A general sort of winter storm

By Jim Suber

On the wild Plains a high price is often commanded for moisture.

As far as snows go or snow goes, we’ve all seen worse. Not that this one wasn’t a fine storm, but like a boxer, each brings its own style to the fight, and some stand out through the years.

This storm was a generalist. It had some stiff wind, not from the northwest at the height of its fury, but a steady blow hard enough to drive the white stuff almost horizontally from the east. It had plenty of moisture. I measured 14 percent. Ten inches of snow would yield 1.4 inches of water. It was big, covering several states at once with different problems. Its east wind piled up tough drifts in strange places. It was stubborn. It hovered long, taunting us, its downed opponent with a menacing glower. It was plenty mean.

Yet it lacked singularity, in my opinion. For depth, there was the time in ’98 in Deadwood when 17 inches fell, along with every utility pole for miles around. One Christmas a few years ago the wind blew hard, the temperature was extremely low, the snow heavy, drifts deep, and the 60-mile drive home a bad dream.

There were a couple of storms back in the late 70s between Christmas and New Year’s Eve that required bulldozers to clear the drifts from our township roads. For ice there was the time a few years ago when some folks out in the country were without electricity (and often water because it ran their wells) for more than two weeks. Or the ice storm my senior year on 12-31-63 that trimmed the northernmost growth line for slash (a species) pine trees in central Georgia back 40 miles to the south. That was a doozey. Our house caught fire; the electricity was out; four stranded travelers taking shelter in our home were smoked and without rest; and our pecan farm loss of limbs was huge.

Everyone has his or her favorite snow storms to have survived. One of mine is the time my wife and mother decided to go shopping in Topeka one Saturday morning after ignoring the forecast. A furious mess hit rapidly with wind and snow and ice. A tragic mass pileup of vehicles ensued on I-70 a few miles south of our home in Wabaunsee County. My wife and mother left Topeka but were diverted toward U.S. 24. Somehow my wife drove onto a minimum maintenance country road southwest of Silver Lake. The front-wheel drive car churned on, but scraping bottom with every inch. My mother sat stoically, maybe wondering if this was leading to a lousy end of a good life.

For no good reason, a pickup truck appeared just ahead. It was making a path. Even better, its driver seemed aware of the low car behind it, and the truck’s driver led them to a well-used and familiar road. Yes, I believe in miracles like that.

Few storms could match one about 15 years ago in early March when one day the temperatures were approaching 70 but with a very high humidity. Then it happened. Livestock suffocated trying to get air, the storm was so smothering, and the temperature fell quickly to zero. Trees and shrubs were injured by the sudden deep freeze and folks were stunned by the suddenness.

This storm, with great advance warning, didn’t leave quickly with sunshine behind. It had no party atmosphere. No, we were already battered by a cold enough winter and anxiety about the drought. This round with Nature felt like something simply to be endured.

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