Just In Time for Christmas
It’s still green here in the Upper Midwest, and natives are starting to grouse about the lack of snow. After all, what is winter for if people can’t run their snowmobiles, ice fish on a mere two inches of ice, and slide around empty parking lots at top speed to demonstrate how slippery snow is! Like we didn’t already know that the season to be jolly is also the season to visit the ER!
Winter brings to mind storms, and we have both Time and the University of Minnesota to thank for compiling lists of the biggest and baddest of winter storms in living memory (well, my living memory anyway). We’re not talking a miserable little four to six inches of snow and winds up to 40 miles per hour (mph). No indeed; we are talking apocalyptic events, doom-blizzards, is-this-the-end-of-the-world? or am I lost? scenarios.
- Starting with November 28, 1960, when a Northeaster decimated the shores of Lake Superior, precipitating up to 40-foot waves, three feet of water in the city of Grand Marais, Minnesota and winds up to 73 mph, which took the foot of snow in Duluth and magnified it into the sort of event where people got lost 10 feet from their back doors.
- Another storm, not nearly as ferocious, sank the Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior on Nov. 10, 1975. All 29 of the crew died, and the event has since been immortalized in a song of the same name by Gordon Lightfoot. To this day, the cause of her sinking remains unknown.
- In January of that same year, Minnesota was swept with one of the strongest storms in history. One to two feet of snow and 80 mph winds that pushed that snow into 20-foot drifts and closed roads for almost two weeks in some areas of the state. The direct death toll was 14; another 21 died from heart attacks, largely shoveling snow.
- Again in 1975, in the latter part of March, 100 mph winds created 20-foot waves on Lake Superior and reduced visibility from blowing snow to hands-in-front-of-face-vision, or what weathermen call a whiteout.
- The Upper Midwest doesn’t hold the record for terrible storms, though. In January of 1978, what meteorologists call a “weather bomb” perched over Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. This Cleveland superbomb dumped up to three feet of snow in some places, and gusts of wind up to 100 mph built snowdrifts up to 25 feet. When roads became impassable, emergency services (including doctors) were forced to ski or snowmobile to tend to the sick and injured. Two weeks later, the Great New England Blizzard of 1978 saw more than two feet of snow swept into 10-foot snow banks by winds clocked at 110 mph.
- In Nov. of 1981, a blanket of heavy, wet snow more than a foot deep was responsible for the collapse of the Minneapolis Metrodome’s roof.
- I personally remember the Halloween Blizzard of October 1991, largely because I had made my escape to California! While Minnesota and Iowa struggled under their blankets of up to 37 inches of snow over a blanket of black ice up to two inches thick, I-35 (the Twin Cities interchange) was closed. In addition, 80,000 homes lost power for a significant length of time. The cost in Iowa, where crops were flattened, was estimated at $5 million (big money in 1991, but more like pocket change in today’s economy). In Minnesota, where 11 counties were declared disaster areas, that cost more than doubled, to $11 million.
- In March of 1993, The Storm of the Century brought ice and snow to half the population of the U.S. From Canada to Central America. This massive disturbance dropped two feet of snow in some areas. In others, heavy rains, hurricane wind speeds and tornadoes succeeded in making the kind of mess that take years to clean up. Wind speeds hit 144 mph in New Hampshire, 56 inches of snow fell in Tennessee, and approximately 15 tornadoes descended on Florida. The final death toll was 300+.
- The blizzard of January 1996 ran up and down the northern part of the Atlantic seaboard, hitting Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island and even reaching as far west as Central Pennsylvania. From four feet of snow in West Virginia, and 50 mph winds in some areas, the storm wrought $3 billion in cleanup costs and snarled up the commute (via airplane, train, bus or car) for those returning home from the holidays.
Thanks to global warming, aka climate change, weather experts are already predicting something even more ominous this winter, based on this summer’s bizarre weather.
There is very little anyone can do to improve the weather, but you can keep your family safe if you follow a few tips. Make sure you have a source of warmth and a way to heat food, if possible. Also, make sure prescription medications are filled promptly so that one member of the family doesn’t suffer unduly when roads are closed. Provide a stack of board games and books to keep family members occupied, as television broadcast and cell phone transmission towers may be out during a storm. Also, keep a first aid kit handy for various sprains, strains and aching muscles as grownups and teens try to shovel out.
If you can’t arrange these protections, locate the nearest shelter and find out what you need to bring to complete their accommodations. Towels, toothbrushes and slippers come immediately to mind. Don’t be ashamed; it’s not your fault Mother Nature is seriously annoyed with homo sapiens sapiens (us, that is), and the wonderful thing about a shelter is the amazing new friends you (and your offspring) can make!