Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Tales From The Blizzard of '78 (Michigan version)

Given the recent winter weather, both here in OurTown, and (more prominently in the news) elsewhere, it seems a fitting moment to recall some winter-weather stories.  My friend Suldog has, on a couple of occasions,including just recently, posted about a massive snowstorm that whacked the New England area in February of 1978.

Well, we had a Blizzard of '78 here in Michigan, too, but ours was a week or two earlier, in mid/late January.  We got 18 inches of snow, and it pretty much shut down the southern half of the State of Michigan for a couple days.  The following October, the local birthrate was 30% higher than normal ('cuz, you know, you can only play so many games of Monopoly, right?).  And so, I offer you a few stories from the Blizzard of '78, mainly kluged together from comments I've left on other people's blogs (mainly Suldog's). . .

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The massive snowfall forced my mega-university to close for only the second time in its history. And one should never underestimate the capacity of college students, whose classes have been cancelled, for some monumental feats of stupidity.

A group of guys on the top floor of our four-story dorm decided (with plenty of, uh, ‘lubrication’, you can be sure) that it would be really cool to jump out of their windows into the 8-10-foot-high snow drifts that had piled up against the wall. So, for an hour or so, guys were lining up to jump out of 4th-floor windows into the huge snow drift. They would let out a yell while they fell, and then they’d land with a muffled ‘WHUMP’ as they belly-flopped into the snow. And, wondrously to behold (heck, maybe miraculously; that whole bit about how God protects drunks and fools, and all that), the snow absorbed the energy of their fall quite nicely. The drift extended all along the outside wall of the dorm, so, as the drift got beaten down in one location, the jumpers just moved progressively down to the other rooms on the 4th floor. After a while, the supply of willing jumpers began to dwindle, and they started to grab guys out of the shower, to throw them, wet and naked, into the snow drift below. It was the very picture of drunken college hijinks.

Until one of the jumpers inadvertently discovered the bike rack concealed beneath the snow drift, which left him with a few broken bones. After that, the mood was kinda killed. . .

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Being college students with a couple of serendipitously unscheduled days off, my roommate and I decided to go off in search of suitable convivial beverages (and in sufficient quantities). . .

We first headed to the small 7-11-type store across from our dorm, but there was a line out the door, snaking back-and-forth across the parking lot, then through all the aisles in the store, back to the beer fridge, and up to the registers.  The store was rationing beer to one 6-pack per customer, so everyone could get some, and even at that, it was likely that they would be sold out before we made our way back to the fridge.

So we decided to start hoofing it thru the 18-inch deep snow (drifted considerably deeper in spots, you can be sure), toward the larger town to the west of the college town (known to all my blog-friends as OurTown; the college town, being to the east of the larger town to the west, is East OurTown), having nothing particularly better to do for the next couple hours, anyway (walking into a raging blizzard, through thigh-deep snow with no particular plan beyond knowing we wanted to procure beer; good thinking, right?)


About 3/4 of a mile from our dorm, a stone's throw past the freeway underpass that loosely marks the boundary between OurTown and East OurTown, we found another, even smaller, hole-in-the-wall party store that managed to open that day, so we went in and asked the clerk how much beer he'd let us buy. Well, he was far enough from campus that he felt no need to ration his beer sales, and he told us he'd sell us whatever we could pay for. So we pooled our pocket cash, and managed to scrape together enough to buy two cases, and we started hoofing it back to the dorm, only now we each had a case of beer to lug thru the snowdrifts (a thumbnail calculation reveals that we were each carrying about 18 pounds of beer alone, saying nothing of the weight of the cans or the packaging; so it was a not-inconsiderable load, even if we weren't trudging through waist-deep snow) (But, you know, the beer must get through!). After a while, a guy with a 4-wheel-drive Jeep came along, and seeing how we were struggling through the snow with our barley-malt burden, graciously offered to drive us back to the dorm, if each of us gave him one can of beer.  Hmmmmm (rubbing our snow-encrusted chins as we weighed his offer). . . OK!

