Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Blustering, Billowing Blizzard

The Grenora City Hall officials had left a notice on all the trailer doors reminding the residents that they needed to have their trailers winterized by the first hard freeze or the city would turn off the water to prevent damage to their own equipment. That was earlier in October, and my dad was still in California. He was confident that he'd be out in time to take care of things before it got bad. And he was. Sort of.

My dad arrived from California on Thursday. John got back from Mount Ellis on Friday. The storm arrived on Tuesday. Sunday was spent in manful bonding around the trailer. Progress was made. Not enough. Monday it began to rain. The after school hours were spent the same way, and further progress was made. We were getting somewhere. But we had not arrived. Tuesday afternoon the rain turned to wind-blown snow. And at last, sometime that afternoon, surrounded by the burgeoning blizzard, the underneath of my trailer was at last winterized.

Tuesday night is my night to go up to Westby for friends, family, and most importantly, showers and laundry. No piddling little blizzard was going to prevent that. No, sir! Driving the 20-some miles of open prairie in between Grenora and Westby was a fun introduction to winter driving for this California bred and born girl. But by going slowly and watching the edges of the road....and by assuming there would be no on-coming traffic because who would be stupid enough to be out on a night like that...we made it up to Westby and the warm welcome of the family home.

I hurried as fast as I could to do showers and laundry, but it was still a couple hours before I was ready to leave. There was a "No Travel" warning for our area and Jack was advising staying the night because he had barely been able to see to get home. You weren't supposed to travel unless it was an emergency, and then you were supposed to have emergency winter gear. I had neither gear nor emergency, but as a sop to safety, I threw a small sleeping bag into the van before John and I started out.

We nearly ran off the road before I even left town. That would have been humiliating! I couldn't really see in front of me. If I looked directly ahead, all I could see was vague shapes of rapidly swirling snow. But I could see the edges of the road through my peripheral vision. Only right there, there was a road that joined the one I was on and my edges suddenly disappeared. Thankfully, I was going slow enough that the few feet of grass and ditch I could see ahead of me was enough space for me to swerve back onto the road. After that, the going was much easier, although I have NEVER driven a more wearing and lengthy trip between the two towns. I was sooooooo glad when we arrived safely in town. No lurid "Stupid Californians Die in First North Dakotan Blzzard" headlines for tomorrow's paper!

As we went into the trailer, I could clearly see that the trailer was casting a snow shadow in the grass; where the trailer was blocking the wind had noticeably less snow than the rest of the grass. I decided to move my van into that shadow so it would be less likely to be snowed in in the morning. Then we settled in for a long night of heaters and harsh snow peppering the trailer's metal shell.

Morning's light revealed a harsh truth. Snow changes the rules in the middle of the game. Whereas the night before, the trailer was sheltering a small spot, now I saw that the night's wind had blown the rest of the grass virtually free of snow. Only in the sheltered spots behind all the trailers had snow been able to accumulate, and accumulate it had! It was with some foreboding that I opened my door, straining to hold it against the wind, and headed to the car to got to work. To my relief, I saw that my two foot tall drift started, oh, about 12 inches from my van tires. I was very thankful to my noble angels who spent the night shielding my van with their wings so my ignorance wouldn't result in an unusable vehicle. Because, of course, I didn't have a snow shovel yet.

Here are some pictures of what I saw that morning as I left the house. They were taken in haste, because the temperature was hovering in the 'teens, with a wind-chill of minus 50,000.

Then it was time for my first adventure in post-blizzard roads. Well, it was still a little blizzardy, but I could see the road most of the time. The roads weren't really bad until I got closer to Williston. I did get to experience something Noni had described to me over the phone last winter. She called it 'rivers of snow flowing across the road'. I never succeeded in capturing a good image of it, but it is very unique looking. You'll come to spots where the wind blows the fine powder across the road in unending rivulets of white. Very pretty to look at, but as a driver, you do stop to ponder if the pretty white stuff covers not so pretty ice patches waiting to snatch up your vehicle and hurl it into the ditch to be covered by snow and found in the spring and maybe they put up a little monument to remember you by. At least I pondered it. Quite a bit.

I didn't so much merge onto the four lane highway as I slid sideways onto it, having just experienced my first major patch of ice. Then it was over the hills to Williston and the discovery that the roads in town were solid sheets of ice. As I came down the straight stretch towards Walmart, the car ahead of me began to brake preparatory to turning. I lightly, oh so lightly, caressed my brakes, and began to slide all over the road. It was SO embarrassing! I have got to get the California plates off my car so people will stop saying, "Stupid California driver, doesn't know how to drive in the snow!" and start saying, "Stupid driver, doesn't know how to drive in the snow!" I'm sure you can see the difference.

I hear that we are expecting a big storm in the next week or so. I'm definitely better prepared this time, both in my now-vast experience, and in the further weatherizing of my little abode. "My" next task is to winterize my car. My dad should be getting here sometime next week. Perhaps he'd like to volunteer.....


  1. Tina, honey, move to Texas!! I cringe reading about you driving those treacherous roads..

  2. Jack says to tell you, "It's not stupid California drivers, it's stupid North Dakota drivers."