Monday, January 28, 2013

Memories of the Blizzard of '77

It's raining.  A change from the last week when we got over two feet of snow in just four days.  My kids were excited by it since they had a day off from school. India was frustrated by it since she was stranded on the wrong side of the state from college.  Matthew had to keep snow-blowing the driveway so the build-up wouldn't get too deep for the push-behind snow-blower. I was watching the weather with much more interest.  The strong winds, the white-out conditions along with the snow falling so quickly reminded me of the biggest blizzard I have ever seen.  A blizzard that became notorious.  When the winter snow turns to blizzard conditions I always wonder, is another one coming...

January 28th, 1977 was just another winter day.  We had several feet of snow built up from the snow that had fallen since October - when the first snowfall fell that winter, after an extremely rainy summer.  Like so many people in Northern New York State, I had just gone about my day.  

I was 13 then and in 8th grade.  It had been a long day at school and I was eager to get home but as the clock on the wall slowly ticked away, everyone was unaware of what was about to strike.  If we knew, perhaps things would have ended up differently for so many people. 

Like this winter, our temperatures so far the winter of 1976-1977 had been bitterly cold and Lake Erie had frozen over early.  Further up north, in the Lake Ontario Region, we never saw a frozen lake.  Ontario was much too deep for that. The cold was so widespread that even Miami reported snow that winter. In Lowville Academy everyone was used to the snow by now. It had snowed almost every day since Christmas. 

Down in Western New York (where I now live) Lake Erie was covered in a deep layer of powdery snow.  With the lake frozen there was little moisture in the snow and this would make driving conditions nearly impossible. Earlier that day a wall of snow, similar to the one in this photo, had made it's way across Lake Erie and was traveling across Western NY, Ontario Canada and as far south as Erie, Pennsylvania. 

School was going to be letting out in just a little while when the sky went dark.  Everyone turned toward the windows as we watched the darkness be taken over by unrelenting snow, like we had never seen before.  People crammed against the windows to watch and the announcement came over the PA system that the buses would not be running.  Only children living in town were allowed to go home and they needed to do so right away.  other children in our K-12 school of around 2000 students would be sleeping in the "Big Gym" and the school would be feeding them.  I lived the next block over from the school.  A quick 3-minute walk any other day of the year.  My walk home took me around 20 minutes that day and when I arrived home, my Mom told me that my sister's mother-in-law had called and wanted us to bring her 12th grade son to our house.  So Mom sent me back to school.  
West Port Colborne North St. Catharines,
Ontario, Canada
By then the sidewalk was gone and the mailbox marking the corner of the intersection was in the process of being buried.  After crossing the street, I had four houses and a stretch of parallel parking to get past before reaching the first door in the elementary wing of the school. I couldn't see!  The snow was coming so fast and coating my eyelashes, making my eyes too heavy to open.  My nostrils were frozen and the 49 mile an hour wind gusts were taking my breath away, making breathing almost impossible.  40 minutes later, I arrived at the breezeway door. I was frozen and had to take a few minutes to re-group so that I could walk down the hallway to the big gym. When I got there, most of the kids were gone. Other people had come and taken all but a handful to their homes.  Ken was nowhere to be found.  I finally found out that he had gone home with the high school music teacher, who lived with his wife behind the school. 

I was dreading the walk back home but I didn't have to worry. When I walked out of the gym I saw flashing lights and one of the teachers told me to go out the door where the police car was parked.  Uncle Clarence had come to get me and take me home. My Mom was worried that I hadn't come home and had called Tante Clara.  Tante Clara was my Mom's sister and she also lived in our hometown where my Dad had recently retired as Chief Deputy Sheriff. But Uncle Clarence was still the Sheriff , until his own retirement the next year.   
And you thought you had a hard time finding your car in a parking lot?
I made it home and stayed there for the next week.  Schools were closed and people were stuck in their homes, unless you were lucky enough to live in town, or had a snowmobile. 

The school buses left out were all buried. 

