a bad situation, possibly on soft ground, while loaded and pulling a trailer, and had to back out.  An inexperienced driver will ride the clutch, and, if the situation is bad, continue to slip it for some time.  Such heavy clutch use burns the pressure plate springs, and, if the clutch is not repaired, total failure results a short while later on some long hill.  The truck in question apparently broke down at the Battle River valley, coming south on highway 21, so that seems to fit the profile.

Oddly -- to us -- this breakdown occurred on a section of highway I had specifically told him to avoid.  We had checked out the route on our trip up a week back, when Dennis and I were delivering a courtesy load and lending him a forklift to get him started, and had decided that he should use a route we selected for him.  It was our judgment that he should definitely avoid Camrose due to congestion, and should avoid that particular section of highway due to high traffic and big hills.   The alternate route is good road, is the same distance, is less traveled, has fewer hills, and does not involve driving through a city.

Selling the bees has been very interesting.  We are selling our good hives, hives that have made us a good living and which are mostly in good shape.  When we do custom work like feeding and medicating, we do it out of the goodness of our hearts, and at our cost.  Sometimes we go an extra mile and lend out trucks and even a forklift to make sure that the buyer is able to handle the bees in the best way possible.  Half the people -- especially the experienced ones -- are delighted with the condition of the bees, appreciate the extra little things we do for them, and take responsibility for their hives, but a few complain about every possible thing -- and more and somehow expect me to keep on being responsible for their hives after they buy them.  Some people are polite and expect nothing but what they bought.  Some ask for favours.   Some try to lie, cheat, insult the merchandise, or chisel.  Our deal is straight up -- what you see is what you get, as-is, where-is, right now, cash, no credit.  If you don't like it, go away.  What can be plainer than that?

It's interesting.  We have sold bees to lots of people this year and the hives are pretty similar in every case, but the people, are very different.  We don't select hives, and many (half or more) have bees flying top and bottom. 

Other than a few small buyers -- who pay for and get special treatment -- we tell everyone that they take possession of the bees in the yards at time of payment.  In some cases, we agree to feed, medicate, and add Apistan at the customer's expense, and, in some cases, we agree to bring the bees to a central pickup point, depending how much they are paying for the hives, but we inform the buyers that we do not check queens or brood, or inspect hives, and that when buying they get all and any hives that look stronger than a package at time of purchase.

Buyers are expected to work through the hives, pronto, to equalize, move feed around, check for queens, disease, etc. -- if they care.  We tell them, "What you see is what you get", and warn them that when hives are moved, bees will drift from the hives with poorer or absent queens to other hives.  That is to be expected.  Seldom will you ever find 100 hives all with perfect queens.  Up to 10% usually have some problem.  The smart operators will know that and easily save any weak or queenless hives by sharing a bit of bees and brood from the powerful colonies, but I'm afraid that some buyers are complacent and will wind up losing up to 10% through neglect.

Klarence came by to set up his dad's hives, but it was raining so hard he went home.  His dad bought 20, but was so excited that he wants another 8.

Our daughter and baby are fine, now and things are settling down on that front.  Nonetheless, I am busy, busy, busy.

Today :   Cloudy. Periods of rain developing this morning. Risk of a thunderstorm. Wind light. High 12.
Tonight :   Mainly cloudy with a few showers. Wind becoming west 20 km/h. Low 4.

Normals for the period :   Low zero. High 13.

Saturday 26 April 2003
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A foot of heavy snow


The trench work had to stop


Today, I'm glad the hives were wrapped.

Yesterday, the Environment Canada forecast promised: "Saturday :   Showers. Wind increasing to west 30. High 9."   Boy, were they wrong about that forecast.  We had a dandy storm that broke trees, put the power out for 24 hours, and left us with a foot or more of wet snow.  This morning, when I got up, our electricity was off, and we had over an inch of snow; the rain had changed to snow.  By mid-day, we had a foot and drifts of up to three feet, temperatures right around the freezing mark, and high gusting winds. 

