Monday, February 17, 2014

Snow Stories


It’s a well-known fact that it doesn’t snow very often in the South – and when it does it’s not even deep enough to cause a regular snow area to even blink (read that as Colorado, Montana, the Dakotas, Michigan, New Jersey, Maine, etc…) Recently we have experienced a couple of annoying cold weather “storms of the century” (that’s the newscasters’ dramatic words – not mine.) So…I thought it was appropriate to tell some Southern snowstorm stories – don’t worry they are few and short – thank the Good Lord. (Ok - well you know I can drag a story out sometimes...)

I reckon the best place to start is how I experienced snow growing up in the South. Well… I think we got a dusting of snow once or twice in the 17 years I was a consistent resident down close to the GA-FL line. I do remember being excited and intrigued about those times, but I don’t think they were heavier than even being able to build a tiny snowball before it all melted away. The worst part of snow or even unusually cold weather was frozen pipes and dead plants and/or crops. Those weren’t necessarily my concerns at the time – I just remember some adult discussion about “the freeze” ruining this-or-that.  And… I’m not sure how much was sadness from loss of yard work versus loss of crop/livelihood money.

Now, there were opportunities to venture to the great north (Gatlinburg, TN and Cherokee, NC) where snow does fall a few times a year, and occasionally a bad storm will put them under inches – even feet – of snow. However, we mostly chose to visit that region on the every other yearly vacation - in the summer. (FL was so close…why would we drive to the north every winter?) These were wise decisions made by our parents. So… I can’t really remember being north enough to see a “real” amount of snow before we went to West Virginia. It was quite a fun trip. At the time, I was dating a guy I truly loved – and still do – who was an excellent travel companion. He and I had a similar sense of humor, so the 8, 10, whatever hour drive to my aunt and uncle’s house went by quickly. We amused ourselves – and others on the trip. Besides torturing drive-through clerks (I apologize – that was wrong. Funny, but wrong.) we may have possibly created some discord in a store when one of us pretended to be blind and knocked over an entire rack of clothing… That was a fun trip filled with juvenile pranks – but very fun! We arrived safely in WV, and as expected were faced with snow-laden and icy roads. Those folks are used to seeing that – particularly in the mountainous areas – so they were good at preparing the roads. It wasn’t too dangerous, but your vehicle definitely took on a lot of dirty snow/ice. Of course, the reasons to drive up there in the winter were to visit our aunt, uncle and cousins, and to boot – we’d also get to go snow skiing. Hadn’t ever done that in South GA. With graciously loaned snowsuits and gear, we headed to the mountain. I remember crashing a few times and inexplicably excelling a few times… what I most remember, though, is a crash. No, no – it wasn’t mine. It was my younger brother’s crash. Bless his heart, he had decided to brave one of those double diamonds. That decision landed him face-first, legs split into a tree… He made it down the mountain. I’ll still never forget him throwing his skis, gloves, jacket down a hallway muttering about his crash. My boyfriend and I picked up his discards in his wake, but wisely left my brother alone. Our first big adventure into snow was good overall, but I was yet to encounter real snow, real deep – blizzards, even…

This may seem completely unrelated…I was planning a beach trip. Hold on – I’ll get there: it was nearing spring break at Berry College. Some of my friends and I were going to visit my family in South GA and then spend 5 days or so at the beach in the panhandle of FL. Lo and behold, one week before the break we had a blizzard hit north GA. At the college’s main campus it wasn’t terrible – a few feet, but we definitely had some fun in the drifts that got as deep as 6-7 feet (mostly due to depressions or soccer practice fields lower than “street height” or depressions due to sinkholes…sorry, a different story entirely.) We did, however, lose power and were simultaneously unable to evacuate. The college was wonderful in providing whatever food they had available at no charge to anyone, and we figured it was a good idea to stuff all our mini-refrigerator items into the snow to keep ‘em safe. It worked quite well until we ran out of milk and cereal – I mean, that’s usually all we had in our minis. OK… other fun things I recall from that blizzard: making snow angels; playing cards at the boys’ basketball team’s apartment (I was a college athletic trainer at the time, so I knew all of them well and went with a group of female athletes.); hiking through the snow to get food from other dorm rooms; one of the basketball guys turning a vending machine upside down to get food from it; jumping into the snow drifts that were chest or head height just for the fun of it; being grateful for a week off class – and that we knew we’d be in FL days from then. Well, the power outage ran a bit longer than expected – as did the evacuation. At some point we hiked out through the snow to a friend’s parents’ house. We’d never been so grateful for a local student! (That’s entirely not true…this particular student was and is one of the greatest friends I’ve ever had – and that will be immediately backed up by all of the others whose lives she has touched.) After our li’l trek, we were well fed, warm and grateful.

