snow

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As the United States is in the grip of a fierce snow storm, I am reminded of another snow storm that happened February 21 – 23, 1971. The storm is considered Oklahoma’s extreme storm. This blizzard buried northwestern Oklahoma under as much as three feet of snow, and that doesn’t include the drifting. The town of Buffalo was the hardest hit. They reported 23 inches of snow on the 21st alone, and a state-record snow depth of 36 inches by the morning of the 24th. The northern part of the state was just buried.

Oklahoma tends to be a mild weather state, with temperatures in December, January, and February averaging in the 50s. This week is the anniversary of the 1971 blizzard, which was likely the most intense winter storm ever to hit the Sooner State, although the current storm might rival it now. With the current storm, Oklahoma is seeing temperatures averaging -6°. The prior record was in 1909 at 7°. The power company had had to implement rolling blackouts to assure that the power grids don’t fail. I don’t think they have received the amount of snow with the current storm, but the severity is very similar, when you think about it. Anytime a storm is is bad enough to shut things down, especially the power, it is severe.

When the blizzard of 1971 finally ended, 36 inches of snow was measured in Buffalo, which was the state’s record for the highest snowfall total, but the snow drifts measured as high as 20 feet tall. While northwestern Oklahoma was hit very hard, just a short distance to the west in the Oklahoma Panhandle, only light snow fell with Boise City receiving only 3 inches and only 2 inches in Kenton. The 1971 storm put ranchers in a precarious position until C-124s from the Oklahoma Air National Guard dropped 150 tons of hay to stranded Oklahoma cattle. Local cattleman flew along with the aircraft to guide the aircrews to the stranded cattle. The massive loss numbers of 15,000 in livestock accounted for much of the $2 million in damages.

The vicious storm became known as the 84-hour blizzard. It actually occurred across the eastern half of the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles. The storm his the worst un Oklahoma, but in the region, 8 deaths were reported…7 in Pampa, 1 in the Oklahoma Panhandle. The average drifts were 10 to 20 feet. Storms like these will not likely be soon forgotten, if they are ever forgotten. People are really never prepared for such cold temperatures and so much snow in the southern states. We can try to prepare, but when year after year goes by without such a sever storm, we soon become complacent, until the next one hits us, that is.

These days, the weather centers can predict storms weeks out. True, they aren’t always as accurate as we would like, but they can also predict corrections and update people with the changes. Of course, it is something we are used to in this day and age, but in 1941, weather centers didn’t exist. That was catastrophic for the people of North Dakota and Minnesota, when a fast-moving and quite severe blizzard hit on March 15th, killing 151 people. The storm came in so quickly that the people had no warning, and as a result far too many lost their lives.

Because of that storm, weather forecasting and reporting systems made important advances that would have prevented the loss of life that occurred due to the sudden storm. The people of North Dakota and northern Minnesota had virtually no warning of the blizzard that was coming, until it swept in suddenly from the west on March 15. In some locations, temperatures dropped 20 degrees in less than 15 minutes. They were hit with 55 mile per hour sustained winds, and gusts reaching 85 miles per hour in Grand Forks and 75 miles per hour in Duluth. The winds brought blinding snow and huge 7 foot high snow drifts across the states. Most of the victims of the blizzard were traveling in their cars when it hit. Highway 2, running from Duluth, Minnesota to North Dakota, was shut down, as were Highways 75 and 81. Attempts to rescue those stranded in their cars came too late. In one incident, six year old Wilbert Treichel died from exposure to the cold when his parents abandoned their car and attempted to carry him through the blizzard to safety.

People attending a basketball game in Moorhead, Minnesota, were stranded at the arena overnight when it was wisely decided that travel was too dangerous for the 2,000 people. Theaters, hotels and stores across the region stayed open through the night to accommodate the many people had visited them, completely unaware that a major storm was approaching. Although the storm was also severe in Manitoba, Canada, only seven people there died because the population was much better prepared for the storm and for dangerous weather in general.

