After the Blizzard
Tuesday was an exciting day in Maine, as we were visited by a classic Nor’easter blizzard. A Nor’easter is a big (usually winter) storm that travels up the east coast of the United States and brings a lot of precipitation accompanied by strong northeasterly winds. If the storm has sustained winds of at least 35 mph and blowing snow with visibility of one-quarter mile or less, and if those conditions last for at least three hours, the storm is a blizzard. This is what we had on Tuesday. The snow actually began on Monday evening and continued for more than 24 hours. For much of that time, the snow was falling at the rate of an inch or more per hour and was whipped around both in the air and on the ground by howling winds.
I was well prepared for this storm. The National Weather Service had issued blizzard warnings days in advance, and in this age of weather hype, meteorologists had excitedly predicted a “historic storm.” By the time the snow began, I had done grocery shopping and tucked my car into the slot between retaining walls at the basement entrance, out of the way of the plow. I also made sure I had plenty of water on hand in case of a power outage. (Like most people in rural Maine, I get water from a drilled well with an electric pump. No electricity, no running water.) As the storm raged on Tuesday, I stayed inside, snug and warm, except for one brief foray out to sweep drifting snow from my roofed front porch and front entry.
I woke up on Wednesday morning to wonderful light and deep snow (as seen here in the back garden). Usually, when trees are covered with snow like this, it is because the snow is heavy, wet and sticky. That was not the case here. Cold temperatures throughout the storm (10-15 F) meant that this snow was light, dry and fluffy. It was the force of the wind that left it stuck to the trees – as though it had been sprayed on with a high-pressure nozzle.
Snowstorms here are usually followed by sunshine, good conditions for getting out and cleaning up. The neighbor who plows our dirt road and my driveway plowed twice during the storm and then came back again on Wednesday morning with a front-end loader. It wasn’t that the snow was too deep or too heavy for his plow. The problem was that this fine powdery snow doesn’t stay put after you plow it. The front end loader allowed him to pick up the snow and dump it behind the existing snow banks – slower than plowing, but very effective.
I got out to begin shoveling in late morning. I began by cleaning off the new porch and deck at the front of my house.
|And then moved on to the front entry, steps and walkway.|
So was this a “historic storm,” as some weather forecasters predicted? Not by my standards. We had a significant snowfall (a little less than 2’ here), but it didn’t set records. And, despite the high winds, the light powdery snow did not bring down any power lines or cause power outages.
My standard of “historic” is the blizzard of February 1978, which I experienced as a graduate student in Providence, Rhode Island. Knowing a snow storm was coming, I rode a bus for the three-mile trip from my apartment to the Brown University campus that morning, rather than bicycling as I normally would have. At the last minute, I grabbed a toothbrush and threw it in my purse – which was a good thing, because by the time I got around to leaving school, a few hours after the snow began, the snow had already piled up about a foot, visibility was almost non-existent, and the city buses had stopped running. I walked with a friend to her apartment a few blocks from campus and ended up spending a week there, finally walking home on the 7th day when the city buses were still not running. About 3 feet of wind-whipped snow fell on Providence that day, and it came down so fast that thousands of motorists were trapped on interstate highways. State police rounded up people from their stuck cars and walked them off the highway to places where they could shelter – for example, schools, fire stations, and restaurants.
My friend Jan and I went to bed in the eerie silence of a city brought to a standstill by the storm and were awakened several hours later by pounding on the front door of the building where she lived. When she went down to investigate, she found Joyce, an art teacher at a suburban school who had been stranded on the highway on her way home from work. Eventually rescued from her car, she was taken to shelter at a public utility building and allowed to sleep in a room with bunk beds for crew. When she was awakened after a few hours and told she would have to get up to allow someone else an opportunity to sleep, Joyce decided that she could walk the mile home and sleep in her own bed.
By the time she had gone a few blocks, Joyce knew she had made a mistake. Trying to walk through waist-high snow in gale-force winds was exhausting, and she was covered from head to toe with wet snow. She realized that she was in trouble, but what to do? She wasn’t sure she had the strength to make it back to the utility building. At that moment, she noticed an open doorway and went in to get some shelter from the snow and wind. She was in the small vestibule of Jan’s apartment building, where the door had blown open. But the vestibule had no place to sit down, was filling with snow blowing in, and the door to the stairs beyond was locked. By the time she began pounding on that door, she was desperate, sobbing and shivering.
The next day, the snow stopped, the sun came out, and people began to make pedestrian paths on top of the snow that clogged Providence’s streets. Having dried off, gotten warm, slept, and had something to eat, Joyce was feeling better (although very much shaken by her ordeal) and ready to finish her walk home.
One year later, I walked home with my friend Jan after we left campus on a beautiful winter afternoon in February 1979. In the vestibule of her apartment building, we found a basket with a bow on it and an envelope with her name. The basket contained a thank-you note from Joyce, a bottle of wine, and an illustrated volume of Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” – a fitting way to remember a historic snow storm.