Blindsided by a Blizzard

Today I've been battening down the hatches for the epic winter storm that is predicted to hit us, starting tonight and lasting until Wednesday morning. Like everyone else, I bought groceries that will sustain us if our power goes out. I've boiled eggs, made tapioca pudding, and filled containers with drinking water. We will likely not lose our water, given we are on town water. Though one never knows about water pipes freezing and breaking, so this is just in case. We've got a flashlight recharging and candles and matches handy. If our power goes out, we lose our heat. Oh well, then. We might just need to wrap ourselves in blankets and sit next to one another on the couch to stay warm.

I was telling David over dinner tonight that even though I don't look forward to this storm, I would much rather be stuck here in this house with him than the house I grew up in. We were used to no electricity, so one would think we would have been more prepared than we are now. But who I get cooped up with in a storm is more important to me than whether I can cook on my stove or have my house stay a comfortable temperature. I have not doubt we'll manage. And we'll get plenty of exercise when it's time to dig ourselves out.

As we head into this storm, I am remembering the blizzard we had when I was in eighth grade. Unlike the storm that is predicted for tonight, the one I remember from my school days seemed to take everyone by surprise. Our teacher, who I call Eugene, had debilitating arthritis that would often result in subsitute teachers. However, on this particular day, he was in school.

My first indication that not all was well came with a look of concern on Eugene's face as he looked out the window. I turned around in my seat and looked out into the schoolyard. I could see the barn in an eerie darkness, twenty yards from the schoolhouse. Then the wind hit the side of the schoolhouse with a loud thud. I looked out and saw snow whirling out of the darkness. Eugene said we needed to leave school immediately. He had one of the older boys open the heavy green canvas curtain that separated the four older grades from the four younger ones. The schoolroom was quieter than I had ever heard it.

Eugene talked to everyone in a serious tone of voice, saying we should all dress as warmly and as quickly as we could. He instructed us on how to form a chain with everyone holding hands. He said we should alternate between the older and the younger pupils. He looked sternly at the older boys and said, “This is not a time to worry about whose hand you are holding." He told us all that under no circumstances is anyone to let go of the hands they are holding. He explained that we were going to walk down to the end of the school driveway to meet Yoxall, the man who transported us to and from school. The children waiting for the second and third loads would stay at Ervin Bylers, who lived out by the road.

When I looked out into the schoolyard, I saw a sheet of white. The wall of the barn was no longer visible.

We all wrapped ourselves up and formed a line, holding hands. Eugene was in the front of the line and Ruth Byler, the lower grade teacher, was at the end of the line, with us 72 pupils in between. Then Eugene opened the door and the blizzard came in to meet us. I had never experienced such a biting wind. We all waited while Ruth closed the door, then we walked. The wind came from all directions at once. It filled up my throat and took my breath away. It blew underneath my dress, stinging my legs like needles and pushed, pulled, grabbed at me. Most of the time I couldn't see the person ahead of me whose hand I was holding. I wondered how Eugene knew where to go.

I remembered reading in the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories about how people lost in a blizzard would walk in circles. I wondered how Eugene knew where to go. That quarter mile walk had never seemed so long. I was just beginning to wonder if we were lost when someone bumped into Ervin Byler’s barn. Yoxall was waiting for us. I wondered how he had managed to get there.

We were on the first load with the Weavers and the Troyers. We tried to be really quiet so Yoxall could concentrate. I wondered how he knew where to go because most of the time he was driving into a white wall with a few short moments of seeing the road in front of us. He made it to the Weavers, and then got stuck. Dan came with the tractor to pull him out. We were waiting for Dan to pull us out of the snow bank, when Datt emerged out of the storm. He had come to walk us home. I didn’t want to walk because I was already so cold, but there was no choice. It was a half-mile walk, but it seemed like five. Datt and my siblings and I were all nearly frozen when we walked in the lane. That's when I noticed Datt’s ear, as white as a dead man's ear. I'd never seen frostbite before.

