Nature has the power to quickly help us realize that we too can be small insignificant creatures. We can get ourselves all puffed up with our power and modern-day living things. One storm can come along and quickly bring us all back down to earth, even leave us in fear at times.
The first week in January will now hold special memories for the Robert Johnson family, Bob and Carol recently moved to the upper Midwest with their four children. An old-timer at the barber shop told Bob, ” you can expect about nine months of winter and maybe three months of tough sliding around here.” Bob knew the fellow was joking, but he made the point that winter here could be harsh and long though. Early in the morning on Monday, January 4, 2010, Bob takes his first look out of the kitchen window for the day. Looking toward the yard light he saw huge snowflakes falling. They were coming straight down and seemed to be the size of silver dollars. It was a remarkable sight, a real winter wonderland scene.
Bob could see there was already a small snowdrift in front of the garage door. No problem, just shovel out the door and take the pickup to work today. As Bob started to lift the first shovel full of snow his feet went out from under him, he forgot about the freezing rain that came down the evening before. Bob hadn’t made a snow angel for years, but he was flailing around trying to get up and was making one now. It was solid ice under the snow, but he got the garage door shoveled out with his feet slipping and sliding. He was thinking about the nine-mile trip to work on the icy road.
It was time for a quick cup of coffee before leaving for work, as Bob entered the kitchen Carol said, “the local radio station just announced that no travel is recommended anywhere in this part of the state.” The roads are covered with ice, and it sounds like they might soon be blocked with snow too. The radio started to announce the school closings, ‘some schools plan to open but the buses will not go out today.’ The children were all smiles no school today. Carol cooked a big breakfast for everyone, they could all make new plans for the day now. Katie and Sarah had electronic games that they could play and TV to watch or even homework from school. Andrew and Brian would work on model airplane projects. Carol will have the sewing machine humming all day. Bob was planning to catch up on some neglected reading and maybe a few repair jobs around the house.
It was mid-morning before the very predictable northwest wind started to blow. Those big, beautiful snowflakes were now flying horizontally it became a winter whiteout instead of a wonderland. They could only see a few feet away from the house. It didn’t matter which window you looked out; a major blizzard had set in the radio station announced a local woman had left work at the Prairie Lakes Living Center in the morning but had not arrived at her home yet. The director of the living Center said, “she was driving a four-wheel-drive Jeep so felt safe making the six-mile trip out to her home.” Carol said to Bob, ‘That has to be our new neighbor Sharon they are talking about, she just started working at the assisted living center.’
Shortly before noon the local 911 dispatcher got called by a Mrs. Sharon Randall. She said, “I need help, I got stuck in the snow on my way home from work.
The dispatcher asks, “Where are you at?” Sharon says, “I’m not really sure, but when I open the door there is slushy snow and water almost up to the bottom of the door.
The dispatcher replies, yeah right, the outside temperature is below freezing, “hang on Mrs. Randall, I will call you back shortly, don’t turn your cell phone off.”
The dispatcher calls the sheriff, ‘I just got a weird call from a Mrs. Randall,’ she said, “she got stuck in the snow this morning on her way home from work. She claims to see slushy snow and water up to the bottom of her car door when she opens it.” ‘How can that be possible, where can you find slushy water in this freezing weather?’ The sheriff then recalls the Randall family moving south of town. They live a mile south of the turn off for the hunting area.
My God, ‘she must have missed her corner and turned on to the waterfall hunting area road.’ That would put her out on the ice on the lake somewhere, that is the only place they would be water or slush. The weight from all this snow lately has been pushing the ice down causing the water to come up on top. We better pray she didn’t get extremely far out on the lake before she got stuck. The water is deep out there if that vehicle falls through the ice. It will be all over for her. The ice should be thick enough to hold the vehicle up, let’s pray that it is.
‘Get back on the phone with her and tell her to stay calm, stay in the vehicle and keep it running.’ We will send help to her soon. ‘Don’t tell her she is out on the lake, she might get out of the vehicle, get lost and we will never find her.’ The dispatcher got Mrs. Randall back on the phone, ‘We think you missed your corner, we are sending the rescue unit out to get you, please keep your engine running and stay inside and leave your cell phone turned on.’ Sharon says, “the engine has quit running and will not start now, it is already starting to get cold here. I have a heavy coat and a old quilt with my winter survival kit. I should be all right, please tell them to hurry.”
