Archived Story

The blizzard worsened, became a column

Published 9:16am Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Column: Tales from Exit 22, by Al Batt

The wind was up to no good on a rural road.

The fog had cleared just in time for me to see the snow. It snowed hard. Snow swirled in an effort to find a place to hide. The snow moved as if it were in a hurry to be somewhere else. Snowflakes are fragile things, but they aren’t to be trifled with when they stick together.

Al Batt

Somewhere, in a freeway carpool lane, someone was using a snowman as a qualifying passenger.

The conditions were perfect for being home. Teach a man to drive and he’ll be forever on the road. Teach him to drive in a blizzard and he’ll want to drive home no matter what. After John Prine finished singing, “I was doing pretty good, not bad, I can’t complain,” I tuned in a weather report that proclaimed nasty things. I never know whether to believe weather reports. They put me somewhere between hope and doubt, promising what weather sometimes delivers. Winter has the last word. Mother Nature always bats last.

I turned off the radio. Silence helps us see better. That’s why we turn the radio off when we search for a street address. As long as I kept my lights on dim, I could see a bit of the road. To drive with bright lights was to be blind. I grew up along a gravel road that was OK, as long as it didn’t snow. Now I live along a hard-surfaced road where things are OK as long as it doesn’t snow. As I drove home in a blizzard whose name I didn’t know, I met another car and wondered, “What’s that idiot doing driving around in weather like this?” I’m sure he wondered the same about me. It doesn’t matter what we call it, the blizzard isn’t coming when we call it anyway. In a blizzard, every way home is the long way.

There are two kinds of blizzards — bad and worse. A blizzard is defined as a violent winter storm that combines subfreezing temperatures, strong winds and snowfall. To be an official blizzard, a storm must reduce visibility to less than one-quarter of a mile for three hours. Others say a blizzard is any snowstorm with high winds in which drivers flip each other the bird covered in a mitten.

I’ve learned that the best thing do when it snows is to let it snow. Then shovel. The shape of a snowflake depends upon the temperature and moisture content of the air mass in which it forms. Snowflake crystals that grow in temperatures of minus 20 degrees or lower form pencil-shaped, six-sided columns. At minus 20 degrees to zero degrees, most crystals form as flat, six-sided plates with no branching at the corners. Warmer air holds more moisture for crystal formation. Classic six-pointed crystals, with intricate branching, form at temperatures of 0 to 20 degrees. Above 20 degrees, splinter-shaped crystals form. Like Tupperware lids, no two snowflakes are identical, but we should keep shoveling anyway.

As I drove, I recalled a day of similar weather when I was on the way to the farm. I’d stopped by a car in the ditch. My truck was decked out for the winter warrior — chain, jumper cables and shovel. I jumped from the truck and grabbed the scoop shovel from the box. It was meant for grain, but worked on snow. I tried to keep my back to the wind, but it was impossible. The wind was so strong, it nearly blew the stocking cap from my head. I don’t know what the visibility was. I couldn’t see anything. I had a chain, but my truck could barely pull itself, so I shoveled. The snow gained on me. It began to get dark. It was a darker dark in those days. I told the shivering couple inside the car, “I can’t get your car to where you want it to be, but I’d be happy to take you where you need to be. At least you’ll be out of the weather.”

Their destination was a bit out of my way, but I was happy to drive them. The truck’s heater worked and the radio played a Beach Boys song about surfing. Their family, in that pre-cellphone era, was relieved to see them.

A rusty shovel and a battered Chevy with a bumper held in place by a bumper sticker may not seem like much, but it can be a great gift.

We never get help from a stranger. Anyone who helps is a friend.

Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.