We were coming to the door when we remembered we had to enter the house through the cellar. Our regular door wouldn’t stay closed, so we kept it propped shut with a broomstick. As we were going past the door, we heard a loud crashing noise, then Mem screaming and crying out in pain. We hurried through the cellar and found her in a heap on the cement floor below the stairs. She had seen us coming, and hurried down to open the door for us. A fine snow had sifted through the crack in the door onto the painted floor of the landing, making it slippery. Mem had stepped on that and fallen on her back, down the five steps to the cellar. So there we all were, cold as ice blocks. My legs and face were stinging, Datt’s ear was frozen, and Mem couldn’t get up. Datt helped her stand up, then the rest of us walked cautiously up the stairs. I got a rag and wiped up the landing. Then Datt helped Mem up the stairs, one at a time. Mem sat down and cried on the couch for a while. She had a nice fire going in the stove and we crowded around it. Datt’s ear was stinging when it was thawing out and he groaned a few times. We would find out later that Mem's whole back was bruised to a bright purple.

I made supper. I knew Datt loved mashed potatoes, so I made some. Lizzie did the dishes, Sarah and Susie filled the wood box, and Simon helped Joe with the chores. Joe had gotten home from work early because the driver of the carpenter crew had heard the predictions of the blizzard on the radio and had come to them home.

Later I heard that Yoxall got everyone home without any mishaps. Our road was closed for three days. The road crew brought in a snow blower to open our road. It was the biggest machine I ever saw. It looked like the pictures of the big combines I'd had seen in my geography book. When the road crew was done, the snow banks were so tall, they were halfway up the telephone poles on both sides of the road. Even when the sun was shining on the rest of the world, the snow banks shaded the road. It looked like a snow tunnel. Below is an image of the 1970 Ohio blizzard I am remembering. Our snow banks were at least this tall.

What memories do you have of winter storms? Do you look forward to them, or do you dread them? What words of advice do you have for us as we anticipate the one coming at us?

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38 thoughts on “Blindsided by a Blizzard”

  1. I remember the blizzard of 1978. We were snowed in for probably 2 days and without electricity for 3. Fortunately we heated with gas, but our stove was electric, so my mom heated soup on the register.

  2. Your detailed descriptions had me there in the blizzard with you.
    The country roads in Indiana used to stay snow covered longer and we fastened our little red plastic skies onto our boots, tied baler twine to the back of the buggy and hung on with our gloved hands as we skied down the road.

  3. I’ve been through a few snow storms in my time. I remember living in Chicago in January, 1967. I just started a new job in downtown Chicago that week and was afraid I’d get fired if I didn’t show up for work. I had to walk several blocks to catch the bus. The buses were so crowded they couldn’t close the doors because people were hanging on the bottom steps. You had to wait with each bus to see if you could “get a foot in the door”! The bus then had to take me to the “L” station where I transferred to take a train to downtown Chicago. I made it – albeit a little late. I worked that day, then they told us not to come in the following day.

    When we lived in Wisconsin, we had a snow storm and power outage that lasted three days. We had a fireplace there also and a gas stove. It was too cold to sleep upstairs, so we all huddled on the floor and sofa in front of the fireplace and during the day we laid on the floor where the sun was coming through the window – which sure felt good. I have a picture of my brother-in-law’s truck – it looks very much like the above picture!

    We’ve had a snowstorm here in Missouri that dumped 18″ in 24 hours. After the storm, the weather warmed to the 50’s and all the snow melted in 3 days. Our driveway looked like whitewater rapids as it was twisty and down hill. It carved a hole in the driveway so deep, that my husband put our 4 yr. old son in the hole and all you could see was the very top of his blond head. The other kids decided to take the horses and go riding in shirtsleeves! My husband took the tractor down to the road and wound up sliding in a ditch. I went down to see what was going on and had to pull myself back up to the house holding on the barb wire fence. The county trucks finally came and got the tractor out of the ditch and graded the drive for us. There was no way we could fill that hole by ourselves.

