First of all — despite the media hype — unless you were one of the unfortunates still somehow surviving without heat or light as a result of Superstorm Sandy (when did we decide that calling a storm a Hurricane wasn’t bad enough?) the blizzard (or “nor’easter,” which is what it was called in New England for most of its duration) was survivable for most people in its path.
Yes, I know that, unfortunately, fourteen people died as direct or indirect consequences of last weekend’s storm. No, you shouldn’t have been driving on the Long Island Expressway after the snow started falling. Yes, most people from New Jersey to Maine, especially those living close to the coast, had to do some digging out. And some of them were without power (i.e. light, heat, water) for hours, and some for a day or two or maybe three. Not good when temperatures were below freezing.
But for the most part, the storm could have been worse. It fell on Friday and Saturday, so most people missed only a day of school or work. It gave lots of notice, and overtime to weather forecasters, news reporters, municipal employees, utility workers, and, of course, anyone who had a decent snow plow. No one could say they didn’t have time to stock up on food, batteries, water, gasoline, shovels, salt, candles or any other supplies they felt necessary. From the posts on Facebook (and there were many) it appeared a lot of people were hunkered down in front of their computers, comparing notes with friends on the comfort foods they were cooking, their favorite storm-libations, the books they were reading, the movies they were watching .. in short, people were having a snow day. And when the snow stopped falling, they snapped pictures of it and posted them so everyone could see just how high the drifts were in their own back yard.
I did the same.
Although, since I live in a house built in 1774 which has survived many storms, quite possibly worse storms, I also thought of those who’d lived through those storms within these same walls. Lived here without running water. Or electricity. Or a furnace. Ever. Not just for a few hours during a storm. Yes, they had fireplaces. (Five.) And a wood stove in the ell kitchen and in what was likely the hired man’s room on the second floor of the ell. And they had the luxury of a privy in the far corner of the barn, so you wouldn’t have to go out “into the weather.”
I also thought of years when the wide tidal river outside our house froze solid enough for much of the winter so you could walk across it to the next town. It hasn’t done that since the 1850s. There’s a bridge, now.
I thought about 1888, when there were two major blizzards; one in January in Nebraska, remembered as the Children’s Blizzard. It came on so suddenly, after a January thaw, and in the middle of the day, that over 230 people, about a hundred of them children, died because they lost their ways in the white-out and fierce winds and froze trying to return home from school or town.
And that other Blizzard of ’88, from March 12-14, that blanketed the East Coast from Chesapeake Bay to Maine with forty to fifty
inches of snow. In those days when telephone and telegraph wires darkened the skies, the heavy snow took many of the wires down, eliminating communication, Two hundred ships were grounded, One hundred mariners were among the over 400 people who died in that storm. Fire station horses couldn’t get through the snow and fires damaged over $25 million in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. The Blizzard of ’88 was one of the major justifications for the NY City subway system.
So, as I’m now looking out my window onto three to five foot high piles of drifted snow, I don’t see any reason to complain. The driveway to the barn, where our car is parked out of the weather, is plowed. The road is clear, only 48 hours after the storm (and after a few more inches of snow fell this morning.) I’m writing on a computer in a room filed with heat and light. I don’t have to go and haul in wood for our stove … although we do have a wood stove in my husband’s studio, which he uses for heat, and we could use it in an emergency.
The former occupants of this house would be amazed. And, I suspect, jealous. And would consider us wimps.
And probably we are. The weather forecasters say they don’t know how much snow fell back in those days. Darn right we don’t. The folks then were too busy keeping warm. They melted snow for water; they moved it out of the way; they put boards on top of it so horses or oxen could push it down; harden it so it could be safely walked on.
They didn’t have time to measure it. What good, I can hear them laughing, what possible good, would measuring it do? There’ll just be more of the stuff tomorrow.
They didn’t even have a Weather Channel to call reports in to; or a Facebook to post pictures on. How ever did they survive?
Filed under: Lea Wait, Uncategorized Tagged: | Blizzard of 2013; Blizzard 0f 1888; Children's Blizzard; Lea Wait; Maine blizzard