The Best of Ed: Part 2

Published 11:02 am Saturday, October 13, 2012

Graphic by Kathy Johnson/Albert Lea Tribune

Living through 2 ice storms within a month

Editor’s note: This is the second in an eight-part series featuring some of former Tribune writer Ed Shannon’s best work. This article originally published Nov. 29, 2009.

Minnesotans have managed to name their winter storms and blizzards after the seasonal holidays and special days. For example, there’s the famous one name for Armistice, plus St. Patrick’s, Christmas, New Year’s and maybe even Valentine’s Day. Deliberately left off this list are Halloween and Thanksgiving. However, they didn’t get overlooked. In fact, back in 1991, this area had icy storms based on those two specific days.

Halloween 1991 happened to take place on Thursday that year. Area youngsters were preparing to go door-to-door to collect candy and other goodies. However, a light rain started to fall in the late afternoon. This, combined with a temperature just below freezing, resulted in an icy glaze on streets, sidewalks and especially trees and utility lines. Most of the youngsters stayed indoors that Halloween 18 years ago. At our home we only had two or three trick-or-treaters that entire evening.

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Later that evening the rain increased, the temperature dropped a few more degrees and the icy coating thickened. During the night this coating caused tree limbs to break off and fall, power lines to sag, and utility poles to sag and even snap off at ground level. The buildup of icy surfaces created extremely dangerous driving conditions. Adding to the miserable weather conditions was a sometimes intense wind.

By Friday morning there was no school, and electrical service to various neighborhoods of the city, plus outlying communities and rural residents, was disrupted.

The electric service just taken for granted became a vital missing link in daily life.

Natural gas service was never disrupted by this storm. Yet, it takes electricity to operate the furnace fans which distribute heat throughout homes and businesses. Without electricity, there could be no television, radio or even lights to cope with the chilly darkness. Without electricity, cash registers, computers, restaurant equipment and so many other modern convenience items just couldn’t operate at all. All of a sudden, battery-operated radios, fireplaces and wood-burning stoves, kerosene heaters and lanterns, and extra blankets on the beds became valued substitutes.

By Saturday, Nov. 2, about the only portion of the city with electrical power was the area along Bridge Avenue north of the Fairgrounds. Thus, the Hy-Vee store, Northbridge Mall, and Hardee’s (now the Dairy Queen location) became havens for people seeking heat, food supplies and even warm places to eat.

Electrical service for about 15,000 Albert Lea customers was cut off for most of the weekend, a time span of 60 or more hours. Some outlying area communities and rural residents didn’t have power for up to a week.

Luckily, the temperature didn’t get too low for the Halloween storm. This same factor was also present when Thanksgiving Day became a starting time for another similar storm with slushy, slippery and sloppy conditions

A headline in the Dec. 1, 1991, issue of the Tribune said, “Two storms in one month is just too many.”

The news report added, “Just a month after a devastating ice storm, more rain came Friday (Nov. 28), hour after hour, changing to snow in the night. It created hazardous driving conditions and new problems for area power companies and residents who survived loss of electricity after the Halloween ice storm.

“Luckily, the weather wasn’t as severe as a month ago and power should be restored quickly to most of those who lost it. …”

Tribune staff writer Judy Juenger created the following poem to commemorate this second ice storm:

“’Twas the night of the storm and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. The candles were kept by the TV with care, with hopes that the electricity would always be there. When outside the house, the thunder it clattered. I sprang from my seat, to see what was the matter.

“When before my wandering eyes should appear, a burst of raindrops, more ice I did fear. On raindrop, on wind storm, on ice storm, on sleet, on overcoat, on mittens, on boots on my feet. And I heard myself exclaim before the storm was done, it’s like those potato chips, you can’t have just one.”

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