Prior to this time, meteorologists in Chicago were concerned mostly with local weather. It wasn’t that they did not care about the people in surrounding areas, but rather that it was not traditional reporting to report weather for the other areas. In the aftermath of this blizzard, weathermen in North Dakota and Minnesota, who had been under the control of the Chicago meteorology office, which simply paid less attention to events occurring to the north, were allowed autonomy in their reporting. Protected with new technological advances in the wake of the disaster, area residents hoped they would never again be so blind-sided by a winter storm.

I’m not a huge fan of winter, but recently I saw something the mentioned how quiet it seems when it’s snowing, and I started thinking about the fact, that it really does seem quieter when it snows. I thought it must be some sort of illusion, or more likely, the lack of the Wyoming wind blowing, that made my world seem more quiet. Still, my curious mind had to find out exactly what the answer was. I’m not super into scientific experiments, but this seemed like a good one to check into. Maybe it was just me thinking about that, but maybe it wasn’t. Maybe other people wondered about it too.

As it turns out, it wasn’t just me…and the world really is quieter when it snows. That isn’t something you really see when watching a blizzard on television, and maybe there are some exceptions to the rule, but the reality is that snow absorbs sound waves. When it’s snowing, there’s plenty of space between snowflakes, meaning that there is also less space for sound waves to bounce around…so I’m not imagining it. The world actually gets more quiet when it snows. Bernadette Woods Placky, a meteorologist and director of Climate Central’s Climate Matters program says, “When snow falls, it does absorb some of the sound waves.”

To further add to the quiet, as snowflakes stack up, there is more space left between them, compared to the surface of liquids like water. “With all that space, sound is unable to bounce off snow as easily as it would off water,” Woods Placky says. As a result, the sound gets absorbed, and somewhat like the way a soundproof room absorbs the sound, so you can’t hear what is going on inside, the snow pulls the sound into itself, and we don’t hear it very well. Of course, things like less people outside and on the road also account for the quiet. Traffic stalls tremendously during and after a snowstorm, due to icy roads and the dangers it presents to drivers. Many animals, especially birds, also aren’t out as much. They have to adapt to snowy weather that makes their environment colder and their food more difficult to find. They hunker down to conserve energy.

Whatever the reason for the quiet we hear during a snowstorm, I have always felt like it was a beautiful thing. I don’t like the cold, and I don’t like the icy roads, but just watching the snow, fall quietly to the ground, and listening to the quiet that it produces makes it would of those wonderful experiences that you have to slow down and take the time to notice, or you will never have the full peace that happens when the world gets quiet.

As winter arrived in Coburn Creek, West Virginia in 1950, a storm of epic proportions was about to set some serious records. From November 22 to 30, a slow-moving, powerful storm system dumped heavy snow across much of the central Appalachians. The storm would be remembered as as “The Great Appalachian Storm of 1950,” and it blanketed areas from western Pennsylvania southward deep into West Virginia with over 30 inches of snow. Several locations even received more than 50 inches of snow. Coburn Creek, West Virginia, reported the greatest snowfall total…a staggering 62 inches. Most towns can be shut own with 24 inches, so 62 inches was unthinkable. There is no way a car can get through that, in fact it will take hours to get a snowplow through it. For all intents and purposes, much of the Appalachian Mountains, and especially the Coburn Creek area were at a standstill.

The cold front was massive, with frigid air stretching from the Northeast into the Ohio Valley and all the way down into the far Southeast. Temperatures fell to 22°F in Pensacola, Florida, 5°F in Birmingham, Alabama, 3°F in Atlanta, Georgia, and 1°F in Asheville, North Carolina. This record cold led to widespread crop damage, particularly in Georgia and South Carolina. In the north, intense winds associated with the storm caused extensive tree damage, power outages, and coastal flooding in New England. In New Hampshire, Mount Washington observed gusts as high as 160 mph. And, onshore winds along the coast caused extreme high tides and flooding in New Jersey and Connecticut. The storm was fairly short lived, and the temperatures quickly returned to normal in the first week of December 1950, bringing a whole new problem with them. The rise in temperatures led to a fast snowmelt, flooding several tributaries and major rivers. The Ohio River reached 28.5 feet, 4 feet above flood stage, in Pittsburgh. In Cincinnati, it reached 56 feet, also 4 feet above flood stage.

