A little while back my friend Suldog (who only just gets upset when I try to say nice things about him, so I'll just say he's my friend and leave it at that. . . ;) ) posted some really spectacular photos of an 18-inch snowfall at his house. And that, as many things do, reminded me of a couple stories from my (mostly un-sordid) past. . .
I grew up in Northern Michigan (if I'm talking to someone from New York or Chicago, or heck, even Boston, I say I grew up in a small town; but truth to tell, we actually fancied ourselves as something like the Metropolis of Northeastern Michigan; at least, you had to drive 150 miles to find a bigger town in pretty much any direction). And Northern Michigan, being the northern part of a northern state, and being situated as it is in the middle of the Great Lakes (Michigan and the Great Lakes pretty much define each other, geographically speaking; if it weren't for Michigan, the Great Lakes would just be one Great Big Blobby-Shaped Lake, and Gordon Lightfoot wouldn't have any reason to write songs about that, now would he?). . .
Uh, okay, where was I? (Too many damn parenthetical comments, that's where. . .)
Oh, yeah. . . Being way Up North, and in the middle of the Great Lakes, we had the two most important ingredients in the recipe for Snow -
(1) Cold temperatures
(2) Lots and LOTS of water
In fact, around the Great Lakes, we get this thing called 'Lake-Effect Snow', which might not exist anywhere else in the world (any of my Siberian readers - do you guys get lake-effect around Lake Baikal? Just, you know, wonderin'. . .) I'm not sure exactly what the thermal physics of lake-effect are, but I do know that, if you live anywhere near one of the Great Lakes, and you get a lake-effect snow, you get snow Up the Yingyang (that's a technical term), like you've never seen. . .
Jen accepted my proposal of marriage in February of 1980, and a couple weeks later, I took her to meet my parents (who had moved to the Chicago suburbs roughly simultaneously with my high-school graduation). While we were there, I thought it would be fun to take her downtown to see some of the sights and sounds and smells of downtown Chicago. So, on a bright and sunny suburban morning with temperatures in the low/mid-30s (which, by late February in a northern climate, can feel a lot like Daytona Beach), we hopped on the commuter train and headed downtown.
As the train made its way toward downtown, the bright, sunny, cotton-candy-cloud skies gave way to something grayer and more overcast, and by the time we got downtown, it was snowing. Which didn't bother us too much, except that we'd both dressed for the sunny mid-30s we'd seen out at my parents' house in the 'burbs. By noon, there was six inches on the ground, and our sight-seeing plans had devolved into quick hops from one storefront to another, trying to keep our feet warm. By mid-afternoon, there was a foot of snow on the ground, so we gave up and headed back to the train station.
By the time we got back out to my folks' place (which is about 35 miles from downtown), it was bright and sunny again. I asked my mom how much snow they'd gotten, and she looked at me like I was nuts. "We didn't get any snow," she said.
So, 35 miles from a 12-inch lake-effect snowfall, it was bright and sunny all day. . .
In my hometown of Alpena, I think an average winter is something on the order of 90-100 inches of snow. Which, by the time it thawed a couple times, meant that we spent most of the winter walking in little canyon-sidewalks two or three feet deep. My parents' house was the last house on a dead-end street, about a block from the nearest house, and two blocks from the nearest paved street.
Our house sat on top of a little mound, so our driveway ran maybe 40 feet or so from the garage down to the street. When it snowed, my brother and I would shovel the driveway, so Dad could put the car into the garage when he got home from work at the end of the day. Our car was a nine-passenger Plymouth station-wagon (the car for which the term 'land yacht' was coined), so Dad held very exacting standards for what manner of shoveling job he required - first and foremost, the shoveled driveway had to be wide enough for him to get the car through.
Our mailbox was down at the bottom of the driveway, where it met the street; Dad rigged up a deal out of 2x6's embedded in concrete in a 55-gallon drum, to keep the mailbox from 'moving around'. And part of our shoveling duty was to clear out around the mailbox so the mailman could deliver our mail ('cuz if the mailbox was buried, he just wouldn't deliver it; 'neither snow nor sleet' has its limits. . .) When we had finished shoveling to Dad's specifications, our driveway/mailbox/front porch were a functional work of art; we liked to think of it as an 'Integrated Domicile Accessibility System'. . .