Western NY got relatively little snow, but the blowing snow off the lake made conditions terrible.  Northern NY was dumped on with continuous snow until January 31st, when the blizzard finally let up.  The Lake Effect Storm covered our Tug Hill Plateau with almost 100 inches of snow. 
Volunteer firemen clearing off the roof of a house in Depew, NY. 

Thankfully, we never had our electricity go out and we had the fireplace going in the den, so we could shut ourselves in there to get away from the draftiness of our old house. The windchill was well below zero.

Many people made tunnels to get into their homes.
My cousin cleared out a tunnel from the road,
up an angle and onto our front porch.
(this is not my photo)

Uncle Clarence kept us up-to-date on what was going on around the county. So we heard when Camp Drum (now Fort Drum) brought out 14 Amtrak vehicles to help.

C-130 bringing in badly needed supplies.

There were so many people stranded, and buried, in Montague and throughout the rest of "The Tug" and New York State. 
Because of the sudden onslaught of the snow, people were stranded on the roads.  We heard about a police car that was parked next to a stranded car when an Army vehicle came through and ran them both over. 
A front-end loader is trying to clear Furhmann Boulevard.
You can barely see the buried car.

29 people died during the course of the storm, including nine who were found frozen to death in their cars. Most of the deaths were in Western NY. Five lives were lost in Northern NY.
Roof collapsed by weight of snow.

Red Cross volunteers searching for  trapped people

QEW between Niagara Falls and Fort Erie

Snowmobiles became the only means of travel for those without a military track vehicle available to them. While the highway department tried to keep even a single lane open for traffic.

Miser Hill Road, Town of Rutland, Jefferson County

Of course, you had to find your car first. 

There was a full-size van under there.

When the Blizzard finally ended on January 31st, a State of Emergency was declared and traffic was banned except for essential vehicles. While the clean-up continued. 

Buffalo wasn't the only place hit by the storm - this was in Watertown, NY. Jefferson County had snowdrifts that were 'only' 18 feet high.

Rt.177 in Barnes Corners

Snow plow coming up road ...

After things calmed down, people ventured out to explore the damage. Cars were towed out of the roads in the hopes that their owners would find them. 1,900 stranded travelers in Northern NY were allowed to leave on February 1st because supplies were running out.  The dairy industry lost $8 million as a result of the storm. Northern NY is a dairy region and the farmers had to dump their milk. They also had problems getting to their barns to feed their livestock, while several barns collapsed under the heavy Lake Effect snow. 


Rt. 11 looking south at the Rt.177 intersection maybe 200 feet away

The utility poles were almost buried. 

I thought it was so cool how we could actually walk up to the stop lights. 

I used to have the game, but lost it in a divorce.  The game was more based on Buffalo but it was still fun to reminisce while playing. 

The blizzard was such a hard thing to endure - even living in town. But what I will remember the most about this terrible time in so many lives will be the people.  Everyone cared so much about others.  Not just the many, many highway crews and military from throughout the United States who came to help us.  We were blessed to have this happen in a time when people cared for each other.  If you needed to have someone checked on, you simply called the local radio station and told them the address you needed someone to go to and a complete stranger would go there and let you know if your friend or relative was alright and give them any assistance they might need.  Neighbours would check to see if you needed anything before they would brave the storm to go downtown and pick up supplies. People in even the smallest homes filled them with stranded strangers. With the inside scoop from my Uncle we heard so many stories of people helping people. The show of compassion was often overwhelming but this is my strongest memory of the Blizzard of '77. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

This is one fear I don't think I'll ever conquer


That's what time it is right now and I'm as close to wide awake as I can get with less than an hour and a half of sleep.

I love the weather.


Love it!  Walking in it. Sitting on a porch watching it. The scent of it. Everything about it!


As long as I don't have to go anywhere, I love the beauty of it.  The shimmer of the sun on the crystals.  The frozen droplets on branches. I've been known to wander around in my PJs and boots in 20 degree weather, with one of my kids chasing after me with my coat because I've gotten so heavily into taking photos of snow.