The power stayed off all day, and the power company kept moving back the time for restoring service by two hours every time a previous deadline passed.  By dusk, I decided to get out the gen set.  Of course, the guys had put this essential piece of emergency equipment at the very back of the shed and it took me fifteen minutes to get it out and another fifteen to get it set up and running.  Our furnace burner runs on 110 volts, but the fan and our water system are 220.  I set up an auxiliary water pump, but the furnace was only running at partial capacity.

Our water/sewer project came to a halt last night.  The crew had planned to backfill today, but although the pipes are in the trench, backfilling is impossible in the muck. 

With no power, people were unable to do their accustomed activities, and we got an unusual number of phone calls plus some visitors who were not even able to make coffee.  They have an electric stove.  Ours is gas.

Sunday 27 April 2003
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The power came back on at 4:10 AM.  Fortunately, although the wind was strong all night, the temperature stayed right around freezing and the house was bearable.  It is at times like this that we are very glad the hives are still wrapped.  Paulo and Dennis had unwrapped one yard some time back and I had insisted on wrapping it again after we brought it in for loading.  That was fortunate, since the loading area is windswept.

I spent the day at the desk, and Meijers came for supper, braving the snow.  The snowfall is worst in the western districts, and checking tomorrow's forecast, although there is a weather warning  for Hinton, Camrose is predicting sun.

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Today :   Periods of snow. Further accumulations near 10 cm. Wind northwest 20 km/h. High zero. / Tonight :   Snow tapering to flurries this evening. Wind north 20. Low minus 3. / Normals for the period :   Low zero. High 14.

Monday 28 April 2003
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We told the guys to take today off and tomorrow, too.  We'll make it up on the weekend.

I had planned to go to Edmonton this morning, but Ellen was unwilling to go, and she had to drive Jean's car back -- that was the purpose of the trip.  Jean gets out of the hospital today, although the baby will be staying there for some time.  Jean will have a room nearby to be able to care for her until her release.  So, it looks as if I'll be going up later sometime.

Bee moving is at a standstill until the muck clears up.  I agreed with the trenching crew that we would wait until Wednesday to finish the pipe and start backfilling the last section.

From the US Midwest...

#1 son made up 55 splits Sat. & Sun. He tells me he hardly even had to work at it as the bees looked so good. Just lift the lid & grab some full frames. Even the slow ones had 4 to 5 frames of brood. The good ones have 8 to 9 frames. I checked splits that I made up 4 days before & they were plugged out. Had to give all of them a empty frame or two for the queen to lay in.

Bees are on a hell of a flow but awful mean for some reason. My son said the same about the yards 100 miles north west of here . It seems that in years past when they get on a good dandelion flow & the wind is blowing in there face all day they can be as crabby as if there was no flow on at all.

I had to make several phone calls to get queens shipped for this week. I did not get the type I wanted but soon found out I was lucky to get what I got as one breeder had over 70 calls in the last 15 days. He tells me he has cut back on his queen production in the last 2 years due to the number of beekeepers quitting the business & lack of orders. I seem to get the same story all but to many times from many of my older breeders. Now this year the phone is ringing off the hook.

Called to firm up some prices on HFCS. Seems the price has declined a little, but still not in line with the price of a bushel corn. As I have told you in the past no doubt the big 3 control the price. A bushel corn going into the mill is less money today than it was 4 years ago, yet the price of HFC is close to double in price. But then one must look at what the price of honey has done in the past 18 months.

Your snow pictures make me shiver.

Me too.

Ellen went to town and got the tires rotated and bought groceries and crop insurance.  (Deadline is the 30th).  In mid-afternoon the customer who had truck trouble phoned to say he was getting it fixed and sounds like he is back on track.  Now we just have to wait until the ground dries enough to load him.  I estimate it will be Wednesday before we want to try.

Today :   Cloudy with a few flurries. Wind light. High plus 3. / Tonight :   Mainly cloudy. Wind light. Low minus 4. / Normals  for the period :   Low zero. High 14.

Tuesday 29 April 2003
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I've been reading back over this diary and can see that there is now a trail going back several years.  It is now possible to compare what was happening on any date.  Hopefully this will be useful to readers.  As for me, I can see that a lot of the fun has gone out of these activities.  I think that is largely due to the scale on which we have been operating over the past few years.  Running a large business has its rewards, but is fatiguing, and involves responsibility for too many others to suit me in the long run.  We're just about cut back to the level where things should be fun again.