    The big storm we had here in Missouri was when we got 8 inches of ice. The area looked like a bomb went off with all the trees and limbs down.
    We had no power for 8 days. We had a fireplace, kerosene lamps, candles, and a gas stove – which I could still light with matches even though the electronic ignition didn’t work. We took the food out of the freezers and refrigerator because everything was starting to defrost and we put it outside. Then it got warm (50’s) and everything spoiled anyway. One can only eat so much food in eight days and the two freezers were full! The dogs and cats ate well! On the 7th day, I looked out the window and saw our neighbors had lights – but we didn’t. I called my son who lived a few miles away and he had power. I called the electric company and discovered that we were on a different line from our neighbors (elec. co. didn’t realize it at the time) so we never got hooked up. It took them another 24 hrs. to get to us. So, after a 7 day stint, I told my son to prepare for company – we NEEDED TO USE HIS SHOWER!!!! That was a tough time for many Missouri residents – many were out of power for over two weeks.

    Even through all the turmoil we’ve gone through over the past years, I would not leave our farm for anything!

    Please stay safe and warm, and we will all patiently await hearing about your “adventures”.

    1. Kristine, thank you for sharing your stories. I can imagine wanting to use someone’s shower after 7 days… :+)

      We had an ice storm when we were living in Vermont when our boys were young. We had our electricity back some five days before some of our friends. We made breakfasts and allowed our friends to shower for days… it was wonderful. Then, as each family had their power restored, they all melted back into their own homes. I missed the company.

      I will let you know of our adventures. Snow is coming down, with an inch or two on the ground. It would be okay with me if is stopped right there…

  4. I don’t remembered that storm I was only 4 but the storm of 1978 was a bad one. I remember being off school a week. There was so much snow it was almost to much, almost, to much to play outside. I also remember having to try to Kleen the driveway for my father. It took all us kids to get it done with 2 shovels for 5 kids. That back when we had no snow mobile suites. Just as many pants and shirts we could wear. Burr
    Winter of 1978 Burton Ohio

    1. Steve, it’s great to hear from someone I knew so long ago. I can imagine what that was like, cleaning a driveway with snow that deep. Brrr is the word right now, as the storm rages outside.

      Take care, Steve.

  5. Saloma, that was a great story! My parents had similar stories about North Dakota. In fact I was born in a blizzard there and the midwife couldn’t get through so my dad attended my birth. Although Mom said he wasn’t much help. :) We left there when I was less than a year old so I never knew a Dakota winter.

    The only time that I experienced a long time power outage wasn’t from snow at all, but wind; an event that has gone down in history as the Columbus Day storm. My brother and his family lived in southern Michigan through a blizzard though and he talked about the 30-foot high road walls, and how everyone was warned to stay off the roads so the road crews could work. I believe that may have been 1970. Hard to tell- Michigan can come up with doozies.

    1. Elva, that is quite the story of your birth! I cannot imagine going through a birth pretty much by myself.

      This morning we don’t have deep, deep snow, but the wind is ferocious. I keep wondering if we’ll lose our electricity because of the wind, as you mentioned in the Columbus Day storm.

      The storm in 1970 in Michigan could very well be the same one I wrote about here, for that was also 1970.

  6. Y’all were staying up late. I woke up early.

    Several things I remember- one relatively recently. Maybe 10 yrs ago. Big storm was predicted. BIG storm. Like this one, everything shut down or canceled in anticipation. I was at the Cooley Dickinson Hospital blood bank and they were fixing to close early and be closed the next day, first time they’d done that. I went home. And then….nothing happened. NOTHING. Not even a snow flake.

    I was in Boston for the ’78 blizzard. I lived on a major truck route, lots of traffic. Went out the first morning. All the parked cars on either side were completely covered. There was a foot path down the middle of the street. The most striking thing, though, was the quiet. No traffic sounds. I worked at a day care center at the time and I walked in to work, in case any kids came. A few did. We had one small group instead of five large ones. We thought maybe we’d take the kids outside. I went to look at the playground. Opened the door and realized that the kids would disappear in the snow. Too deep. No outdoors time.