Eventually, the weather complied, and we were able to drive around town again… long enough to pack our swimsuits for FL! We were in college – the thawing of the snow and returning our ability to drive independently were all we were concerned with in the moment. So, off we drove to where Big Mary laid out a marvelous meal in South GA, and we traveled further to have beautiful beach weather on the gulf for a few days.

Back to the snow…there were certainly snow times (mostly it was barely snow that turned into ice – which is actually worse) that I encountered again while I lived in Atlanta. Oh, and before that: I did a li’l job in northern New Mexico. It was on a ranch larger than 100,000 acres. Apparently, in the desert the nights are cold – even in the summer. It actually snowed on us twice in June! I’ll have some future stories to tell about those months with old-fashioned outhouses, horses and sleeping in open lofts, barns and lean-to’s.

The next big unexpected snow throwing a Southern girl for a loop was when I was in Baltimore. (I’m not even going to get into any kind of argument of whether Baltimore is north or South…just gonna tell the story.) Apparently, this was the worst snowstorm in over 100 years for Baltimore. I’ve read some reports that say in over 120 years. Also, the newspapers and weather channels recorded anywhere from 28-37 inches in 3-4 days (depends on which one you’re talking to – and if you factor in those that argue snow should be measured before it’s packed down with its own weight, those estimates would be even higher.) Also, there were certainly drifts deeper than the “official measurements.”

This was our brief break in snow downfall during those 3-4 days. More was to come.

At the time, I lived on sort of a downward sloping neighborhood that stretches from the more city-center-proper to Fell’s Point on the bay. So, in those spots that dipped lower than others, some of the snow was over 4 feet – even when it was packed down.
We obviously figured a way to dig ourselves out a bit – if only for the dawg. :~)

My neighbors’ dogs and our dog couldn’t see above the snow except on higher ground or after they’d run around and stomped on a good enough sized area of it. Now here is where it got even funnier. If I recall correctly when it first started I made it home from work and was then allowed a snow day the next day (this storm lasted 4 days.) The next day, however, I was scheduled to take trauma call in one of the city’s hospitals. I received a phone call that the National Guard would be by to pick me up. After double checking that it was still 4+ feet deep outside the stoop of our walk-up townhouse, I put on my scrubs and topped them off with my entire snowboarding suit – shoes, gloves, goggles and all. I mentioned I’m from GA, right – not Minnesota or Montana. I don’t do snow for long periods of time and resent it when I’m forced into it rather than choosing to go for recreational purposes. So…all dressed up, I hear one of those megaphones calling for Dr. Dixon to please step out. I opened the door and there was a humvee in the middle of the road – maybe 5 or 6 feet away from me. Standing on my stoop I yelled back – how am I supposed to get to you when the snow is over my head? Their practical reply was to jump into the snow near enough to them and raise my hands over my head. Once completed, they would pull me up into the hummer. It actually worked. I’m sure I looked ridiculous, and somebody should’ve filmed the whole thing, but it worked nonetheless. From there it was off to a police station where the roads had been cleared down to just a few inches – a place for me to await my next escort to the hospital – a very nice policeman. Once at the hospital he did remind me that I’d be stuck at the hospital until normal transportation – walking, buses, a friend picking me up by car once the roads cleared – could be arranged. In other words: now, instead of being snowed in at home, you are snowed into this hospital. Great. Fortunately it wasn’t too busy – and obviously, there were other of us residents snowed in there. We mostly did rounds and scut work then moped about the workroom complaining about being stuck and bored. We didn’t have many exciting traumas or surgeries during that time, so we were able to get sleep and catch up on dictations and such. Finally, after 48 hours or so, several fresh residents made it in, and I was able to get a lift home.

