Saturday, December 11, 2010

Blizzard of the century (unedited)

Combine the snow of the past 24 hours, and the cleanup afterward, and you have the making of a storm we'll be talking about here in Minnesota for decades.

In my adult life, there's one blizzard we keep going back to when we talk about the worst of the worst, the Halloween blizzard of 1991.

I was a college student in 1991. It was my fourth year in school, I had barely turned 21 and I was living off campus for the first time after three years in a dorm.

I did a lot of running during much of my college career. I ran laps around campus, and when I moved off campus, I sometimes ran to campus in order to run the same laps I had run in previous years. I went running early Halloween night in 1991, and I remember gingerly traveling down the snow-packed sidewalks, thinking back to Halloween 1990. During my Halloween 1991 run, there were few people out and about early that evening, snow was coming down, and it was a tough walk anywhere across campus.

The previous Halloween was much different. I went running early that evening, and it was rather mild for late October. People were in costume, roaming across campus in every direction. It was quite a site.

It snowed continuously Halloween night, as best as I recall, and I think I went to the bar that night. I vaguely remember walking back from the bars that Thursday night and marveling at the fact we had several inches of snow on Halloween.

It continued to snow overnight and there was plenty of accumulation during the day on Friday. I think the snow turned to freezing rain for a while. I swear I hiked to campus for my first class at 11 a.m. with an umbrella, that was covered with a layer of ice pellets by the time I got there. It never occurred to me that the storm was so bad many classes would be canceled that day. All three of mine were, I learned.

I don't remember much more about the storm. I walked to my job at the local hospital that Friday afternoon, which I'm sure was tough, but I must have made it, as I remember getting a ride home that night from a couple of high school girls I worked with. They were more than happy to give me a ride home, as they wanted me to buy malt liquor for them.

So I don't remember a lot about that blizzard, but the storm is historic. The Twin Cities received somewhere in the vicinity of 20 inches of snow, with reports claiming areas received two feet of snow. The fact I remember details from that storm are a testament to how significant it was.

Today the Twin Cities received 16-20 inches of snow, according to reports I heard today.

Weather terrorists pimped the storm as having the potential to match the Halloween blizzard, and they were right. Usually their terrorism oversells the end result, but not this time. We were clobbered all day Saturday. It started snowing late Friday night and kept coming down all day Saturday. It stopped by Saturday evening, but the winds picked up when the snow ended, not that it mattered. Snow had already drifted to heights easily topping two feet by the time the snow stopped falling from the sky.

The snow came on a Saturday, which kept many of us off the roads this morning. As the day progressed, things got worse, not better. Major retail centers announced they were closing early, which is no small concession given it was a Saturday two weeks before Christmas.

By Saturday afternoon the public busses were pulled off the streets because too many of them were getting stuck on city streets. Many plows were pulled off the streets as well since they couldn't keep up and visibility was poor. By that point the airport was shut down, to nobody's surprise.

Highways in the rural outstate areas are close every winter due to blizzard conditions. Those closures usually aren't that close to the Twin Cities, but on Saturday evening the interstate was closed for approximately 150 miles, beginning at the western Wisconsin border and heading east. That border is 45 minutes from my apartment. That's about as close as I've been to an interstate shutdown in this state, although technically it is in a neighboring state.

The timing of the storm is about as good as you can ask for in Minnesota. It started late on a Friday night, ended by Saturday evening and will allow for a day to dig out before we all go back to work on Monday. The dig out will take a couple of days to complete, and it will be subzero on Monday morning, but we'll be able to go back to life as we knew it last week, but with snowbanks that are waist high, or higher.

This storm wasn't the most crippling, thanks to its timing, but I am confident it is one we will remember for years to come.

Hard to believe winter is almost over.

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