imkittymyers at hotmail dot com
Sunday, January 23, 2005
NOW THAT WAS A WINTER
It’s been so long since Upstate NY has experienced an old fashioned winter that even the prediction of snow … we’re talking just a few inches … can clear grocery store shelves of the necessities: beer, chips and videos. Snow, in almost any amount, has become news in our 24/7 Weather Channel mentality. Sad. I don’t deny that today is extremely cold and blustery and that some places are contending with a great deal of snow, but it is WINTER for crissakes!
The last true winter we had here was in ’96-’97. It started snowing on Halloween of ’96 … 3” of slush … and didn’t stop for several months. The weatherman began numbering the storms; I seem to recall at least 16 of them by spring. Not only did you have to clear your driveway, but you had to periodically shovel your roof as well, for fear that the weight of the snow would cause it to collapse. I live across the road from a nursery. The main building is a metal structure with plastic-covered domed extensions on either side. I took pictures of the domes buried by the accumulation of snow. My neighbor’s house’s had icicles which, once formed, continued developing until the roof and the ground were connected by ice columns that measured several feet in diameter. That was the norm that winter, not the exception.
Since that winter we’ve had spells of winter weather … a storm here, a storm there … but mostly the winter months have been relatively mild. Jackets can be worn unzipped and boots are worn primarily as a fashion accessory, not as a necessity. For someone who grew up knowing only white winters, this can be downright depressing. I’m genetically wired for some seasonal downtime; my body needs a few months of honest-to-goodness winter.
I remember the winter of ’72-’73 vividly. We had just moved into a quaint cottage of a home outside of town. DogMan was transferred three hours away. While we were trying to sell our home, he was away during the week and came home for the weekends. It was the kind of winter when I would have normally had to set the alarm to periodically start the car during the night to keep the engine from freezing (which actually happened once that winter within a matter of 2 hours). DogMan, however, had taken our only car, yet I was still setting the alarm at night, not to start the car but to keep our water source from freezing. We lived in the country, and our spring water was a gravity-fed pipe from the hill near our house to a cistern in the basement. When the cistern was filled the water stopped flowing. The problem was, however, that the water pipe from the spring was buried only a few inches underground. If the water didn’t flow continuously, it would freeze, usually within an hour. So, we rigged up a garden hose running from the cistern to the front lawn so the water would keep running. I had to go out every hour during the night to stomp on it in order to break up the ice forming inside the hose. The good ol’ days.
Most people have heard of the Buffalo Blizzard of ’77. We live about 3 hours from Buffalo and we got walloped, too. Everyday it snowed for weeks, months. It snowed so much one night that our Ford Pinto was buried by the next morning. Every single day we had to shovel snow. The highway plows were so overwhelmed that they stopped plowing the shoulders of the road and just concentrated on the lanes, which meant that in order to get your mail and papers, you had to keep the area around your mailbox cleared yourself. The delivery vehicles had to be able to sidle right up to your mailbox and be able to drive out again. When you think about it, that’s a helluva stretch of road. Our driveway was a tunnel with walls of snow averaging 6’ high, so high that you just couldn't drive out because you couldn't see oncoming traffic. Instead, you had to stand at the edge of the tunnel and count the cars coming from either direction. Then you jumped back into the car and counted them as they passed by and hoped your way was clear as you skidded out onto the highway. Interestingly enough, our local schools were rarely closed that year.
We still had it easy compared to Buffalo. They received a record 199.4” of snow (over 16 FEET) that year. The book WHITE DEATH: The Blizzard of ‘77 is a fascinating compilation of first-hand accounts of that storm. You can read several excerpts online by clicking on the link, and you’ve got to see the most amazing picture of a snow filled living room (about 6 “pages” in). The winter “hurricane” blew in the window and filled the living room with snow while there were children in the house. Absolutely harrowing! Now that was a winter.