Sunday, December 12, 2010

Blizzards Then and Now

Our first blizzard of the season hit Saturday, December 11 (ignore the date on the picture; it is not set correctly for some reason) . After dumping seven inches of snow swirled by wind gusts up to 53 miles per hour, this storm went on to collapse the roof of the Metrodome in Minneapolis and wreak havoc across the northern Midwest.

Major interstate highways were closed. We were smart enough to heed the warnings to stay put and were happy to do so. We had shelter, electricity, food, running water, and things to keep us occupied (books, TV, Christmas card writing) while the storm roared outside.

The storm reminded me of a book I read last year, The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin. It's set in our region during the blizzard of 1888, called the "Children's Blizzard" because so many children died. The book is a riveting account of prairie settlement, extreme weather, the fledging weather service and its ineptitude and politics, the science behind the weather, and the families that suffered. It's a touching book in many ways.

Nowadays, the weather service is less political and much more accurate, thanks to modern technology. Communication about weather is easily sent and received. Fabric for outerwear, boots, and gloves has improved. As a society, we have learned a lot about dealing with extreme weather. Still, people caught in it die every year.

The Children's Blizzard suggests in its conclusion that this part of the country should never have been settled, as it is not fit for habitation. It does take tough stuff to live here, but a sense of community keeps us looking out for each other and helps us laugh with each other--we're all in this together. Fortunately, in modern times blizzards don't set us back for long. Here's a typical scene in local neighborhoods the day after the storm:
Another dire blizzard account set in our region is Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter. This one, from a young teen girl's perspective, shows the effects of weeks of deprivation as supplies could not get reach town during the blizzard of 1880-1881. This story has a happier ending than the book mentioned above, with the train getting through in time to save the settlers.

Some things in this region have not changed when it comes to blizzards. The weather still rears its ugly head, and we must still be prepared. When blizzards hit, we hunker down, concerned for those who might be out in it. Forced from our daily business, we are reminded of what's most important--life, loved ones, and simple pleasures--and are thankful for what we have.

What stormy weather stories can you tell?

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