The guys were off again today, and Ellen and I drove to Edmonton to return Jean's car and to visit.  We were home by late evening. There is still snow and water on the ground, but I drove down to where we yard the hives and can see we can load any time.  I notice that teh ice in the pond was submerged and floated up last night.  we had thought it had melted.

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Today :   Cloudy with a few flurries or afternoon showers. Wind light. High 6. / Tonight :   Partly cloudy. Wind light. Low minus 5. /  Normals for the period :   Low 1. High 14.

Wednesday 30 April 2003
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I have started to feed some of the strong hives which are really eating up the protein patties and have little obvious honey stores left.

I'd be surprised if they are short of feed. All the hives remaining here seem okay, nonetheless, feeding is a good idea as long as you don't plug them up and eliminate the empty comb the queen needs for laying eggs. Tipping the hives will give you a feel for how much weight is still in them. Use a known empty hive for comparison.

I have seen recommendations of both 2:1 sugar/water and 1:1 for spring feeding. I believe that the 2:1 is for stimulating brood  rearing, but am somewhat confused in reading different things. Could  I ask your opinion on sugar syrup strength in the spring.

It does not really matter as long as it is over 50/50. By weight or volume does not matter. The result is about the same. It is hard to mix a solution much stronger than 50/50 by hand and without adding heat. Heat can burn sugar, and that is bad. Thin syrup ferments and drowns bees, if you use open feeders. Thick syrup has better surface tension, less wetting ability, and the bees also float better if they fall in.

I am also a bit confused over reversing brood boxes. I am not sure of the timing of doing this or the impact of not doing it. Would you mind giving me your recommendations on this.

We only reverse if the top box is very heavy or we are planning to do splits and want even amounts of brood top and bottom. I advise beginners not to do it.

In your diary (I am a faithful reader), you mention putting on "thirds" in early May of last year. I assume that these are a third brood chamber and only go on very strong hives. If you could advise on the necessity and timing of doing this I would be grateful.

Correct. Again, this is something we do only if the hives seem either crowded or plugged with feed and if we are planning to make splits. Bees like boxes that have been recently occupied much better than boxes from dead hives or storage. By putting such boxes on a really strong hive for a while before splitting, the bees accept those frames much better when splits are made later.

In the next few weeks, the first hatch big will emerge and ambient temperatures will increase. Suddenly hives that seem okay now may become crowded. If they plug up on dandelion or get crowded, either they may reduce build-up or they may swarm. Either result is undesirable. It is too early to add supers, since we are still medicating or treating for varroa and tracheal, so a brood box is a logical third.

We must, however, remove the third later before supering if we plan to use excluders, since bees will usually go up nicely if the excluder is above a double brood, but with three broods, they often will not go up into the supers well. Sometimes they will just stay down and plug up or swarm in three broods. If no excluder is used, three broods is a good system and some good beekeepers use three year round.

Thanks so much for you continued help Allen, and please let me know if I am pushing your good faith by bothering you with questions.

Not at all, and you are welcome to phone. Beekeeping is what I like to talk about.

I also want to thank you for your recommendation of "MailWasher" a month or so ago (in your Diary). I get a huge amount of junk mail and feel this gives me a small modicum of power over the spammers. Thanks for that.

I have relied on MailWasher for quite some time now. There are other solutions, but MailWasher is the one that works for me. Recently I changed my email address, and the old account went away. With it went the SPAM -- for now. What a blessed relief.


More from the US Midwest...

We have had several inches of rain here in town over the past 48 hours. Plenty of noise to go with all the rain to boot. Have not had a good nights sleep in it seems forever. I see counties to the north of us are under a flash flood warning for this morning. The radar to the south west of us shows a lot of red. We went from drought to mud holes in 3 days.

Our beekeeper neighbor from the farm called to tell us that the war is on for tallow locations in east Texas. I thought it was strange that some of my people at work stopped by my desk on Monday to ask as to why they had seen so may loads of bee equipment headed south down the interstate over the past week or so. He tells me there is a bunch of upset beekeepers as the newbees move in & set on top of there established locations. One operator moved in over 10,000 hives, another 7k.