    I grew up in Detroit and we were pretty used to lots of snow. But one time, I was in high school, I tried to leave to go to the bus and couldn’t get the door open. The snow was so high, it wouldn’t open. Oh. No school, I guess. I don’t remember schools ever being canceled. No such thing as snow days back then. Of course you either walked or took public transportation.

    Well, so far, it looks like a bust here in Northampton. We’ve got maybe 3-4 inches. Dave Hayes, the Weather Nut, went to bed last night, exhausted. He’s not up yet, so we don’t have his excellent assessment. Check him out on Facebook, no matter where you are. He’s thorough and knowledgeable. No added drama.

    1. Johanna, I didn’t realize you live in Northampton… how cool. We are quite surprised that there isn’t more snow this morning. But the wind seems to be blowing through our house, and we thought it was energy efficient! It finds its way in all the little cracks… I hope we don’t lose our heat!

      I can’t tell how much snow we have… it’s so windy that it’s drifted in some areas and windswept in others.

      Thanks for sharing your stories.

  7. I wish you well through the storm. My daughter and her family just moved into their first house in NJ right before New Years, so they are going through this on their own for the first time. Having grown up in MN, I, unfortunately, have been through many.
    I found your blog about a week ago when I was searching for an answer to an “Amish question”. I started at the beginning and have been reading through. I just finished the post on Amish “Theology” from April 25, 2011. You said that the minister at a wedding said that the perfect place for a wife is right under her husbands left arm next to his heart. That it had touched you and stayed in your memory. With the Amish community being highly patriarchal I can understand that. I just wanted to share with you something that hung in my parents home while I was growing up. I know I committed it to memory and I’m guessing my four
    sisters did likewise.
    Woman was created from the rib of man,
    Not from his head to top him,
    Nor from his feet to be trampled upon,
    But out of his side to be equal to him,
    Under his arm to be protected,
    And near his heart to be loved.
    I also want to thank you for sharing your knowledge and experiences. I hope you and your husband stay warm and safe through the blizzard. Blessings to you both.

    1. Laurie, how nice to hear from you. And thank you for letting me know you are reading my blog. It is quite a compliment that you are reading from the beginning.

      Thank you for the lovely poem. I love the last line.

      So far we are doing well in the storm… as I mentioned before, we haven’t gotten nearly as much snow as was predicted, but the wind is quite something.

      I look forward to hearing from you again, Laurie.

  8. There are no real snow storms in Holland. The winers are usually not strict. But in 1978 we could skate on the streets because the streets were frozen!

  9. Saloma, I live in Iowa and we have been watching the weather channel on the blizzard. I love snow, but I feel that might be a bit much even for me. I remember the snow storm here in April 1973. My 2nd son was born on St Patrick’s day, so he was only a year old. We lived in a new housing development on the edge of town. I had a 4 year old at home and the little one was in the hospital with pneumonia. I had been to the hospital day and night, went home on Saturday night, planning on going back early Sunday morning. Well, that couldn’t happen. I cried! I talked to the nurses and the wonderful Nuns at the hospital and was told “Don’t worry, we will spend lots of time rocking babies” We were unable to get out until Tuesday, but I could call the hospital and check on him as often as I wanted. He was in good hands. Of course, faith and prayers were very strong at that time. He will now be 43 on St Patricks day this year. We do get snow here, and sometimes alot, but I pray that everyone out East is safe. My husband and I are retired now, so we can stay in and watch the snow, but I know there are those that can’t. Sometimes I think that “snow days” are good for families, they bring you closer and you appreciate each other more. To you and David, be safe.

    1. Pat, thank you for that heartwarming story. How nice that the nuns were so nurturing of your little one. So glad he is alive and well today.

      The snow has stopped here, it seems. There are still high winds, though, and so we’re staying in where it’s toasty. David shoveled part of the driveway when the wind had died down for a while.

      It looks like the eastern part of the state was hit much harder than we were. And Nantucket had floods. So we count our blessings.