After Baltimore, it was off to Portland, OR. For the first few years I lived there the winters were ok. We had one snowfall my first Christmas there that kept the roads pretty sketchy for a week or so (takes longer to melt out there.) I think it was only a few inches then. A few other winters we got some light snow, maybe sleet, but it wasn’t so bad. Most of my snow experience was driving up to Mount Hood to snowboard. The great thing about that is Mt Hood is only 45 minutes away. That means, I can drive in and drive out in the same day. Obviously, they usually had very deep amounts of snow the higher you drive, however, they also were accustomed to this and did a good job keeping the roads fairly cleared. I should mention: the whole state had mandatory times/places where you must have either snow tires or chains on your regular tires. That really prevented many mishaps. I enjoyed being able to go see it when I wanted to and keep out of it when I didn’t want to be in it.

The first really annoying snowstorm I think of when considering Portland is one that happened – I guess winter 2005/2006. It nearly shut the whole city down. Of course, I was needed at the hospital. Well, this particular hospital is on one of the highest hills in Portland – and its roads were definitely inaccessible to regular vehicles. Fortunately, the city had managed to keep most of the trains and trolleys running. Even more fortunate was the fact that the hospital had just completed this giant tram that like a closed in ski lift transported patients and staff from the bottom of the hill to the top – opening inside the hospital itself.

(It was originally put in to help with parking congestion up on the hill, but turned out to be a lifesaver during this storm.) So…I would get up, walk to the nearest train; switch over to a trolley; and take the tram up to work each day (unless of course I had spent the night in the hospital on call.) Lots of fun those commutes…but we survived.

Another annoying snowstorm occurred in 2008/2009’s winter in Oregon. I was commuting about 30-60 minutes each way for work at a hospital further south. This was the area’s worst storm since 1968 – dropping 24 inches of snow in a day or so December 2008. As you can see,some drifts were significantly higher:

One of the idiosyncrasies of this state is for environmental purposes they do not believe in salting the roads for de-icing. Of course, they aren’t going to use any other potentially harmful chemicals, either. The alternative: rocks. That’s right, they dump clumps of sand, dirt and, yes, rocks all over the roads – especially the interstate. Whether it’s during the storm or after, you can almost guarantee that one of those rocks is gonna hit your windshield. So… besides having a nightmare commute at 5am on poorly cleared roads, I also contended with rocks hitting my windshield. I can’t count how many times I’ve had my windshield “patched up” with that li’l glue stuff they use (I currently have two fill-ins in this windshield), but I can tell you that I went through 5 total windshield replacements in 4 years. The windshield repair guys just set up in parking lots and in front of gas stations – they’ll even drive to where you are. Their business is booming in that state.

Now, after moving from Portland, I spent time in Florida and Georgia, so I had a reprieve from the snow. Then…I moved to Charlotte, NC. It is truly a gorgeous city – green and lush from spring to fall. This winter, however, has proven to be a bear. I was a bit disappointed when it was so cold my hair gel froze each time I walked from the building to my vehicle, but a week later when it started to snow… oh my… The governor declared a state of emergency and called out the National Guard. The last moment I dared brave driving, there were wrecks all around, and I fishtailed at every stoplight and turn – and that was with 4-wheel drive. I swore I wasn’t going back out there. And then work called. :~( Fortunately, a very kind man agreed to drop me off. That was wonderful. I need to make a note here that I am currently working at a restaurant. The restaurant was out-of-control that night. There were only 5 of us. Normally, there’d be 5-6 in the kitchen; 1-2 expo’ing; 5-6 waitstaff; 1-3 bartenders; 1-2 hostesses; 2-4 bussers; 1-2 dishwashers and a manager or two. That’s conservatively in the 17-20+ range. There were 5 of us. We knocked it out – but it was crazy. There were 2 chefs, 1 manager, 1 busser and me expo’ing. Well, as you can imagine, that’s not how we ran it. There were 5 people who did everything from cooking to washing dishes to cleaning to bussing to serving to bartending to answering the phones to delivering room service (there's a hotel next door)to answering the phones to taking out the garbage…you get the idea. I think each of us did just about every job in that restaurant at one point or another. We kinda fell into areas that we mostly stuck to, but we were frequently pulled around to all those others if only for a few minutes at a time. We succeeded, though. The final part to this story is that I could not find a ride home, so I walked. The snow on the ground was only 2 or so inches…but it was sleeting rain. I actually got wind burn on my face during that 1 ½ - 2 mile walk back, and I was, of course, completely soaked through all my many layers of clothing. I was grateful to have a safe, dry, warm place to go...

I reckon in conclusion, I’ll simply say this. I am a Southerner. I will always be a Southerner – no matter where I am – because it’s who I am. 
And I don’t like snow.


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