PUBLISHER'S NOTEBOOK: Worst of winter is over, or so it seems
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 5:20 AM
I found myself stopped on a major highway twice last week, something that hasn't happened to me since the last time I was in a rush hour in a big city. I wasn't in a big city and I wasn't in rush hour traffic. Instead, I was dealing with the power of a blizzard that shut down our area Thursday and Friday.
I never went out during the heart of the blizzard, but did find difficult conditions on the front end and back end of the winter storm.
Thursday, after everyone else around me headed home, I stayed at the office just a little longer after the wet, heavy snow started rapidly falling to get some more work done. My home is in town, about a mile away, so I figured I would have no problem making that trip.
In the quiet work environment, I heard a loud clap of thunder, which startled me as the snow was still coming down steadily, piling up in front of the office. I finally decided it was time to leave even if the clock didn't read quitting time.
I took the route home on highways, knowing that city streets can get full quickly and wouldn't be plowed yet. I got to the intersection where U.S. 63 meets Minnesota 16 and took a turn to the north, noticing that a semi was parked along the side, which I suspected meant it couldn't get up the hill. It's a small hill on a normally busy highway, so I didn't think much of it.
I didn't even make it to the semi before my tires started spinning and my car stopped moving. I was less than a quarter way up the hill so I realized there was no way I was going to make it all the way.
I got out, cleared off the back window in order to back up and go on a different street that had a more gradual hill. By the time I got back in my car, the window was full of snow, it was falling that fast. I did the in-and-out routine a few more times before deciding to open my window, stick my head out and back down the highway.
I made it home, put the car in the garage and left it there the rest of the day. The snow kept piling up, the lights flickered a couple times and later that night, I heard sleet on the windows as the wind picked up. However, nothing of consequence happened and I slept through the night.
The streets were much better the next morning and I made it into work and even around town to get some photographs. However, it was a small staff as county roads were still in tough shape, preventing others, some whom I don't recall ever missing a day, to stay home Friday.
The few of us got the Bluff Country Reader to press that morning and I decided I would keep a medical appointment I had in Rochester that afternoon, which was after the blizzard warning expired.
The roads weren't good when I headed out, but the thought that kept me going was "they couldn't get any worse." I was wrong. There was deep snow in places and where there wasn't, the highway was iced over. However, when I finally realized I should have rescheduled, I was close to Stewartville and thought to myself that the four-lane to Rochester couldn't be any worse and maybe the roads will improve for my trip back home.
Wrong again. I passed a semi turned completely around in the ditch along with several cars near the airport. The roads were better, but people were traveling faster on the deceptively slick roads.
I was wrong about it not being any worse on the trip back, too. My average speed was well below 30 miles per hour and a couple times I was in a line of cars that completely stopped on U.S. 63 south of Stewartville as the highway narrowed due to drifting.
Though the trip was much longer than normal, I made it home.
The last major storm, my wife wasn't so lucky as whiteout conditions forced her into the ditch twice on a county road before a Mower County deputy took her to a motel in Dexter. At the motel, she had no hot water as the hotel had run out of propane, partially because of the unexpected number of guests chauffeured in by law enforcement after getting stuck on Interstate 90, but also due to another obstacle this winter - a shortage of LP.
It's been quite a winter. If it isn't the snow, it's the bitter cold. The governor calling off school one day due to brutal wind chills is a distant memory. Since Christmas break, the schools have only had one full week with all five days of classes. Tournament games had to be postponed more than once and school officials are trying to figure out how to make up the missed days.
It isn't just affecting the schools, though. Mail from the central distribution center didn't make it through two days in a row. Water mains in cities throughout the region are bursting from the deep frost. Businesses have had to close, some of them for both days of the storm last week. Snowplow drivers, who are doing remarkable things considering all the odds against getting roads clear, have been putting in massive numbers of hours. Commuter buses were pulled off the roads early Thursday and all day Friday, leaving many Mayo Clinic employees without a means to get to work. Highways, including portions of 16, 30, 43 and 63 in Fillmore County, were declared closed or impassable late Friday morning when people may have thought the worst of the storm was over since the snow had stopped coming down overnight and the sun was shining brightly.
Now we are in the grip of a polar vortex, a term we have heard often this winter. It's a new term for a familiar condition - bitter, Arctic cold. It's just that we have had so many stretches this year and when we finally get out of them, and sometimes even when we don't, we get crippling storms.
The official first day of spring is about three weeks away. Even though that won't mean winter is over, it does lead to optimism. After all, it can't get any worse, can it?