At the time, the Great Appalachian Storm of 1950 was one of the costliest storms on record, and it contributed to at least 160 deaths. Overall, on the Regional Snowfall Index (RSI) this powerful storm ranked as a Category 5…the worst category, for the Ohio Valley, and a Category 4 for the Northeast of the 212 storms our scientists have analyzed for the region. The RSI value of 34.7 securely locks its first place rank, well above the 24.6 RSI value second worst storm in March 1993. Only four Category 5 storms have impacted the Ohio Valley since 1900, so it is highly uncommon. During the storm, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, received 30.2 inches of snow, and both Erie, Pennsylvania, and Youngstown, Ohio, received more than 28 inches of snow. Across the region, over 18 inches of snow affected more than 6.1 million people. Such high snowfall totals affecting so many people largely contributed to the storm’s high ranking on the RSI scale.

In the Northeast region, the Great Appalachian Storm ranks as the ninth worst storm to impact the area out of the 203 analyzed. That fact seems surprising given the severity of the storm. I would have expected a much higher ranking. Over 30 inches of snow affecting 1.3 million people in the region largely contributed to the regional RSI value of 14.5. With that value, it ranks just behind the more recent February 2003, February 2010, and January 2016 storms. The late February snowstorm of 1969 remains the strongest storm to hit the Northeast, with an RSI value of 34.0 making it a Category 5 or “Extreme” event. The March 1993 “Storm of the Century” remains the second strongest snowstorm to hit the Northeast, with an RSI value of 22.1 also making it a Category 5 event. As I look out my window at the light snow falling, I find myself feeling grateful that this storm is not expected to be anything like the Great Appalachian Storm of 1950.

On October 13, 1972 a plane crashed somewhere in the Andes Mountains. That isn’t such an unusual event, but the crash was the last part of this event that was not unusual. Flight 571 was en route from Uruguay to Chili at the time it went down. The Uruguayan Air Force plane was chartered by the Old Christians Club to transport the team from Montevideo, Uruguay to Santiago, Chile. On October 12 the twin-engined Fairchild turboprop left Carrasco International Airport. The plane was carrying 5 crew members and 40 passengers. In addition to club members…friends, family, and others were also on board, having been recruited to help pay the cost of the plane. Because of poor weather in the mountains, they were forced to stay overnight in Mendoza, Argentina, before departing at about 2:18 pm the following day, October 13th. Although Santiago was located to the west of Mendoza, the Fairchild was not built to fly higher than approximately 22,500 feet. Because the Andes mountains were higher than that, the pilots plotted a course south to the Pass of Planchón, where the aircraft could safely clear the Andes mountains. An hour after takeoff, the pilot notified air controllers that he was flying over the pass, and shortly thereafter he radioed that he had reached Curicó, Chile, some 110 miles south of Santiago, and had turned north. However, the pilot had misjudged the location of the aircraft, which was still in the Andes mountains. Unaware of the mistake, the controllers cleared him to begin descending in preparation for landing. Then suddenly, the Chilean control tower was unable to contact the plane.

