Snow? You Want to Know About Snow?


(Photo: National Weather Service)
You know the earth is spinning in the right direction when coverage of Anna Nicole Smith is smothered by snow.

The plight of rural New Yorkers whose Toros can’t toss snow over existing drifts recalled stories from my days at The Minneapolis Star:

• The bare-chested and sweating, graying barber tending a half-drum backyard barbecue in snow above his waist in sunny sub-zero weather,

• A homeowner who backed his Chevy into an MGB buried in just-plowed snow at the end of his drive,

• Tracing extension cords to my snow-covered Sunbeam Alpine roadster and deciding to walk and hitchhike to work before 6 a.m. rather than dig it out,

• Covering an historic blizzard. That same roadster stopped in the middle of a windswept two-lane blacktop, westbound highway to the Dakotas. Blown snow filled and iced the air cleaners. Taking them off didn’t help. Carburetors also were filled and iced.

Staying in the car made no sense. Horizontally blown snow was filling the passenger compartment; British convertible tops were justly infamous.

I was ready for bad weather: snow shovel in the trunk along with lots of wool; warm, windproof outer coat and hood; knit cap and scarf; “chopper” buckskin outer mittens lined with rag wool mittens, and pairs of wool socks and rubber boots to keep my feet dry and warm. I could seek shelter or dig a snow cave off the road and munch on chocolate bars until help came. Hunkering down, however, would not produce a story for the next edition.

If I didn’t look directly into the wind, vision was pretty good on the flat, windswept plain. I grabbed my cameras, notebook and pencils and walked until I saw a mailbox — actually two, on opposite sides of the highway. To my right, the drive was covered by snow drifted over my head. To my left, it was blown clean.

I put my head down and walked into the wind until I reached a classic prairie frame home; its elevated south door opened above drifts blocking other entrances.

I banged on windows and doors and the farmer invited me in and suggested I stay the night. I agreed but asked, “Does the phone work?” There would be time to explain.

I told my editor that I’d found the blizzard, would stay with a farm family and drive home the next day with my story and photos. I skipped the details about the car, the walk, the drifts, etc.

Then I told my fiancé (now my wife of almost 41 years) that I was safe and I would be home in the next day. Skipped the details.

That’s when the farmer and his wife explained they hadn’t been out for days. They were eating potatoes and Karo syrup. Everyone — parents and seemingly myriad children — had some nasty gastrointestinal discomfort. Then they all laughed. Had I chosen the road not taken, I would be marooned comfortably with a retired couple with lots of food “and TV.”

I wasn’t complaining.

Overnight the storm broke. Morning was blindingly brilliant in the cloudless Upper Midwest sun. We all went outside. Hard, drifted snow formed a continuous slope to the peak of the tall barn roof. My favorite photos show the miraculously recovered kids on the peak, sliding down and climbing on densely packed snow.

My host mounted his tractor, hauled my car into the barn
and fired up one of those omnipresent kerosene heaters that whooooooshed heat.

Snow and ice covering the engine began to melt. I used an ice chisel and shovel to dig hard packed snow from the passenger compartment. Eventually, everything was warm, clean and ready for the road.

A few hours later, when I walked into the newsroom, my editor asked for a first-hand-account of the blizzard. After reading the story and its hitherto unknown details, he vowed, “I’m never sending you out again.”

Humbug. He didn’t demur when I raced tornados to see what it looked like when they hit. I can tell you.

— Ben L. Kaufman

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