Definitely! I remember as a child sitting on the front porch watching thunderstorms. We never worried because of the lightning rod on the church steeple across the street.  Well, once a tree behind our house was hit and lost a branch. When I lived at Kirtland AFB a tree behind my house was hit while we sat in the carport, sending bark across five lawns. More recently, lightening hit the ground between the house and barn. It grounded with the wiring 3 inches under the lawn's surface, which connected the weather station with the gauges on the barn and, in the process, took out the back-up tower it was connected to (don't worry, Matthew always backs up his back-up). Matthew had just come inside from closing car windows so that one freaked me out.  I still love sitting in the sun room watching the storms roll up. I wish I could get a photo, but I've never been able to.


Oh God No!

I live in a draw. A dip in the ridge where the wind comes off of Lake Erie and blows on my house 6 miles inland.  Constantly.  I wake almost nightly from the sound of the wind rumbling through the trees surrounding my house, in my oasis nestled in farmland.

Tonight is a bit different. We are getting a cold front rolling in from the Midwest and it's being led by high winds.  Okay, that is almost a nightly ritual but this time it's a little different.  We have a high wind warning.  No! Really?  No need to tell me.

I woke around 2:30am to the wind, like most nights. Only tonight is different. The wind keeps rolling in and getting stronger each time. It began with a sleep-ending distant light rumble as it made it's way across the field and through the cluster of trees I live in. Followed by the rattling of the cap for the smoke stack left over from the old pellet stove that once stood in the office. I laid in bed thinking "This too shall pass." No. It didn't.

My mind has gone crazy over the last few hours. With each relentless wave of wind I have laid in my bed listening to my house. The winds have increased as I've been listening for anything abnormal. The cap is still rattling. That's good. This means no rain coming down it and into the house.  No sounds of the rolled roofing over the addition peeling off.  This is good because the boys and I would hate to lose the roof over our bedrooms. The shingles. I know they are blowing off the older part of the house.  They always do and we find them scattered throughout our five acres and into the neighbouring corn field all of the time. What about the siding? That panel on the side of the house has blown off on everyone who ever lived here. It's still unattached so, I worry about the rest of the house.

Oh God! Please don't let my house be ripped apart.

The wind. Is that just the regular wind noise?  We are on the edge of Tornado Alley.  No train sounds.  No screaming of the wind. No fire siren going off in town a mile away. Every tornado has missed us because of the ridge we sit on. Should I be so cocky about this?  What if it jumps the hill and decides to land on the house?  What if it's a mile wide like they get in the Midwest and takes out all of the five houses in that swath?  Most of my neighbours are elderly. Would they be okay?  What would we do? We're on the front of the hill with the barn  on top of the hill 300 feet behind us. We would have to get behind the barn.  And it's bitterly cold out.  If the house gets wiped out, where would we go? North East? How would the kids get to school? That's the wrong school district and a long drive to Clymer.

I can't take this!  It has to stop!

Are the cars okay?  They are broadside to the wind with the van catching the brunt of it.  What if she tips onto the Subaru?  How will we get to church? Church. I was going to ride in early with Matthew but I haven't had any sleep and he stays for over four hours.  I have to stay home and try to sleep.  I don't want him taking the interstate. Subie will just be tossed around by these winds.  He needs to take the back way as long as there is no snow.  If it doesn't start snowing until after he gets home then we don't have to worry about Pennsylvania and their lack of snow removal. He'll have to pick up groceries for me, since I do my shopping on Sundays while I'm in town.

For the love of God, would it just stop!?

The house has been here for 113 years, I know she can take this. But she been beaten by the wind for so long, maybe she is too tired to anymore.  Was that the house shaking?  No. She can't be. She's firmly embedded onto the basement. It must have been Miss Purrty giving herself a bath on my bed.

Oh God!  Another gust.

Is she shaking? Miss Purrty ran off so that must have been the wind shaking the house.  Why is she shaking?  She shouldn't be shaking. According to the weather, our gusts are supposed to be 58+ miles per hour.  Damaging winds.  Well isn't that just ducky.

