Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Severity of blizzards increases over time...

By Jim Heffernan

As this is being written (midday Feb. 29), the Duluth area is being hit by a massive blizzard with near-hurricane-force winds, heavy snowfall, drifting and disruptions to civil society – nearly everything is closed down. Of course you knew that if you live anywhere near the Head of the Lakes.

And as this is being written, I am sitting in a high-rise condo overlooking a wide sandy beach on the Gulf of Mexico as it laps the shore of Florida. It could be sunnier, but the temperature is in the low 70s.

I’d rather be in Duluth.

Call me crazy, but I enjoy the excitement of blizzards. The hunkering down, the challenge of moving about the city. If it’s not impossible to plow through the drifts and deep snow or to see out the windshield due to whiteouts, I like to slip my SUV into all-wheel drive and ride around in major snowstorms.

That’s how crazy I am.

So enjoy, those of you who might read this before it ends, and be grateful after it is over that you survived what certainly will be remembered as The Great Leap Year Blizzard of 2012.

All of that said, I hasten to remind that, while I am some 1,300 miles due south of Duluth, I pretty-much know as much about what is going on there -- snowfall rates, wind speeds, school closings, highway closings, bus service cut back -- as Duluthians do, thanks to the Internet.

Call it the information age.

But sometimes I look back nostalgically on earlier times in my life when the Weather Service (it was a Bureau then) did not see these storms coming from a thousand miles away and give warnings days in advance of their impending, then imminent, arrival. No weather satellites, no Doppler radar, no Internet to spread the word. We had radio, but it only kicked in after the snowstorm had begun.

One of the joys of blizzards in those days was that they could surprise you. I can recall going to a movie on an ordinary winter night and walking out two hours later into a raging snowstorm I had no idea was coming, placing in doubt my ability to make it home that night (I always did).

One time as a child I was Christmas shopping downtown with my mother at the old Big Duluth clothing store. When we walked in, things were normal. When we came out, the evergreen holiday decorations strung over Superior Street in those days were wildly swinging, blinding snow obscured visibility and we hastily caught a bus home. Walking up hill from the bus stop to our house, all was quiet, except for the wind. No traffic. We walked up the middle of the street in ruts vehicles made before the hillside street became impassible to uphill traffic.

I think the dearth of warning and the excitement of suddenly being on the receiving end of a major snowstorm in those days is responsible for all those stories told by the older generation starting out, “This storm is nothing. Why, when I was a boy…” It could be a girl.

Some people will remember this Leap Year storm for the rest of their lives. And it likely will get more severe as the years go by.

Like the night as a child when I was Christmas shopping with my mother and… Well, there it is.

Enjoy today, you Northland denizens. And remember it in the future. Don’t forget to make it better. I’ll be back mid-March so there’s hope we’ll get another before spring ruins everything.

If you want to see a great video of the blizzard taken earlier today, click HERE to view John Meyers' Duluth News Tribune story.

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