Some are putting as many as 1,000 per location. And the story goes on. Another has his own dirt moving construction equipment & made his own bee yards in some of the swampy muck were no one else has ever been able to set bees due to the high water table. He just started digging & made a piece of ground raised high & dry so he could set bees were no one else could.  And every body thinks the beekeeper is a little slow between the ears. Guess again. Seems $1.50 honey makes inventors & engineers out of darn near all of us.

Post office just called as they have a queen battery for me to pick up.  Many at the post office are real cool about bees thru the mail, but I still have to snicker as a good many that give you that, " buddy you have a screw loose ", messing with bees, look.

Hope you have a good day Allen, & maybe your snow will all melt.

This is going to be an interesting year.


An excerpt from a note I wrote to a buyer who is hauling bees out of here.

Ellen says the trailer you will be using has a deck 8 feet by 25 feet and that you do not know what the maximum safe load would be.  Although we can take no responsibility for how you load and haul bees on your own equipment (or ours either for that matter), we feel obliged to warn you about some obvious problems you will encounter. 

In the past, we hauled bees the way you are intending to do, and must say that we were seldom able to make a move without losing bricks, lids, reducers, and/or sometimes entire hives.  That is why we came up with our current methods.  That is not to say that beekeepers are not able to move loads the way you intend.  We had several loads leave here for BC and Northern Alberta, and I am sure they traveled without a problem.  The BC loads were netted, and the northern beekeepers are experienced.  They brought with them all the necessary supplies, including sheets of plywood and lots of straps.  They were hauling on solid truck decks, too, and not on trailers, which tend to bounce.

The major problem that I see you will have is that the pallets of bees do not fit tight together.  There are spaces between the hives.  If you try to strap them tightly, the hives will move on their bases and jumble a bit.  Unless you bring pallets and/or sheets of plywood to put on the top, or tarp the load, the lids will lift and shift and your straps will loosen.  Moreover, unless you strap every hive -- or tarp the load -- some hives may not be held tightly.  The lids are not all exactly the same height.  Bricks will be another problem.  Do you have anchor points for each strap where it will need to anchor?  Are you considering using corner strips or boards nailed on?

How many pallets you can get on is another question.  Each pallet weighs somewhere between 500 and 600 pounds, on average, last time we weighed.  A 24’ x 8’ deck will hold 14 pallets, and that is 56 hives.  The weight is thus estimated at 8,400 lbs.  If you go two layers high, then that comes to 112 hives and a weight of 16,800 lbs.  Will your trailer carry that safely?  If your trailer is rated too low, you’ll do damage to the trailer.  If it is rated to high compared to the load, it will bounce and shake the hives up badly.

Depending on what your trailer weighs and what tires it has, you will have to decide what you can carry.   We are assuming it is a flat deck, but Ellen says that you have used the unit for cattle before, so perhaps it has sides.  If so, I have no idea how you will get the bees in and out.

At any rate, I hope you have figured out all the details of weight, shape and strapping and bring everything necessary.  Once you are loading or carrying bees, you don’t want to have to stop, or try to turn around to go back when you see things falling off the back – or leave beehives in the middle of the road at night.

Dennis and Paulo came in a half-hour early so they could go out to pick up bees.  They did LeMay's and Witstocks S by ten, but had to leave a catch hive at the second yard, because the bees were starting to fly.  We now have about 285 hives in the home yard awaiting pickup.  The mud has slowed things down, but hopefully we will get going again now.  It is going to be a warm day today, but we may be looking at snow again on the weekend.

Today :   Mainly sunny. Wind light. High 11.
Tonight :   Clear. Wind light. Low zero.
Thursday :   Sunny. Wind light. High 14.
Friday :   A mix of sun and cloud. Low 2. High 14.
Saturday :   Cloudy. 30 percent chance of showers. Low 2. High 8.
Sunday :   60 percent chance of flurries or showers. Low minus 2. High 5.
Normals for the period :   Low 1. High 14.

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