Mark Hunter (ozma914) wrote,
Mark Hunter

next week's column: The Blizzard of Ours


I’ve been giving a lot of thought to snow lately.

Actually, I give a lot of thought to snow every winter. Mostly I think how much I hate it. It’s not the snow so much, I suppose, as the fact that it’s cold. And wet. And snowy. That pretty much covers the problems I have with snow.

As I write this, we’re beginning the 30th anniversary of the worst snowstorm to hit northern Indiana ever. That is, unless you count the last ice age, but that was more a glacier thing.

The NOAA says the Blizzard, which began on January 25, 1978, was the worst on record for Indiana, but what do they know? They were snowed in. Besides, we only got 15.5 inches of snow and 50 mph winds – people in the Upper Midwest don’t even bother closing their windows for that. Sure, the temperature dropped to zero, with wind chills 40-50 below, but in International Falls that’s still shirtsleeve weather. Yes, all Indiana roads were closed, but that happens every summer during construction season.

The storm began when a front of Democratic Presidential candidates from the south encountered a sweeping line of Republican Presidential candidates from the west, merging into a perfect storm of blustery speeches and falling expectations. Clouds of slung mud left drifts of broken promises up to six feet high, which didn’t melt away until a second, smaller front of candidates blew hot air across the Hoosier state just before the May primary.

Come to think of it – that’s this year.

The truth is, my personal experience with the Blizzard of ’78 was less than interesting. I was sixteen at the time, and spent that week out of school pretty much shut in at my parent’s house, until a payloader finally managed to get down our street.

Oh, wait. I’m 39 now, that’s right, so I would have been – nine years old. Yup. That’s the ticket. I was nine.

Even at sixteen – I mean, nine – it was obvious that this was a bit more than the average snowstorm. Just after it started, I watched a guy trying to shovel off the sidewalk in front of my house. No, I don’t know why, but it was late January – maybe his brain was already frozen. The wind was blowing so hard that he would lift a shovel full of snow, and by the time he got it high enough to throw, the snow was already gone. It was that kind of wind. Needless to say, he didn’t try for long.

Now, my stepfather had been a reserve police officer, and his brother was a member of the fire department at the time. My five regular readers might remember that I joined up two years later, on my eighteenth birthday … um, I mean nine years later, on my eighteenth birthday. Yeah, that’s it. He figured we should head up to the fire station, to see if they needed any help. I was pleased to discover the snow was only chest deep, and we walked the seven blocks in somewhat less than record time, without encountering a single frozen body or polar bear. Okay, one polar bear. But it was frozen.

A number of people were gathered around radio sets and coffee pots at the station. Frankly, it seemed like not much of anything was going on, and after we’d been up there an hour or so my stepfather elected to head back; I spent the next week shoveling a canyon from the front door of our house to the street, and generally wishing I was in the Deep South.

That was the extent of my participation in a massive, statewide effort to provide aid and assistance to people stranded all over the place, especially in rural areas. It taught me an important lesson, although I didn’t realize it until much later. There are lots of times, at almost any emergency, when responders seem to be just standing around in groups, often rubbernecking as much as the bystanders.

Those of you familiar with the Blizzard of ’78 already know where I’m going with this. Emergency responders from every discipline spent a busy week fighting fires, searching for lost travelers, delivering items like medicine and baby formula, rescuing the stranded and getting critical workers like doctors and nurses to their jobs. A lot of the volunteers left their own families to stand by at the fire station, because in those conditions it would take too long to get from home to the fire trucks if an emergency was called in.

It’s called a standby: Things are bad, and you might be needed any second. Sometimes you spend long hours waiting; other times all hell breaks loose and there’s not a second to rest. Sometimes those guys standing around have just gotten out of a fire and are resting, and other times they’re the crew waiting to rescue their own if something goes wrong.

But if you just stop by for a short time, like I did, and the hell doesn’t happen to break at that moment, you wonder what all the fuss is about. Once I got into the business myself I discovered that, for a firefighter, the waiting is the worst part. There those guys were hovering over the CB radio and the telephone for the next cry for help, hoping it wouldn’t be a fire that the big, two wheel drive trucks couldn’t reach.

I guess that’s the main lesson I took from the Blizzard of ’78. Well, that, and the knowledge that savings accounts are very important, because it takes money to maintain a winter home in Florida.

Sorry, didn’t mean to go off on a tangent like that. This was meant to be a light and funny column, but hey – this is me! Not much of anything is fun about a blizzard, unless it comes from Dairy Queen and has chocolate in it.

The pics are from the Farmland, Indiana Fire Dept....

Tags: column, new era, slightly off the mark

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