So, that night, we were the hosts of the floor blizzard party, since between us, we had almost eight times as much beer as anyone else. . .

13 comments:

  1. Ah good times! Assuming of course you were lucky enough to survive the temporary ignorance of youth.

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    Replies
    1. At least, you hope it's temporary. . .

      ;)

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  2. Somehow I'm not upset that never had the opportunity to enjoy a blizzard.
    But seeing how the folks in my usual environment deal with even a couple of inches of the white crap...

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    Replies
    1. Just like I've never had the pleasure of an earthquake. . .

      ;)

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  3. I often read articles about it, but for some completely bizarre reason, I have no recollection of it. My husband said he remembers his dad coming home from work and getting stuck about a mile away and walking home in his dress shoes.

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    Replies
    1. I'm sure you were just too young to remember it. . .

      ;)

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    2. 9th grade? It's weird that I don't remember it. I'm wondering if our district even canceled school. We were always the ones who never shut down.

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    3. Who knows? If your town got what we got, it wouldn't have mattered how hard-core your district was; no-one could've moved (unless, you know, beer was involved). You just might not have gotten the brunt of the storm like we did. . .

      And I was trying to pay you a teasing compliment about how youthful you are. . .

      ;)

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  4. Couple of great tales there. The one about jumping into the drifts reminds me of a story My Mom tells.

    When she was a kid, there was a huge blizzard and the drifts were four or five feet high at her home. She had an older sister and a younger brother. Those two were charging neighborhood kids a nickel each to jump from their second story window, until their mother (my grandmother) caught them at it.

    The imagination paints a wonderful picture. There's my grandmother, doing chores in the kitchen or whatever, and FLUMPF - some kid goes flying by the window into the snow. She rubs her eyes, says to herself, "No, I must have been imagining th..." and FLUMPF - another kid lands in the snow. She then goes outside to look and - FLUMPF - another kid almost crowns her. She yells up at the window "Stop that!" while another kid, who paid his nickel, is teetering on the edge of the windowsill.

    I never did ask if my grandma made them give back the nickels...

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    Replies
    1. That is so hilarious, Jim!

      Jumping out a second-story window into a snowbank, wonderful. . . Charging kids a nickel for the privilege. . . pure genius. . .

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  5. 18 inches qualifies as a blizzard? I guess, to each his own ;-)

    Then again, my first 6 years we lived near the top of the hill in an old farm house. The drifts behind the mud room came almost to the roof line so we'd climb out the 2nd story window, walk across the roof and jump. Just, you know, don't tell Mom. She's made enough at me as it is .....

    In the suburbs we had snows around 18 inches every few years . Since I was a lad we've measured snow falls of 20 inches or more 5 times if you include the day I was born. Unfortunately our local National weather station is on a hill that never seems to get as cold, as hot, or as much snow as the rest of the area. Our best snow totalled 30 inches back in, I believe, 1994 or so but on top of the hill they barely scratched 22 inches.

    My lawn tractor dropped its transmission at the start and one of our cars got stuck in a 6 foot snow drift behind the house for about a month. On the other hand the drifting was tall enough the kids could sled in our yard and they had the most awesome snow fort. Oh, and our roof didn't cave in .....

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  6. Well, in our part of Michigan, 18 inches counts as a blizzard. Up in the Keweenaw Peninsula, where they average well over 200 inches a winter (and 300 inches is not unheard-of), it's just another winter's day. . .

    I recall one time in my growing-up years Up North, where we got 42 inches in a week (24 on Monday/Tuesday, and 18 more on Thursday). It got to where we had to throw the snow over our heads, just to clear the driveway. . .

    But then, I hear about things like Buffalo and the 8-foot snowfall they had earlier this winter, and I just shudder. . .

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  7. Yeah, Buffalo is a special kind of place. The sad part is they ain't getting credit for their 8 feet due to some technicality so some podunk in Colorado still holds the record for snowfall.

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