The first clue that the blizzard has arrived is silence. The usual white noise of distant traffic, barking dogs, sanitation trucks, airplanes is gone—replaced by a white blanket of total quiet. Even the snowplows are banished from the street. Nothing. Everything. Just. Stops. Except, perhaps, for the wind.
Like birthdays, blizzards provide opportunities for reflection. Unlike birthdays, blizzards are random, usually identified by a specific year. People remember blizzards, sometimes fondly. And somehow, the snow remembered from past years always gets deeper, the temperature colder. So, while the wind blows and the snow swirls outside today, here are a few of my blizzard tales.
A lot of folks remember the Blizzard of ’77. I had just moved to Syracuse and was encountering my first Central New York winter. I was driving a Pontiac Astre (terrible car, but the only one I could afford) that wouldn’t start when the temperature dropped below freezing. I lived on a steep hill not far from campus, and I couldn’t get out of the parking lot for a week. I had never encountered so much snow all at once. After five days of getting covered with slush while walking to campus following the storm, I decided to trade cars and move.
We had blizzards in Indiana, too. My mother sadistically enjoyed dressing me in outlandishly uncomfortable outfits. When I was about two years old, I learned to associate snow with itchy clothing, the result of a woolen snowsuit that my mother insisted would keep me warm. What looks like a smile on my face here is actually a grimace.
During the winter of 1971, as I recall, I was driving back to my apartment on the north side of Chicago after a Christmas visit with family in Indiana. The blizzard struck just as I got to northern Indiana that evening. By the time I started up Lake Shore Drive, snow had piled up to about 8-10 inches, bringing traffic to a standstill. There were no plows in sight. Drivers were literally inching along so slowly that people had time to exit their cars, find a suitable snowbank, relieve themselves, and get back in their cars. And then I awoke to our classist society: while we poor souls were struggling through the snow, on their high-rise balconies along Lake Shore Drive the wealthy were laughing, cocktails in hand, at our plight. Obscene gestures from car windows could be observed.
My father was a high school mathematics teacher, but also a basketball coach. During this time of year, he became rabidly obsessed with the county and state tournaments. When a big snowstorm struck one spring when I was 13 years old, he dragooned me into helping him dig our way to the main highway so that we could get to the games that afternoon. Since we lived about ½ mile from the highway, it took us over three hours to dig through the drifts. I recall sleeping through most of the games.
My worst weather-related driving experience occurred in early 1992. My daughter and I had attended my aunt’s funeral in Indiana and were returning to Syracuse. The weather was frightful, especially on the New York Thruway from Buffalo to Syracuse. Snow accumulated on Interstate 90 so much that large trucks were exiting to seek shelter. We had to keep going, however, because the trucks had blocked all the exit ramps. The alternative was to drive or freeze. Somehow, despite the whiteouts, we snaked our way around abandoned vehicles for the entire distance. After finally prying my hands from the steering wheel, I noticed that my knuckles had lost all flexibility.
How will this blizzard stack up? Predictions mention over a foot of snow, followed this afternoon by rain, and then more snow. Disgusting! By the time you read this, I’ll probably be occupied with the snowthrower.
Feel free to add your own stories in the comments below.