Saturday, January 26, 2008

About when I was really cold, in 1978

Thirty years ago, I learned what cold really was.
All week, our local media has been helping us relive the Blizzard of '78. Or, if you are so young as to not have been alive -- or cognizant -- in 1978, you are being educated.

From Wikipedia:
"The Great Blizzard of 1978 struck across the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes on January 26, 1978, with a center in northwestern Ohio. A freak convergence of two atmospheric low pressure systems resulted in a "storm of unprecedented magnitude", according to the National Weather Service, who categorized it as a rare severe blizzard, the most menacing grade of winter storm. Particularly hard hit were the states of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and southeast Wisconsin where up to 40" of snow fell. Winds gusting up to 100 mph caused drifts that nearly covered some homes. Wind chill reached 60°F below across much of Ohio where 51 of the total 70 storm-related deaths occurred.[1]"

Often, nowadays, when extreme weather hits, we hear it called a "100-year storm." Hurricane Katrina comes to mind.
I didn't know it then, but we were living through a true "100-year storm." And here's the lesson I learned: Although you can manufacture some fun during a severe blizzard -- if you happen to be somewhere safe and warm -- there is no fun about them if you are out in them, whether by accident or on purpose.
There have been lots of stories in the papers about peoples' blizzard experiences, and some of them are the "we partied for five days" type. But one yesterday was a reminder of how life-threatening the conditions were--four people caught in a car, buried by snow, for two days on I69 trying to drive to Fort Wayne from Indianapolis.
We lived in a small, poorly insulated house on the southeast side of Fort Wayne back then. Sometime Wednesday late afternoon or early evening, the wind cranked up, and it didn't back down until sometime early Friday morning. I'll never forget the unceasing howling of the wind. It blew so long and so hard, it was frightening, and the cold (plus the wind chill) was unbelievable. When the wind finally calmed a little very early Friday morning, the silence woke me up.
And then, the whiteness. While the snow fell, the view out every window was a whiteout. And on Friday, after the snow stopped, the sun came out, and the brilliance of the white landscape against the blue sky was stunning, and beautiful, and deceptive, because it was so terribly cold.
We were snowed in from Wednesday until the next Monday. We passed the time by watching a new local TV station that played movie after movie, and listening to the radio (one bulletin after another), and watching the local news (the news staff was looking pretty ragged after a couple of days), and sleeping in, and our neighbors had a potluck dinner on Saturday that everyone trudged through the drifts to attend.
When we could finally get out of the house, the city was like a big, high-walled maze--there were snow walls along every street. But wow--was it good to get out!
Effects linger from the blizzard. Any kind of winter storm warning brings a rush on the groceries and the gas stations. And since none of the storms we've had since--even one last winter that was officially labeled a "blizzard"--have measured up to 1978.
But here's what I really connect to the '78 blizzard: I was pregnant with our daughter; she would be born in April, a spring baby, sunny and warm-hearted. No blizzard memories for her. baby will be 30 this April.
Now, how the heck did that happen? That's a 100-year (or, should I say, 30-year?) storm to me.
How about you? Have you survived a "storm of the century"?

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