All the snowplows were coming back to town, the visibility was down to zero. High wind was drifting the snow so bad they couldn’t keep the roads open anyhow. The sheriff asked the radio station to announce, “absolutely no travel the roads are all closed. “The sheriff asked for volunteers to go after Mrs. Randall. He soon had a snowplow to go ahead of two people in the rescue unit. Two members of the local snowmobile club rode their snowmobiles alongside the snowplow. They could help find the road where they had to turn toward the lake. The visibility was so bad success of the whole rescue mission would depend on odometer readings and GPS working and the rescue crew not getting lost themselves.
The weather forecast was for continued blizzard conditions with temperatures dropping to 20° below zero for at least two more days. They would have to find Mrs. Randal before dark. The brave group of volunteers set out slowly creeping along through the blizzard, it was hard just to keep the snowplow on the road. They finally found the lake road where they had to turn. The snowplow operator radioed the sheriff, “it doesn’t look like anybody has been on this road today there are no tracks, it is almost blocked.” The sheriff replied, ‘you fellows just keep on going she has to be at the lake.’ The rescue crew continued toward the lake but still it was at a slow walking speed. They finally reached the edge of the lake, the snowplow and the rescue units had to stop because of the water.
The two-brave snow mobiles went out on the slush covered lake to get Sharon and bring her back to the rescue unit. She had gotten a long way out on the ice before the four-wheel drive Jeep got stuck. The snow mobiles had trouble finding her, the Jeep was almost covered with snow, but they found it and got Sharon back to shore. The rescue unit people got her loaded into the warm ambulance late in the afternoon. They then started the slow trip back to town. Sharon could not have made it through the night. She was cold and scared but did the right thing by staying in the vehicle having warm clothes, a blanket and emergency kit. Her cell phone and the rescue people saved her life. Luckily, the sheriff’s detective work determined the only place slushy water could have been.
At the Johnson residence, Carol tells Bob, “I talked to Sharon’s husband on the phone, she is OK and will stay at the Assisted Living Center until the storm ends, they need her to work anyhow.”
It had been a long demanding day for the rescue workers, also a long day for all the people stuck in their homes. Bob Johnson was trying to read and thought to himself, if I still smoked ‘I would no doubt be out of cigarettes by now.’ I will be trying to figure out how to get to the store. The Johnson family all got through the day with only a few temper flareups from cabin fever. It was getting close to evening and the lights in the house flickered a few times and then went out. Bob called the power company to learn that the freezing rain had built up on the power lines the night before. The weight on those lines finally brought them down, fierce winds blew the lines back and forth until many poles were broken off.
They had been through power outages before, but this could be a long one. Carol got out a couple of kerosene lamps for light, not much candlepower but you could see enough to get along. The furnace needed 110 volts to operate the fan, so it went off immediately, no more heat. The gas range in the kitchen would have to be their temporary heat source. The water pump needed electricity to fill the pressure tank, it would soon be out of water. They filled emergency drinking water jugs and brought out the old port a potty, no flushing toilets for now.
Bob said, “I will go get the old portable generator from the machine shed,” Carol replied ‘you can’t even see to machine shed and it will be dark soon, I wish you wouldn’t go out.’ It is only a couple hundred yards away; I will use some of dad’s old black twine to stay connected to the house with. Bob and Ryan got their parkas on and went out into the garage that was attached to the house. Bob planned to go out of the side door of the garage with the twine around his waist and walk straight toward the machine shed.
Bob told Ryan, ‘Let the twine out a little at a time, keep it tight so the wind doesn’t blow it away,’ when I get the generator and get ready to return, I will yank on the twine three times, you can start pulling the twine back into the garage. Bob started out with Andrew’s plastic toboggan and a shovel. He planned to bring the heavy old generator back on the plastic toboggan. Bob couldn’t see anything as he set out in the direction of the machine shed. Trying to estimate when he had gone two hundred yards didn’t work well. They were many more drifts to navigate over than he expected. Running through the back of his mind with a story about the man who got lost going from his house to his barn years ago. Poor fellow was found frozen to death the next day near the barn door. Bob couldn’t see anything and thought he had gone too far but then he could faintly see the machine shed off to the right.