Jerome hasn't slept well since the custody battle and sleeps in my bed most nights.  I want to go downstairs. I can't take this anymore and I really think I'm going to go crazy.  But what if the roof gets ripped off while I'm downstairs?  Who'll rescue Jerome? Who'll rescue all of the kids? Six kids. What was I thinking that I can rescue all of them? Oh come-on. It isn't like they are babies. All I have to do is holler and they'll run out the door.  To where?  It's so cold out and the barn is so far away. The cars? They aren't safe in this wind.  Am I going around in circles on my panicking?  What about the pets?  Who do I rescue?  There are too many and the cats would panic and scatter.  It's too cold for Pepper. Cockatiels can't take cold.

STOP!!!!!  Why won't it stop?!?

That isn't a gust. That's prolonged wind. Okay. It's rumbling, but not train rumbling. No screaming of the wind. Just rumbling.  It's just wind - not a tornado. Oh God! It's wrapping around the house and blowing on my back window now!  Why won't it calm down so I can breathe between gusts? Why is the siren not going off?

Please God. It has to stop.  The sound is maddening.  MAKE IT STOP!!!!


It's quieter down here. The sounds of the furnace coming from the intake vent are so comforting.  India is asleep on the couch.  She only slept in her room one night since coming home for Christmas break.  I hate that she has to go back to college on Tuesday.  Oh no! I have to drive her to the bus station in Erie in the snow!  In Pennsylvania!  No plowing there.

Romeo is sitting on the back of the chair, staring out the sun-room window, watching the wind by the glow of the street light.  Street lights through farm land to the state line - how odd.

Okay. That was loud.  I think a bird feeder just fell on the deck. I wonder if Outside Kitty is someplace safe.  I hate that he/she won't let us bring her inside where it's warm. Matthew is stirring. He's planned on leaving in another 70 minutes.

Matthew said the wind blowing on his room in the front of the house woke him before his alarm went off. He said he thought we were in a tornado too. He said he knows what my room sounds like in the wind and doesn't want to go in there. Coward.  That 4 foot pop-out making the addition wider than the rest of the house makes the wind sound terrible in my room. Like it's trying to rip the addition off after 39 years.

The wind is relentless.  It seems like it's getting stronger.  I'm so tired and want to go back to my bed.  I like my bed. It's so warm there. Matthew just made coffee.  Coffee or bed.  I know I'm not going in to church.

Seriously??  The house is groaning and creaking from that minute-long blast of strong wind... and here it comes again.

I'm still in the living room. Matthew is in the shower and the coffee is done.  I could grab the first cup. My favourite part of the pot. That would mean getting up and walking into the kitchen. I'm so tired.  The sky is turning grey out there with the sun trying to come up.  Basil, the ferret, knows I'm awake and it trying to get his cage open - he wants me to let him out so he can wander.  That would mean getting off the couch and walking across the room. I would love to call Johannes. He's usually awake about now, even though he is three hours behind. That would mean 4:17am his time. But that still is a walk to the kitchen to get the phone. I need to make a shopping list for India. I know I won't be awake if she calls me after service. She was planned on going to China Jade during Sunday School. I would love sweet and sour pork or a poo-poo platter. We haven't had Chinese food in forever. The coffee smells so good.

The wind is still powerful but I can see outside now and it somehow feels safer.  The trees are blowing about wildly outside the window.

7:27am  I managed to drag myself off the couch.  There was a loud bang on the deck.  A heavy wooden bench fell over.  The earlier sound wasn't a bird feeder, it was shingles landing on the deck.  I walked around  the house and checked things out.  We have branches down but the cars are still upright. I think the angle I left the tires at gave the van more stability.  She's rocking but protecting the Subaru by her mass.  I got some coffee, but it isn't helping.

Johannes' light came on Google chat. I'm going to call him.

Update: We have a plastic doghouse that was only used by Timothy (my beloved, late Maltese mix). Matthew just found the roof of it behind the house and the bottom up the hill near the propane tank.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Some Dreams Are Just To Bizarre To Explain

Sitting around with Matthew discussing prescription drug commercials and wondering about the various side-effects.

