When it comes to wintry weather, much of Moore County and the Sandhills pretty much dodged a bullet this time around, didn’t we?

Though the area from Carthage north got a couple of inches of snow and there were some power outages here and there, it could have been a lot worse for most of the county.

Indeed, those of us whose memories stretch back a couple of decades could argue that we had this break coming. That’s because we got far more than our share of catastrophic winter misery back in January 2000. That time, our immediate area wasn’t just one of those hit by a life-threatening weather disaster that made the history books — we were right at its scary center.

“If the never-to-be-forgotten Blizzard of 2000 was a meteorological A-bomb, Moore County was surely its Ground Zero,” I wrote once we had dug ourselves out. “Indeed, we who live here may never be able to think of this mellow, temperate, benign resort area in quite the same terms again. Now it has a nasty edge to it — like a seemingly friendly cat that lashes out and scratches you to the bone while you’re stroking its tummy.”

I certainly don’t mean to minimize the ordeals and inconveniences experienced by others across the state in the recent storm. While Southern Pines had little more than some cold rain and a bit of sleet that melted on the ground, my son Jacob reported nearly a foot in Greensboro, only a little more than an hour north of here. Son Benjamin’s hometown of Hendersonville, over on the edge of the mountains, was coping with more than a foot. Even UNC Chapel Hill, where I teach, had to shut down.

Still, surely none of this can compare to what the gods saw fit to inflict on us when we were less than a month into the new millennium.

It began on Monday, Jan. 24, on what will always be remembered with a shiver as The Night of the Falling Trees. Laden with ice, they just kept coming down with ground-shaking, window-rattling crashes while we huddled in the dark under a pile of blankets. And there followed five days and four nights when the temperature never rose out of the 20s and the lights (in our block, anyway), never so much as flickered.

So why, you may ask, didn’t we just jump in the car and go somewhere else? Answer: We couldn’t. There was nearly two feet of snow on the ground. Roads were totally impassable for much of that week. For thousands of people in Moore County, conditions became nothing short of life-threatening.

In the couple of years that Brenda and I and daughter Kate had lived in Southern Pines at that point, we had never even thought of using the fireplace in our house on Weymouth Road. But I soon found myself spending many hours out in our frigid side yard, digging logs out of the ice covering an old, inherited pile of firewood and lugging them inside.

It was those hard-won, wet, half-rotten logs that kept us halfway warm (and kept all our water pipes from bursting) while we cuddled around the fire day and night, though it required frequent attention to keep it going. Life was very quickly stripped down to its primitive basics.

During that week, while I walked or bummed rides back and forth to work, I developed a powerful love-hate relationship with Carolina Power and Light. On the one hand, I would cheer the overworked CP&L workers whose trucks (many from out of town) I would see struggling to make their way along our street. But as time dragged on, I began to curse them for keeping our neighborhood dark to the bitter end — while friends in other parts of town would guiltily phone to report that their lights and heaters were back on.

Enough. We survived. I bought a big kerosene heater, which has sat unused out in our shed ever since. Life went on. Still, no one who survived that crisis of January 2000 will ever forget it — or precariousness of life that it made us so hauntingly aware of.

“Most human cultures, they say, are just a generation away from barbarism,” I wrote in the following Sunday’s paper. “Last week’s ordeal brought home another uncomfortable truth: In today’s fragile and technologically dependent world, even those who like to think of themselves as self-reliant types are really living just one thin, vulnerable copper wire away from the Stone Age.”

Steve Bouser is the retired editor and Opinion editor of The Pilot. Contact him at bouser@email.unc.edu.

(1) comment

Kent Misegades

America has become a nation of wimps. We used to prepare for such events and shrugged them off. Now the kiddies and their teachers get a day off for a light dusting of snow.

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