The pilot basically found himself caught with high mountains all around him…mountains that he could not climb over. When the plane tried to climb out the wings were clipped by the peaks, and the plane crashed in an unknown location. Because the Chilean control tower thought the plane was much further south, they weren’t even sure where to look. To make matters worse, the white plane was extremely difficult to see against the white snow. Search and rescue efforts from the sky were almost impossible…despite the survivors’ attempts to become noticeable. After 11 days, it was assumed that all of the 45 passengers and crew were dead, so search and rescue efforts ceased. The passengers had access to a radio, and when they heard the news of the search being called off, they were devastated. The crash killed 12 people instantly, leaving 33 survivors to try to stay alive until help could come. A number of the survivors were injured. At an altitude of approximately 11,500 feet, the group faced snow and freezing temperatures. There was no heat, and they only had each other to depend on. While the plane’s fuselage was largely intact, it provided limited protection from the freezing temperatures they faced. Food was scarce…mainly candy bars and wine. Even with rationing, those were gone in about a week. Now the survivors faced the most horrifying decision of their lives. Do they stay alive at all costs, including eating the bodies of the dead for food, or do they simply give up and starve to death? After a heated discussion, the starving survivors resorted to eating the corpses. Their survival instincts had kicked in, even though they knew they might be condemned by the world. Nevertheless, they would probably never forgive themselves anyway, so what the world decided made no real difference. Over the next few weeks six others died, and further disaster struck on October 29, when an avalanche buried the fuselage and filled part of it with snow, causing eight more deaths.

It was decided that someone would have to walk out and tell the officials that they were still alive. On December 12, with just 16 people still alive, three passengers set out for a 10 day journey to find help, though one later returned to the wreckage. After a difficult trek, the other two men finally came across three herdsmen in the village of Los Maitenes, Chile, on December 20. However, the Chileans were on the opposite side of a river, the noise of which made it hard to hear. The herdsmen indicated that they would return the following day. Early the next morning, the Chileans reappeared, and the two groups communicated by writing notes on paper that they then wrapped around a rock and threw across the water. The survivors’ initial note began, “I come from a plane that fell in the mountains.” The Chileans must have heard about the crash, and were most likely stunned to find that there were actually survivors. They hurried to notified authorities, and on December 22 two helicopters were sent to the wreckage. Six survivors were flown to safety, but bad weather delayed the eight others from being rescued until the next day. The rescue was called the Miracle of the Andes. In the resulting media frenzy, the survivors revealed that they had been forced to commit cannibalism. Many people were outraged until one of the survivors claimed that they had been inspired by the Last Supper, in which Jesus gave his disciples bread and wine that he stated were his body and his blood. This helped soften public opinion, and the church later absolved the men. After watching the movie based on this event, I wondered how any of the rest of us would have handled that situation. We should never be too quick to judge people in such a situation, because we might find that given the same circumstances, we might do the exact same thing.

After serving in the Navy for six years, my nephew, Allen Beach decided that it was time to move on to get the education that he wanted, which is hospital administration. He began his Navy career planning to become a pilot, but an injury forced him out of the program early on. He then decided to become a Corpsman, and found that he had a knack for that. His first duty station was in Bethesda, Maryland at Walter Reed Rational Military Medical Center, a term of service he was very proud of. While there, he was one of the EMTs who took care of the medical needs of the first family.

After his term at Walter Reed Medical Center, Allen was stationed in Japan, which is where he met his future wife, Gabby, who was also a Corpsman stationed at the same base. Needless to say, Allen was very happy with his time in Japan, and meeting the love of his life. After that, Allen left the Navy, and for Gabby’s final year, they were stationed back at Walter Reed Medical Center. Now that both of them are out of the Navy, they have decided to move to Casper, Wyoming so that Gabby can continue her education too. Casper College has an excellent nursing program, and that is her chosen field. So, upon their release from the Navy, the headed west.

At this point, Allen and Gabby are living in an apartment on his mom and step-dad’s land outside of town. I’m sure that is quite a culture shock to them after the hustle and bustle of the Washington DC area. In addition, they are getting used to the winters in Wyoming. Not that they never got snow in Japan or in Washington DC, but I don’t think they had the winds like we have here. One nice thing about the move was the ability to be closer to family. Allen and Gabby were able to spend Christmas week in Rawlins with the family there, and they all had a great time. They have really taken to country living, and other than the severe cold causing their pipes to freeze, life is good. Allen is still looking for a job, so once he gets a job they will be set, as his classes are online. We are very proud of all of his s accomplishments, and we know that the future will be bright for both of them. Today is Allen’s birthday. Happy birthday Allen!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Weather has always been a subject of interest to people, even if we still don’t completely have a full grasp of it, not even after all these years and all our technology. The main difference I see now is that we hear about weather all the time. It’s on television, the radio, and even our phones. There are warnings for everything…thunder storms, tornadoes, snow storms, flash floods, and hurricanes. Nevertheless, all the meteorologists can truly do is predict a weather event. It may or may not materialize.