So many to choose from.  How do the patients know which to select? 

I mean, that's why they list them, right? 

So you can go to your doctor and tell him which side-effect you would want. I think that is very thoughtful of the drug companies.

Today one of the choices given was "unusual dreams".  Which makes us wonder - what is considered an unusual dream?

I don't dream often but a few weeks ago I had a dream that left my gang saying "Wha-a-at?"

It began in a humble home from the 1400's. 

It was a tiny house with mud-covered walls, thatched roof and tiny windows.  I was dressed in clothing from that era and speaking to a man also dressed from the 1400's.  He was telling me that we would be safe there, in this home someone had loaned us.  He said that I still needed to be on the look-out for the Huns, though, in case they were able to track us down.  I felt that he was my husband but nothing about him seemed relevant.

(I know I have just messed up times in history - it gets odder)

He left for work in a large red, newer model pick-up truck and I sat at a sewing machine to make a new skirt. My sewing machine that I rescued before it could be tossed out at the thrift store where we volunteer - because it was too old. My 1940's model New Home electric sewing machine with table. This was the sewing machine where I sat down to work.

The sewing machine was next to the heavy, wooden front door so the cool air could come in. As I looked out, I saw some vehicles coming down the hill to my left into town (very similar to the entrance of a small hamlet that I once lived in). There were three minivans and two sedans and I could see they were dressed as Huns.

In a panic, I shut the door and began closing the heavy shutters inside the small windows throughout the house, being careful to cover the shutters with the curtains so I wouldn't have to look at the wood and could still feel comfortable. 

As I went from room-to-room I noticed they were becoming much nicer and more traditional.  The living area had the most basic necessities with nothing indicating I wasn't living in the 1400's but the children's bedrooms had nice beds, including a white canopy bed like I wanted as a child - but ended up with a full-sized bed "to grow with me".  As I continued closing the shutters, I noticed the windows were the size of normal windows.

When I reached the master bedroom it was huge, like my own, but very modern and elegant with a large flat screen TV in a seating area. There even was a master bathroom - something my 113 year old house doesn't offer.  The windows in the bedroom were large and let in lots of sunlight, so it took me a while to make sure they were secure. 

I went into the lower lever which was underground - but not quite the basement.  This room was like the basement in my "Mom's" house on Chase Lake in the Adirondacks.  It was beautifully done in a pale wood (pine? - I didn't stop to look) and even had the mirror and glass shelves in the corners for knick-knacks. Only this room was much larger than Mom's basement.  My children were all in this room playing cards and merely looked at me as I closed the traditional-sized basement windows.

I noticed another set of stairs and followed them to a much lower level.

This area was amazing!  

I didn't notice the room. What I noticed was the wall of windows in this high-ceilinged room.  The windows looked out to the woods - reminiscent of  Mom's living room on the lake.  The windows were made up of sliding doors and I stepped through them to look outside.  That is when I noticed the pool in the woods - where she would have the lake - a short walk down the path.  It was a large, in-ground swimming pool and was carefully fenced off to keep wildlife from falling in.

While I looked at the pool, my bonus daughter, Rachel, came running up to me and told me Amanda was stuck and needed help.

I ran after Rach back into the house but when I stepped through the doors, I was in a small 1400's village, surrounded by locals dressed like myself.  I immediately became nervous because I was afraid the Huns would find us but wondered what was taking them so long, since I had already seen them coming into town.                           

Rachel led me to a large, blue postal box next to a chain-link fence, which I realized was the fencing surrounding our pool.  Amanda was partially in the box and wearing her bikini swimsuit.  As I began trying to help her out, I asked her what she was doing. She told me she was heading to the pool when her friends "double-dared" her to climb in the box. I looked around for help and saw that the locals were going about their business in what seemed to be a marketplace - oblivious to us. 

I turned back to Amanda and told her I hope I can get her out before the Huns get into town.

Then I woke...

An old Japanese superstition states that your first dream of a new year will come true.

I am so glad this was one of my last from 2012 or I don't know what my new year would look like.