Sunday, May 1, 2011

Snowmaggedon...Snowpacalypse...or, Just a Big Ol' Blizzard

Originally Posted on December 13, 2010

It certainly was bad, but it really wasn’t.

On Saturday, December 11, 2010, the Twin Cities experienced a major snow storm. Some may call it a blizzard. To some extent, it was. In all, the region had over a foot of snow accumulation that created havoc at every turn.

Where I come in on this adventure was from my own stubbornness. I had originally scheduled to be at the building that housed One Voice Mixed Chorus’ headquarters to do some video vignettes. I was en route via bus (a bus that had problems in Downtown Minneapolis when it tried to get out of unplowed curbside stops) and stopped for breakfast along Lake Street. One of the couples that wanted a video recorded sent me a message wondering if there were any alternative locations to do their vignette. Some negotiation led to the Central Branch of the Hennepin County Library in downtown Minneapolis. Luckily, we were able to complete our recording and they offered to drive me home.

That’s where the fun began. The snow was falling at a rate of an inch of accumulation an hour. The plows were non-existent on the streets – and the highways. Our drive from the Library to my house was on stretches of freeway that a plow refused to touch. Visibility was reduced by blowing snow and you can count the vehicles strewn along the way – on the side of highways and at corners.

We made it, though. They made it home as I shook off the insanity of what I’ve experienced.

Then, more insanity came through. A couple of close friends were attempting to go from downtown Minneapolis to the Northeast part of town on the bus when they informed me that Metro Transit was pulling their buses off the streets by mid-afternoon. Then, reports were coming in about plows being brought back in until the snow stopped, the evening’s events were being cancelled and businesses were closing early. Who knew the power of a snow storm could close down the last possible place in the United States – a place supposedly resistant to winter.

Two additional events pretty much sealed the power of the storm. My roommate attempted to snow plow the accumulation late Saturday afternoon. It got the point where she couldn’t reach the street while working the front walk. We figured I’ll be out there shoveling to break through the drifted snow bank the next morning.

Then, the Metrodome’s roof caved in. Prior to this, the charter plane carrying the New York Giants – the Minnesota Vikings opponents for Sunday – had to be diverted to Kansas City. The prevailing thought was that they would move the game to Monday night inside the Metrodome. Once the roof caved in with a gaping hole sending square meters of snow down onto the playing field – the National Football League also decided to move the game completely – to Detroit’s Ford Field. It appeared that all alternatives, including using TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus, was going to take longer to get ready for the Monday night start.

If the snow wasn’t enough, the temperatures began dropping overnight. All of the forecasts called for wind chills well into the negative numbers Fahrenheit, but that did not materialize until later on Sunday. The first thing Sunday morning was spent with sunny skies and single digit air carving out a path to the street from the front door. I wasn’t alone outside. There were plenty of snow blowers rumbling through the neighborhood – including my roommate’s. In the early hours of Sunday, the City of Robbinsdale was plowing the streets and alleyways – including ours. When you plow, you create bigger snow banks, which blocked the slab at the garage out back. I tackled the big one out front with a neatly done cut – with a shovel.

Later on Sunday, I ventured out to do some shopping down at Southdale where I noticed even more havoc created by the snowfall. As the bus from downtown Minneapolis bounded through Uptown, snowdrifts pushed parked cars onto what was supposed to be traffic lanes. On narrower parts of Hennepin and Xerxes Avenue, it was the point where a bus and a car going in opposite directions couldn’t by each other. Needless to say, riding the bus was more of an adventure than usual.

Along the way, I noticed that many side streets in Minneapolis were yet to be plowed. A part of me was glad to live in a smaller, incorporated city - such as Robbinsdale. Yet, it made me wonder whether it was fair for Minneapolis to not reach its residents better even though they were able to get its Snow Emergency routes in shape. I was also appalled on how many people did not adhere to the city’s Snow Emergency regulations – even on those key arteries. I stopped living in the city of Minneapolis three years ago – I’m glad I did. I can imagine what my old neighborhood looks liked right now.

Monday morning was greeted with the subzero air as forecasted. I made my way to the bus for work knowing that my usual bus stop was closed due to a detour created by the lack of plowing by the city of Minneapolis. Part of the bus route was blocked by unplowed sections of Theodore Wirth Parkway creating a detour around North Memorial Hospital. I was prepared – as bundled up as I could. Mountains of snow did give way to some creative snow blowing – such as the southbound bus stop at West Broadway and 29th Avenue North. It would be a full day in the frozen air as I had an appointment at One Voice after work. Across the metro – and back – with hopes of plowed side streets in St. Paul.

All of this reminded me of the last couple of times I’ve dealt with snow accumulations of ten inches or more. In January of 2000, the Washington, DC area was slammed with 18-21 inches of snow. I remember trying to walk off my block towards the bus stop as I saw one of my roommates retreating back to the house. He couldn’t believe he was walking on the snow without sinking through it. I couldn’t walk at all. As I worked as an on-site contractor for a Defense agency in Virginia, I called my boss to see whether our office will be closed or not. He said that he couldn’t get out of his place as the buses were sliding down the hill – and another co-worker living in Maryland was pretty much stuck at her place. By 8:30AM, the Office of Personnel Management announced they shut down the Federal government. By then, there were plenty of commuters just reaching at the door of their workplace – and hours before some of them can head back home.

Later that year, I moved to Madison, Wisconsin. On the first week of working in the area, the region was hit with ten inches of snow. I made walking from the bus stop into my office a serious challenge. It felt like several scenes from the movie Doctor Zhivago.

Though I have experienced substantial snowfalls in my six years living in the Twin Cities, the general consensus amongst those who grew up here was that this weekend’s Snowmaggedon/Snowpacalypse rivaled to the Halloween Blizzard of 1991. Frankly, this weekend’s snowdrop was pretty bad no matter how you compare it to other snow events.

You’d think after a decade of avoiding serious snow storms that I would live in an area that would manage it better. Rather, that we would doubt the forecasts that predicted this form of snowfall. Then again, I was stubborn enough to think that I would ignore the calls of Snowmaggedon and Snowpacalypse by fellow Facebook friends in jest to the reality of 40-50 centimeters of accumulation in a swath of 20 hours. Let alone, being able to manage the early subzero freeze we got within a half-day after the snow stopped falling.

As much as some of my Southern California friends pointed out their 80-degree weather they enjoyed during our pre-Winter Solstice blizzard, I’ll take this snow. As stubborn (and, probably insane) as I am, it is the human in me that will triumph above the challenges the atmosphere gives us.

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