Now, flash back to, oh say 1680 or even to 1521. Other than looking at the sky, how did the people predict the weather? Yes the sky can be a great predictor of coming storms, but unless you knew something about weather patterns, you would be unlikely to have any idea that something like a tornado, flood, or hurricane were coming. Especially in 1680 or 1521. Those dates are rather important in the world of weather. In August of 1521, a meteorological phenomenon occurred in the Basin of Mexico. There were no cameras back them, no cell phones or computers to record the event. The only known description appears in Book XII of the Florentine Codex, which is an account of the Spanish conquest of Mexico written in Nahuatl in the mid-sixteenth century. The account states that just before the fall of Mexico-Tenochtitlan a heavy storm which included a whirlwind struck the basin. The whirlwind hovered for a while above Tlatelolco, Tenochtitlan’s twin city. Then it moved to the lake where it disappeared.

When the experts of today look at the account of the phenomenon in the context of the Nahua culture, and comparing it with European descriptions of tornados and waterspouts, they can determine that the phenomenon was indeed a tornado. Their conclusion is further supported by eighteenth and nineteenth century pictorial and written evidence showing that tornadoes do occur in the territory now occupied by Mexico City. Since the tornado of Tlatelolco predates the Cambridge, Massachusetts, tornado of July 8, 1680, which had been thought to be the first recorded tornado in the Americas, the Tlatelolco tornado actually represents the earliest documented tornado in the Americas. Either way, since people didn’t really have much information to go on back then, I’m sure they first said some version of “What is that?!!?” At least, I know I would have.

For most of her life, my sister-in-law, Brenda Schulenberg struggled with her weight. Even as a child, Brenda was heavy. She will tell you that her weight prevented her from doing many of the things that most children took for granted, such as riding a bicycle. She might have been able to do it to a degree, but not for very long or very far. As she grew into adulthood, her weight became such a problem that she couldn’t even think of riding a bicycle. Then one day, her health failed due to her weight. She knew that she had to make a change. That day was October 18, 2013…just 5½ months after her dad, Walt Schulenberg passed away. Brenda became a health nut. She learned to eat right, and she walked…slowly and with a walker at first, and later on her own. She walked further and further…often reaching 10 miles a day. The weight came off, and she felt much better. Still, one thing eluded her…riding a bicycle. Finally, the day arrived when Brenda found out that she could ride a bicycle…as long as the peddles were off, and she could reach the ground. It’s called strider riding. It is a bicycle, but the rider basically runs the bicycle down the trail, instead of riding it…and Brenda could do that.

After riding strider style for a time, Brenda was finally able to ride a bicycle in the normal way. She put the peddles back on her purple bicycle and off she went. Brenda became just like the postal service…”Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Ok, Brenda didn’t have appointed rounds…exactly, but she had set herself a goal of riding her bicycle every month of the year. Now, that is not an easy task, especially in the state of Wyoming, where winters can be brutal. Nevertheless, just like the postal worker, neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor gloom of the very early morning will keep Brenda from riding her bicycle. She is determined to ride it, and make up for all the years that she couldn’t even ride a bicycle in the summertime, much less in the winter.

