atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#164: Snow in October

The weather folk are predicting snow for Friday. "AM snow showers", it says. In October.

Snow in October, in this area, is not a common occurrence, but it has happened. I would think that if we are actually experiencing "record high temperatures" and if the Earth is the warmest it has been in millennia, snow in October would be a thing of the past. Well, some people say that early winters are a result of global warming. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me--I would think that with a warmer global environment, one that is making the polar ice caps melt off, winters would come later and be more mild--but I suppose I'm just not sophisticated and nuanced enough to understand such complex matters.

As for me, I like snow, so I don't see what the big deal is. Every time snow is predicted, people moan and groan about it. WTF? If you don't like the snow, move. You know that old saying, "If you can't take the heat...."? For crying out loud. If you can't take the snow, get out of the freezer.

There are plenty of places in the United States where it never snows. Many of them are doing better, economically, than the Chicago area is. If you're going to live in a temperate zone, you are going to experience unpleasant weather. If you don't like snow and cold, Chicago is the wrong place to live for you. (Such people would, however, complain about the weather where they lived. "Oh, it's so hot this week!" *sigh*)

Actually, Chicago doesn't get all that much snow. On average this area has two or three days per year where there is significant snowfall. Otherwise it is normally not much of an issue. The last major snowstorm this area had was in late 1999, when 15 inches fell; before that, it was 1979. The Blizzard of '67 was the standard by which subsequent blizzards were measured.

(image from )

One year we got so much snow that the plow drifts on my street were six feet high. We had a snowdrift in our front yard which was as high as the eaves of the house.

I only remember it snowing once in October, here, but since I paid little attention to most things when I was under the age of 10, it could easily have been more frequent. The last time I dealt with an October snowstorm was in 1997, when I had moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

It was a pleasant Sunday afternoon. I had watched it snow for a while, and then went to play "Diablo" on my computer. I paused the game and went to call a friend of mine; and while I was leaving a message on her answering machine, I saw a power line dance and the UPS screeched.

It took a moment for me to realize what had happened. There had been no lights on in the living room; it took me a couple moments to integrate unusual power line movement, heavy, wet snow, and UPS alarm into POWER FAILURE. When I went into the front bedroom (which was the computer room) the light was off and the UPS was beeping plaintively from under the computer desk. I saved the game and shut down the computer, and then returned to the living room, where I sat in my rocking chair and watched it snow for a while.

Burger King was dinner that night; and after a while I went to my friend's house, because she lived in a different town and still had power and heat. I stayed there as late as I could, borrowed a battery-operated alarm clock, and then went home and went to bed. The next day was Monday and I had to go to work.

When I woke up the next morning, it was 60° F in my apartment. I took a hot shower and went to work, and all was well. When I got home that night (with carryout food) it was 56° F in my apartment. That was pretty much the temperature it stayed in there, I have to say, but it was not a very entertaining evening for me. I don't remember what I did to while away the time before bedtime, but it was a chilly night. I slept well and stayed warm, but when it was time to go to work the next morning I was loath to get out of bed; it was cold in that apartment. Still, a hot shower warmed the relatively small bathroom to a reasonable temperature, so I didn't freeze my ass off. The building had water heaters with mechanical thermostats, so there was plenty of hot water.

Tuesday looked to be a repeat of Monday. I had been unable to shave; at the time I used a plug-in electric razor. I had called the power company Monday night, asking when I could expect to have my power restored, but lines had gone down all over the area--not just in Cedar Rapids, but all over Linn County and elsewhere--so the power company was operating at the limits of its workforce. I was not particularly angry; it was not their fault that this had happened, and there is only so much that people can do in 24 hours. My apartment was 'way out on the southeast side of the city, and one of a relative few residences on that stub of the grid; as a result, I figured, it was lower in priority than other areas. I didn't really mind; I just wanted information so I could plan accordingly.

As it turned out, the power was restored Tuesday afternoon. It made a total of not-quite 48 hours without power, spread over three days, and it was the longest I had ever gone without electricity. There had been shelters available for people in my situation, but I was not afraid of sleeping in 50° air; I had done that before. I was not going to freeze to death while I slept. If I got too cold I could always go to my friend's house to warm up, or to some public place.

The good thing about this major failure was that the power grid was virtually unbreakable for the rest of the time I lived there. We had big windstorms, tornado warnings, golf ball-sized hail, and the power remained on. All the weak links had been broken in the October 1997 snowstorm. As late as 2003 the power grid was trouble-free.

I had a couple minor power failures after 1997, but most of them seemed to be prompted by maintenance issues--the crew needed power shut off for some reason, so the power went off for an hour or so, usually in the middle of the night. This only happened a couple times.

After the snowstorm in October, the winter of 1997-1998 was pretty mild. As I recall we did not get a lot of snow that year, and the temperatures were fairly moderate.

My instincts tell me that this winter will not be mild, and that we'll be above-average for snowfall. But I'm usually wrong.

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