As I sit and watch the news, most of it is about the weather. It gives me great pleasure and gratitude that I am in a very small area of the United States that has survived the current blast of winter weather afflicting the rest of the nation with barely any damage. But everybody else – hooboy! For all who don’t recognize the term, ‘hooboy!’ is an exclamation pretty much equivalent to ‘OMG!’.
I have been through forest fires before aerial support was available and blizzards with only a wood stove and been caught in flash floods in pitch black darkness. I remember walking across a parking lot in Austin, Texas on a day when the wind began gusting to speeds I had never known, and it lifted me off my feet for a few terrifying seconds. I’ve survived tornadoes, hurricanes, and blistering heat that took away my breath.
I’ve been grateful that Winter Storm Goliath (I just love that they’ve started naming them like hurricanes) has pretty much just left my area with a glancing blow. The places I used to live were not so lucky. I lost a cousin several years ago when he was a lineman trying to help Oklahoma blizzard victims get their power lines back up, and now Oklahoma is suffering again. I’ve been praying for those volunteers trying to get the power restored for them.
One of my Facebook friends just posted that the local emergency alert system posted a warning about a freezing fog. I used to live in his area, and I’m glad I no longer do, because – hooboy, again – does that bring back a memory!
When I was a girl we lived in the Ozarks in Missouri. One year while we were out of school during Christmas vacation, it became very warm. It stayed warm long enough for the dormant trees to have their sap start rising and flowers start blooming. It was like late spring and everyone enjoyed it thoroughly.
In those days before weather apps and satellites and accurate weather reports, families, farmers, and everybody else was caught by surprise and shock when, after a heavy warm fog descended and lingered for a day or so, the temperature crashed to below freezing. Way below freezing. We lived in the country up in the hills in heavy woods. We awoke to what sounded like a war outside.
Since our home was heated by a wood stove, it was also cold. While dad swiftly lit a fire that had been unnecessary for quite a while, we tried to rub the windows clear only to find the ice was all over the outside. The explosions and cracks and snaps were the tree branches exploding as the sap suddenly froze and expanded. Tree limbs of all sizes were fragmented and sent flying through the air.
The first thing we had noticed on getting out of bed was the lack of electricity. Sure enough, the ice had coagulated on the power lines and brought them down. My dad struggled outside after the trees quieted and looked around as best he could. He reported when he returned that there was about an inch of ice on everything.
We weren’t able to find out how the rest of the area was faring until the freeze thawed and the population was able to get around some, and the power was restored to our non battery radios and television. We knew it was dire enough where we were, since we had to constantly struggle to get to our wood supply and bring it in, and worse yet, find a way to get water. Our water came from an underground water supply that required an electric pump to bring it into the house.
So did all our neighbors, except for an elderly couple living a couple of hills away. They still had an old fashioned hand pump water system. Our dad joined all the other men on our road slipping and sliding their way to the couple’s house carrying what they could to haul water. They had to walk, because vehicles could not handle the ice at all.
The cold was intense. My sisters and I joined together in one old iron framed bed, just large enough to hold two girls at the top and two at the bottom, and my youngest sister, barely a toddler, stayed warm between our parents in their bed. We huddled around the stove in the living room when we were forced to get up long enough to eat. Our small home had been built before insulation, and was drafty. Going to the bathroom was unpleasant, and we ignored personal hygiene until we had water again. But we had it good, considering what others had to deal with.
Remember me saying that farmers were taken by surprise, too? Our area of the Ozarks was farm country. Lots of dairy cattle, beef, horses, chickens, livestock and pets of all kinds were out in the fields and yards enjoying the warm weather. They stayed out in the fog, because who worried about a little water? The cattle were almost all lying down, probably chewing their cuds and enjoying the warm ground, when the temperature dropped.
Horror stories emerged as the news began to filter to us. Farmers awoke to the screams of their animals as the creatures tried to rise from the ground, only to discover the heavy ice now coating them had frozen their milk bags to the ground, and their lurching attempts to rise had torn their milk bags open and ripped the hide from their bellies. Hundreds of animals had to be put down in the fields that first morning, then their carcasses disposed of after the farmers’ tractors could finally find purchase on the ice. My gym teacher had to put her mare’s new foal down after she found it had tried to leap to its feet and ripped its hooves off.
Because of the extensive damage to the power lines, the dairy farmers who had surviving cattle had to milk by hand and soon found themselves unable to deal with the cows who were loudly expressing their pain as their milk bags distended without relief. They called on the local agricultural agents for help, and generators were finally discovered and flown in from all over to power their milking machines.
All the children my age were affected (some to their delight) when it was discovered the sudden freeze had broken the school’s steam heating system that had been shut down over Christmas vacation, but not drained. New parts were brought in, only to freeze and break before the steam heating could beat back the intense cold. We had to go to school through June that year to make up for the time we lost in January. That was no fun, since our school had no air conditioning.
It was a rough winter, but the lessons lingered. Work together with family and friends. Know your neighbors. We always have water stored, and a way to keep warm no matter what heating system our house has. I don’t understand people who have all electric homes and apartments. Always have food that doesn’t have to be cooked, and keep the freezers full so the foods can keep themselves cold in there. Have a way to light the house in the absence of electricity, and very importantly, have a way to pass the time without computer, television, video games, or recharging smart phones. Keep the gas tanks full in the vehicles and bug out bags prepared in case of evacuation. Those lessons have got my family through bad weather, and bad times, of all kinds.
My prayers go out for all the travelers trying to get home, the homebound worrying about food supplies, warmth, and water, and the professionals trying to bring them relief. I pray for the law officers like my nephew in law, the truckers like my relatives, and the commuters like my sister. I pray for us all, and pray that you find it in your hearts to help where you can, and find help where and when you need it.