She’s a brave woman, especially when she goes out in the middle of a snow story, and pretty much turns into a snow woman. She reminds me of the Campbell’s Soup commercial where the little boy is so covered with snow that only a hot bowl of soup will melt away all the snow. Maybe she’s not that bad, but she’s close. Brenda, we are proud of your determination, but I do have to wonder if the people driving by the snow woman on wheels have to rubs their eyes to make sure they are seeing what their eyes are telling them they are seeing. Today is Brenda’s birthday. Happy birthday Brenda!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

My son-in-law, Travis Royce is without a doubt, the most social person in our family. Travis can talk to anyone. There isn’t a shy bone in his body. I think that is one thing that made him such a great DJ when he and my daughter, Amy lived here in Casper. Travis was born in San Diego, and spent a number of years in Puyallup, Washington as a child. He loved it there, and loves the coastal areas in general, so after their children graduated from high school, they made the move to the Seattle area, and now to the Bellingham area. They truly love the area, and I can understand that, because it is quite beautiful there. I don’t know if would love the rain, but they seem to, so it’s all good.

Travis can make friends wherever he goes, and he loves to entertain…especially with a barbeque. He loves to go all out with the feast he puts on too. He might cook steaks, lobster, or jalapeno poppers…or just burgers. No matter what’s cooking Travis is a good cook, and he is a great host. As I said, he loves to entertain, and he is quick witted, so there is never a dull moment. When Travis is around, there is always a joke going on. Even when my daughter, Amy and Travis aren’t entertaining, they love to sit out in their back yard with a fire going, just enjoying the peace and quiet. Their home is out in the country…or at the edge of town anyway, so it is quiet a quiet neighborhood.

Now you might think that with their love of the country life, quiet would be the order of the day, but that is not always the case. As summer approaches, both Amy and Travis look forward to getting out their motorcycle and cruising the area. With all of the water destinations in their vicinity, they have a lot of pretty drives that they can take. Travis is definitely not a snow lover, so Western Washington is pretty ideal. He wants as many warm months as possible. I can relate to that, but I don’t know that Washington is the ideal place. Still, as Amy says, they don’t like the extreme heat either, so there you have it. All I care about is that Travis loves my girl, and he does. Today is Travis’ birthday. Happy birthday Travis!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

My second cousin twice removed, Hazel Grace Pallas, daughter of Angel and Brian Pallas, is quite a character. I have only met Hazel and her family via Facebook, but her mom and her aunt, Elizabeth Nordquist, have posted a lot of pictures of the kids, and along with the stories they provide, I feel like I’ve known their kids forever. As I said, Hazel is a character, but she is also a Girly Girl, and could even be classed as a Diva, but that isn’t surprising, because she spends a lot of time with her cousins, Addilayde and Meadow Nordquist, daughters of Elizabeth and Aron Nordquist, and they can definitely be Divas.

While these girls can be girly and artsy, they also love to play, and they have a great time together; as well as with Hazel’s little sister, Tenley; and their cousins, Hosea and Canaan Oltman, sons of Grace and Tzaddik Oltman. It’s so much fun to look at the great pictures of these close families of cousins. The moms take pictures often, especially Elizabeth, who is a photographer in her own right, so I have watched these kids grow up almost all of their lives.

Addi and Meadow, being the oldest ones, inspire all the fun around there. They play with all the kids, and really enjoy having their cousins come over. The other day, the three older girls, Addi, Meadow, and little Hazel were out in the back yard, playing in the snow. For Hazel, who is 2½ years old, I think this is still a very new experience. Nevertheless, it is one she very much enjoyed. The girls got out anything the could slide on, and they had a wonderful time slipping and sliding on the snow. When Hazel told her mom about all she did that afternoon, she simple summed it up as, “Swimming in the snow, Mom!” When I read that comment, I just laughed and laughed. It was perfect. To have that childhood enjoyment of the snow…untainted by the experiences of driving in the snow, and all the stress that comes with it…seemed like a dream world to me. As I was driving to work this morning, with little Hazel on my mind, I noticed that as I drove down the alley from my backyard garage, over the freshly fallen snow, it felt like I was almost floating along. Hazel’s words came to my mind. “Swimming in the snow, Mom!” I think I know how Hazel felt.

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