The wind was trying to tear the toboggan and shovel out of his hands. When he finally got to the shed, he tied the toboggan and safety twine to the doorknob while shoveling the snow away from the door. The twine was slack for a long time while Bob hunted for the generator in the dark shed. Ryan at age eleven was thinking about his dad coming loose from the twine and being lost in the storm. It was almost dark; he was scared and about to go after his mother. Bob finally got the generator loaded on the toboggan, tied the twine around his waist again and pulled on it three times to signal he was coming back. Ryan was very relieved and started pulling the twine back into the garage. The toboggan tipped over into two different snowdrifts on the way back. The emergency generator rolled around in the snow while Bob tried to reload it. The old dependable generator would not run when Bob finally got it back to the garage with it. There would be no emergency electricity that night.
A vote was taken shortly after supper for everyone to go to bed early tonight to stay warm. Bob was awake long before sunrise. He took a useless look out the window. There was no yard light, it was dark, and the wind was still raging, it was almost shaking the house. The sun finally came up to reveal some snowdrifts about ten feet high. The Johnson family woke up in a very cold house with the furnace being off all night. There was not a happy face to be seen that morning even with school being closed. Everyone retreated to the kitchen to try and stay warm, and Bob closed off the rest of the house. Carol, being a wise shopper, had many staple foods on hand. She got the family all fed and happy on the inside anyhow. Bob looked around at everyone sitting in the kitchen and thought to himself, ‘this might be an awfully long day.’
On Tuesday around noon, the loving mother Carol only comments, “I didn’t think our kitchen was so small.” On the second day cabin fever was setting in rapidly, better try board games or something new today. Small storm clouds started to gather right in the kitchen, no TV and the batteries were starting to go dead on the kids’ games. Four children were down to two electronic games and the boys model plane project was in a cold part of the house. The oldest girl Sarah’s cell phone battery died during the night. Bob cell phone was for emergency use only until the storm ended, he was trying to conserve the batteries in the radio too. Carol kept the kitchen warm baking bread, caramel rolls, cookies, and more goodies. Katie and Sarah were learning their mother’s baking skills. Tuesday was a much longer day than Monday, but they all felt fortunate. They had plenty to eat and were in a warm place.
Darkness was approaching again as everyone finished the evening meal. A long night ahead, time was going to go very slowly. The Johnson family all sat around the kitchen table, with a kerosene lamp for light. They were about to take a trip back in time. Most of the modern conveniences and gadgets had stopped working. Bob got out some old playing cards and everyone started playing cards together for the first time. They had some old time fun and it made the time go faster.
The temperature outside and fallen to 25° below zero. The only room with any warmth now was the kitchen. They had already brought mattress pads and piled blankets around in the kitchen to sleep for the night. Bob prayed for the gas tank not to go emptying on the kitchen stove, electricity, and a break in the weather. The wind finally quit blowing on Wednesday morning. The landscape had taken on many changes. Their little acreage in the country now looked like it was on the back side of the moon. They could hear a snowplow coming down County Road. By the roaring noise it was making it was having a tough time getting through high snow drifts. Bob called a neighbor who had a snow blower on his big farm tractor and asked for help. The neighbor promised to come over as soon as he got dug out, it might be several hours.
Andrew standing by the south window shouted, ‘everybody look, Sam the dog dug her way out and was sliding down the chicken house roof.’ Andrew and Brian were soon dressed and out playing with Sam. They would soon be tunneling through the biggest snowbanks in the yard. There would no doubt be a meeting room hollowed out somewhere in one of the largest snowbanks. The cold didn’t bother the kids much
Many families were still going to be without electricity for several more days. Broken power poles are hard to replace. Bob would have to go look for a new generator if he couldn’t get the old one to work. School buses would be going out the next morning on roads that were open. Many children will be happy to back in school.
After the Johnson family had been snowed in for the first time. they would not take so much for granted in this modern world anymore. They had a small taste of how families had to be much closer together in the past. Bob was thankful that he hadn’t tried going to work on Monday. He could have gotten stranded in the pickup with his family snowed in at home alone. Mother nature left an indelible mark on a few more people. They now have new memories to carry with them for life and share with others. Luckily, no lives were lost in this storm, thanks to brave search and rescue volunteers, give thanks for their equipment.