      Thank you for your good wishes, Pat.

  10. I have my own memories of the’78 blizzard. My uncle Nevin from Johnson’s Corners/ Middlefield passed away on the 22nd. The storm hit the day/night of the funeral. There were a lot of out-of-staters come for the funeral, so a lot of the locals had overnight guests that ended up staying longer than planned. As a result many memories were made. One family w/ guests ran out of toilet paper! :) :( They ended up borrowing from the neighbors.
    Unfortunately I missed out on all the excitement. We were living in VA at the time & did not go to the funeral, partly because of the forecast. I was sooo jealous cuz I tho’t it would of been so much to be snowed in w/ my cousins!
    Here in our part of WV there is not much snow predicted, only cold; down to the single digits. It is snowing as I write this, although rather lazily. Be safe, be warm, & I pray your power stays on.

    1. Mary Ellen, it’s great to hear from you. I owe you a letter….

      That sounds like a great story… visitors being stranded with their hosts.

      So far we are very fortunate to have our heat, our electricity… and even our internet uninterrupted.

      The winds have not died down too much. so there is no saying whether we’ll be able to keep all this.

      Take good care.

  11. Wow, Saloma. If you got through that one you’ve little to worry about. As I write this from snowless Charlottesville, I’m thinking of you and hoping it wasn’t as bad as the one you write about here.

    1. Hi Joan. We were spared the worst of the storm, but the people on the coast were not, so my thoughts are with them. We still have strong gusts of wind, but the snow is less than a foot deep.

      Thanks for your good thoughts from C’ville!

  12. My memories of a lot of snow are hard to keep track of exactly when. I think the last big snow that caused some inconvenience was in 1999. After a lot of grief and pain our flower nursery changed hands and my husband and I decided to go to America and visit my father in Michigan. Our son and wife would be living in our house because they couldn’t move into their new house. Then, however our son was able to move afteral and we already had our tickets so off we went. We were the last flight into Detroit because of the heavy snow that had fallen. My sister picked us up from the airport and we made it to her house just in time because everything was covered in deep snow. My sister’s area wasn’t snowplowed so everyone was stuck and gradually people came out and shoveled themselves out. We were unable to go up to visit my father because we were snowed in. When we were able to travel, we went north 3 1/2 hrs to my father and there we got snowed in again. My husband had never seen so much snow in his life and had never experienced such cold. He wasn’t sure he liked it that much and really didn’t want to experience it again. Once years before that my husband and I with our children were visiting in Iowa and it was so hot and muggy that my husband that he didn’t know how he would survive. Holland never gets extremely cold or hot. If you are safe and warm in the winter it is really important. I am now getting ready to fly to Michigan to the snow and cold. My husband is not going along and he says if I want to go and sit in a snowbank it is fine with him as long as he doesn’t need to.

    1. Mary, your story makes me laugh… especially the last line. I’d say I don’t blame your husband. But I bet one thing would be true… he’d be appreciating Holland’s climate when he got back!

      Luckily, we are not buried in snow like they are in the eastern part of the state. We thank our lucky stars.

  13. I hope you came thru this storm ok. When there’s an approaching storm I have this cosmic feeling,(maybe more so now that I’m retired and don’t need to worry about getting out for work.)I loved your story and the replies.It brought back memories Ohio winters. I was in the Chicago Area in 1978 when the storm brought in 2 feet of snow. It was beautiful. Here in Missouri we have a lot less snow.We have ice storms, though.In 1990 we had five inches of ice .I was new to this area and didn’t get how bad that could be.I slithered into work and slithered right back home. I’ll take snow any day ( well in limited amounts!) Stay and safe!

    1. I agree with you, Sally. We endured an ice storm in Vermont back in 1997. That’s when some of our friends were without power for a week. We had ours restored within 36 hours, so we ran a little shower-and-breakfast place for a while. I loved it! Missed it when people had their power restored and melted back into their own homes.

