Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Great Blizzard

Today some thoughts on the blizzard. Not the Dairy Queen kind, though it's one of my favorite things. As our local news outlets are reminding those of us in the Cincinnati metro area, this weekend marks the 30th anniversary of the blizzard of 1978, one of the most severe weather events our climate zone has ever experienced. I was just a tot when the storm hit, but I still remember a few things. And the details I can't remember are being re-told this weekend as everybody discusses "Where were you when..."

The winter of 1977--1978 was our first winter in this area. In October, we arrived in the 'burbs as fresh-faced rubes from the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. And from what I've heard, that was one hell of a winter to be a Cincinnatian.

Until I reasearched the statistics and logistics, I didn't realize just how rare an event a "severe blizzard" is. That storm was more like an inland hurricane (with snow) than like the other snow storms I've lived through in my 30-odd years. The barometric pressure dropped to record lows (at that time) for the continental U.S. and winds gusted to 100 mph. The amount of snow in the tri-state area wasn't that impressive, but the low temperatures and high winds created icy, towering drifts that stranded motorists and blocked people into their own homes for a week. A truck driver, who miraculously lived to tell the tale, was trapped in his rig for almost a week due to drifts that knocked over and completely covered his semi. He wasn't rescued until the snow finally started to thaw and the National Guard spotted the cab. People died in our area from being trapped in their cars, or from losing their electricity and their heat; with no cell phones, and with all major roads closed by emergency officials, it was almost impossible to check on and reach missing motorists and folks living in secluded areas.

And, though not all chilling tales of life or death, everyone has a story to tell.

My sister, to this day, marks the eve of the winter of 1978 as the last time in her life that she was skinny. Our school district was not one to cancel classes for a couple of inches of snow (we were walkers, not bussers), but prior to the late-January blizzard there had already been enough heavy January snow for Sis to have missed a few days. The blizzard itself cancelled school for weeks, and her sustenance of both choice and necessity during those days of going nowhere was broiled powdered-sugar doughnuts. The main ingredient was readily available at the convenience store up the road, which was the only place we could reasonably travel to the first week after the storm, and we were running the oven a lot to add to the warmth of our house, anyway. Her body was never the same afterward.

We learned a lot about our just-purchased home during the storm. We learned that the family room, built by the previous owners as an extension off the side of the house, was poorly contructed. How did we learn this? When snow drifted under the wood panelling and into the room. We kept hearing on the news about the snow accumulations outside; inside, in the corners of that room, we measured 6 inches.

We also learned that there was something wrong with the vent in the living room, and no heat was coming in (the vent remained broken until 5 years ago, when my parents got a new heating and cooling system and the installer asked, "And you've been living with this for HOW LONG?") The only room in the house that was warm enough to live in as the wind chill made it feel like 30-below outside and the wind blew against the poorly-insulated walls was my little 9 x 9 bedroom. All three of us girls crowded into that room until bedtime, while my stubborn father watched TV with a coat and gloves on in the living room. At night, we slept in our own corners but with winter hats on. But we were lucky; we never lost our electricity.

One night, I remember my dad going out to try to shovel the driveway. I don't know how successful he was, but I do remember him coming in with bowls and bowls of fresh snow, which mom poured milk and chocolate syrup into to make snow cream. It was so cold and so wonderful.

We had an above-ground swimming pool that came with the house, and the water left in it after partially draining at the end of the season froze solid. My sister went out and "skated" on the surface of it in her snow boots. I begged to do the same, and remember looking out the window and seeing her slide around, but was not allowed. Boo.

I've heard from many other people, including my mom, that as the rain first changed over to snow on the morning the storm hit that there was thunder and lightning, and that the lightning had an eerie green glow. I've heard of "thundersnow", and that the phenomenon was also witnessed in the ice storm of 1994 (remember that one, Centre-ites?), though I've yet to personally see it.

The consensus from my family is that it was a cool thing to have been through once, but that they hope they never have to go through it again.

Having so few real memories of it, and being so interested in the freaky side of the weather, I kinda hope we get another "severe blizzard" at some point in my life.

So long as I don't have to go anywhere. And so long as mom tells me how to make snow cream.

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