Now, I think it was my sophomore year of high school (which would have been the '70/'71 school year), we had a teachers' strike, which meant that we started the school year about three weeks late. In order to make up the lost days, school ran a week later into June than usual, Christmas break was shortened by a couple days, and they scheduled half-a-dozen or so Saturdays. Which really kinda rotted, but whatcha gonna do?
All of which is to set the stage for that winter, which, as far as I know, is still the snowiest on record for Alpena. One fine Monday morning, we arrived at school as we normally did on Monday morning, and shortly thereafter, it began to snow, and snow hard. So hard that, by noon, the powers-that-be decided to send us all home, while the rural kids who had to ride buses could still get through (I being a 'city kid', stayed at the school to play some pick-up basketball in the gym, since I lived five or six blocks from the high school).
It snowed hard all Monday night, and into Tuesday, until there were 24 inches on the ground. And this was not the light, fluffy stuff, either; it was the heavy, wet kind, that weighed roughly half-a-ton per shovelful. School was called off for Tuesday, since it was still snowing. My brother and I got up (or, more likely, Dad got us up) to shovel the driveway. I don't know if this was the time or not, but I do recall one time, Dad charging the car down the two blocks of snow-covered dead-end-street, only to get high-centered on a snow drift about halfway there, so my brother and I had to go down and shovel the snow out from under the car so he could keep going.
You can be sure that 24 inches of wet, heavy snow was no picnic. And every shovelful that came off the driveway had to be lifted at least two feet off the ground, just in order to pile it on top of the snow that was already covering the yard. By the time we finished, our driveway was a canyon about four or five feet deep.
And even at that, as much satisfaction as we derived from the creation of this snow-canyon, our work wasn't complete until the plow came, and dumped another couple feet of what we called 'snow hash' - the hard-packed chunks of plowed snow - across the mouth of the driveway. We wouldn't even shovel out the mailbox until after the plow came, because we'd just end up having to do it twice. Clearing out the 'hash' was, without a doubt, the worst part of the job; partly because you sorta felt like you'd finished, and then had to go clean up a mess somebody else made for you, and partly because it was just miserable stuff to shovel. Our street didn't even get plowed until Wednesday morning, so school was called off for Wednesday, as well, since the rural back-roads hadn't been completely plowed by then, either.
It looked like we were all set to go back to school on Thursday morning, but on Wednesday night, the snow started back up again. By Thursday morning, there was another six inches down, and it was still snowing like crazy. So school was called off for Thursday, too. It snowed all day Thursday, until we'd gotten another 18 inches on top of the 24 we'd gotten earlier in the week - 42 inches in all, in the space of four days.
When my brother and I went out to shovel this time, we faced a significant challenge in simply being able to throw the snow (which was pretty similarly wet and heavy to the first batch) high enough to get it on top of the piles that we'd made earlier in the week. When we finished, the piles on either side of the driveway were over seven feet high.
School was called on Friday, as well, and it was late Friday when the plow came and 'hashed' us again (Dad had us shovel an extra five yards out into the street, and along the street either side of the driveway; partly to try to help him get down the street a little easier, partly to try to decrease the amount of hash the plow would leave when it finally did come, and partly to keep a couple of teenage boys occupied).
Now, as it turned out, that Saturday was one of the 'strike-added' Saturdays, which was scheduled to be a school day. But nobody, including the principals and teachers, was much in the mood to go in for a single day on Saturday, after 42 inches of snow, so school was cancelled on Saturday, as well (and you know, I'm sure the 'back-county' roads still weren't plowed by then, anyway). So we actually had five-and-a-half snow days in a single week.
I think our final total for that winter was something close to 180 inches - roughly double our annual average. 15 FEET of snow, in a single winter. . .
(add 21 January)
Well, Suldog has done it again, putting up a post about the Blizzard of '78 (Boston version). Which, combined with what I've posted above, reminded me of this old post. . . (And, just for the sake of saying so, I remember reading, the following fall, that the birthrate in Lansing was 30% higher than normal in October '78; one new mother said, "Well, you can only play so many games of Monopoly". . .)