Frightful Weather

The new year started with what could be called a “psych out.” New Year’s day itself, and the day after, had mild, unseasonably warm temperatures. On January 3, central Virginia, and much of the mid-Atlantic states, were hit with a massive snowstorm. Having been born and raised in upstate New York, I’ve been through many winter storms, and in terms of temperature and snowfall, this one was fairly standard. What set it apart is that we had very little warning. The weather services knew that a blizzard was possible, and had been saying so for several days. But it wasn’t until the day before the storm actually hit that they started saying “this is not a drill!”

The snowfall averaged around seven inches, and it was the wet, heavy snow that I tend to associate with lake effect snow. Around here, such snow is uncommon, because the nearest body of water large enough to create the necessary conditions is the Chesapeake Bay. It lies almost 100 miles east of us, and there are a lot of hills in between. For a storm to be coming from the east, and carry that much moisture over such a distance, it would have to be a powerful storm.

And this one certainly was. I am writing this on January 9, and the effects of this storm are still being felt. Electrical and telephone service was out for most of the area, and wasn’t fully restored until the end of the week. We lost power on Monday morning, and didn’t get it back until late Thursday morning. Trees were broken all over the place, numerous utility poles were weighed down with snow and ice, and many roads had a dangerous layer of black ice under several inches of snow. This combination of circumstances made it very difficult for the utility crews to get done. Needless to say, the public schools were closed, and many businesses were closed or were using emergency protocols. My own company went into the same mode it did when the Covid-19 pandemic was at its peak, almost a year ago.

We used a gasoline generator to provide electricity for our refrigerator and a few minor appliances. At night it also powered my CPAP machine. This is important, because without it, I can’t get any real sleep, and succumb to sleep deprivation very quickly. We also had a space heater to keep at least one room of the house warm enough to prevent us from catching pneumonia. It was a bit uncomfortable having three people crammed into one room for most of the week, but we managed. And besides, for centuries it was normal for an entire family to crowd into one room at night. It also allowed us to just sit and talk as a family, which can be difficult to set up these days.

Why am I talking about this storm? So I can extend some friendly advice. Everybody should have some emergency supplies available for when nature decides to get nasty. At the very least you should have the following:

  1. If you live in an area where weather related power outages occur, get a generator. And make sure you have a supply of gasoline (or diesel fuel) on hand to power it up at a moment’s notice. Also make sure you have whatever tools and supplemental materials, like machine oil, on hand. Our generator was running for over three straight days, and needed frequent tweaking.
  2. Have some bottled water and canned food available. If you aren’t able to cook, or if your access to water is compromised, you’re going to need this. This is pretty self-explanatory.
  3. Make sure you have transportation available at all times. This one can be difficult, because the state of the roads can affect everything. But do whatever is necessary to make sure you can get a car out of your driveway, a snowmobile down to the road, a tractor across the snow field, or whatever. So long as you can get to a place where essential food and supplies are available, even if it’s just the local Seven-Eleven, you’ve got this one covered. It was during a blackout that I came to understand why horse theft was historically such a serious crime. If you stole someone’s horse, you were taking away their ability to get the supplies necessary for life. If we didn’t have a car available to get back and forth from the outside world, we would have been thoroughly hosed!

Emergency preparedness varies from one location to another. So wherever you live, do some reading up on what is considered essential for your area. But I’m willing to bet that these three items are pretty universal.

Since the Blizzard of ‘22, we have had a second major storm. And we are expected to have a few more over the next few weeks. But now we’re in a better position to deal with them. People either have, or are acquiring emergency supplies, and the various utility crews are ready to move at the drop of a snow hat. I’m hoping that the upcoming storms aren’t on par with the big one, but I lived in the snow belt long enough to know that unnecessary risks shouldn’t be taken.

Be safe out there.

Photo credit: New York Post