STEPHEN SMITH: Surviving the Great Blizzard of '09
At noon on Friday, I was in Wilmington, Del., to meet a college classmate I hadn't seen in 44 years.
I intended to write about that reunion for today's column -- the outrageously good times we enjoyed way back when might make for a humorous read. But weather events intervened.
By the time I left Wilmington, the radio was squawking incessantly about an impending snowstorm. "We could get upwards to 15 inches," one of the weather folk said. Yikes!
As I blasted south on I-95, the traffic was bumper-to-bumper, and by the time I got back to Annapolis, there were lengthy backups on all the major thoroughfares. The drive from Wilmington had taken almost four hours. It usually takes two.
My mother immediately sent me to the grocery store, where I encountered three fender-benders blocking the parking lot and five police cars illuminating the overcast with their red, white and blue rollers.
The snow started at 9 p.m., light flurries dusting the sidewalk and car windshields. But when I awoke at 7 the next morning, there was a foot of new snow covering everything. The world beyond my bedroom window was a delicate impressionistic landscape stretching to infinity.
At 9:30 a.m., the snow was 15 inches deep in front of the house -- I measured it with an old yardstick -- and the snowplow had yet to make an appearance. Our neighbor across the street broke out his brand-new electric snow blower and struggled to relocate some of the white stuff. But as soon as he cleared a path, the storm effaced his efforts.
The TV weather woman announced that Anne Arundel County -- that's where I was hunkered down -- was under a blizzard warning. Winds from the nor'easter were expected to exceed 50 mph. At 10 a.m., my sister called to say she'd measured 18 inches in the road in front of her house.
Then the wind began to pick up. Snow was blowing almost horizontally, and whirligigs scuffled across the front stoop and banked snow against the door. At 12:25 p.m., I shoveled off part of the front walk. An hour later, four more inches of snow had erased my efforts.
I cannot recall having seen it snow as hard, even during the 2000 snowstorm in Southern Pines, the granddaddy-benchmark of all snowstorms in my lifetime. The house on the corner -- it's probably half a block away -- was barely visible. My car was a lump of snow in the driveway, and the yardstick revealed that we'd received 21 inches. Still no snowplow.
At 3:30 p.m., I measured 24 inches of snow on the front walk, and the weather lady revised her forecast. We would get five to eight more inches before the storm moved off to the north.
About 4:30 p.m., I noticed that the snow-laden limbs of the giant cedar tree in my mother's front yard were weighing down the electric wires, and I waded into the abyss and knocked snow off the limbs with a shovel.
That's about the time I began to go a little crazy. Was that a dog sled I saw going down the street? And how about the dude who yelled at me from the road something that sounded like, "I'm with the Donner Party"? Explain that one.
At 5:30 p.m., a polar bear began scratching at the back door. And at 8 p.m. I looked outside and spotted three tufted puffins, a musk ox, a bull elk and an arctic hare. The next time I looked out the window, I could have sworn I saw Bullwinkle J. Moose accompanied by a caribou and a snarling wolverine.
At 9 p.m., a snowplow roared down the street at about 50 mph. It was being pursued by what appeared to be a glacier, a gigantic mass of ice and snow that was sweeping all before it into the icy Chesapeake.
Stephen Smith lives in Southern Pines. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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