      Thank you for your positive thoughts. The sun is shining here, and the snow is only about 6-8 inches deep. I am happy.

  14. Once again we are writing on the same subjects, Saloma. I am going to link to this blog on my own blog post.

    What an amazing story you told. My own are quite tame in comparison. It was fun to go back and find pictures and even some video footage taken of the Blizzard of 1958 in Lancaster County and to try to remember the sensations of joy of the snow.

    1. Hi Shirley. I know, right? We often do write on the same topics. This time I was first, though. Usually I bring up the rear.

      Thank you for the compliment about my story. It is a lot more fun to write about than it was to live it!

      Great to see you.

  15. We don`t have snow storms in Switzerland but we had a mixture of rain and snow last night that turned into icy rain with a strong wind. The streets were covered with ice this morning.

  16. I really like that story about your teacher. How did he know that Yoxall would be coming for you?

    The worst storm that I ever experienced wasn’t a blizzard. It was Hurricane Sandy. I live inland, and far enough away from tidal waterways that I didn’t experience the complete devastation that so many others did. But the whole region shut down for almost a month, and I lived through that.

    Personally, I kind of enjoyed it. We had no electricity for weeks, which meant no work! The traffic lights were all out, and trees and telephone poles blocked roads all over the state. Also, no electricity meant no hot water and no showers. Then, right on the heels of Hurricane Sandy, a nor’easter hit us. Temperatures dropped from cold to freezing. This was good because it meant we could store our food outside, but bad because we had no heat. To stay warm, we boiled water during the day (surprisingly effective) and piled the comforters on at night.

    It was such a strange time. We didn’t want to drive around too much, because there was a major gasoline shortage. But sometimes we just had to get out of the house. So, we would take up a Quest for Coffee. These drives were an odyssey. We never knew which roads were going to be blocked, or if we’d find an open store. When we did find a place, we ran into other wanderers like ourselves. It felt surreal.

    1. Wow, Stacy, what a story. I was right there with you in the aftermath of the two storms. Unfortunately we would not be able to boil water… we have an electric range. I would have been a wanderer myself. Cabin fever would have set in really fast for me.

      It really is amazing what we can endure, isn’t it? I bet you appreciated your electricity and heat in a way you never had before!

      Thanks for sharing your story.

      1. You know, I really enjoyed life without those amenities. Things slowed down to such a nice, quiet pace, and my focus became so immediate. I think I was the only person enjoying herself, however.

        The year before, when Hurricane Irene came through, the power loss did bother me. I knew it would probably happen, but when it did, it felt so irrevocable that it gave me a shiver. It happened well into the night, when everything was already dark. Things got even darker, and the silence seemed absolute–except for the wind outside, which seemed so much louder.

        The winds during Sandy were loud, as well. But the storm hit in the evening, and we lost power when it was still daylight. We crept outside to feel the force of the wind. We could actually smell the ocean in the air, even though it was miles away. Once back inside, we sat on the couch and looked out the window at the darkening sky. We saw little bursts of green light coming from different places, at random intervals. We later found out that these were the explosions of small transformers.

        Last winter, I spent a couple of months collecting information about structural damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. One of the eeriest things was realizing how many houses had been abandoned. It was a cold, snowy winter, and the undisturbed snowcover at these residences betrayed the lack of activity. Otherwise, I never would have known. A year later, driving down these same streets, many of the houses had been demolished. I couldn’t tell where they’d been. It was like they’d never existed at all.

        Oops, sorry for such a long post! I had a lot in there, I guess!

        1. Stacy, isn’t that a good example of what our lives would be like if we were to clear away all the unessential technologies in our lives? You would likely be a survivor if the world as we know it were to fall apart.

          That is so eerie about the houses that were abandoned and later demolished. I wonder where those people went?

          Your post is not too long. Very interesting and it makes me think about those things we can live without that we think are essentials in our lives.

  17. Well, now it looks like it’s my turn to get walloped. Not blizzard status tho. Just anywhere between 5-15 inches of snow. There’s nothing like a good snow hike.

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