Before I begin my tour, I want to say thank you to all the amazing people who dug people out, kept neighbors warm, and brought back the power. It was cold, wet, occasionally dangerous work, and I am grateful for all you did.
Now then. If you weren’t paying attention last weekend, there was a bit of a snow squall across the West. In the Black Hills of South Dakota, we got particularly walloped. While I am always in favor of a good blizzard, it’s hard to be a fan of four feet on top of trees that haven’t even begun changing colors, much less lost their leaves.
I don’t have any pictures from Thursday, which is a pity because they would have been nice for contrast. It started raining late afternoon on Thursday, and by about 10:00 the rain turned to snow. Because of the rain, the snow immediately stuck to everything: streets, cars, trees. I went outside at 11:30 and shook off all my little trees in hopes of saving them from being crushed. By that time, the snow was already about six inches deep.
We went to bed around midnight. I was contemplating getting up and setting an alarm for 2:00 so I could go out and shake my trees again when the first branch from the Huge Terrifying Cottonwood of Doom fell on our roof.
I sprang out of bed and ran downstairs. A branch the size of an entire 10-year-old tree was laying in the side yard. Not big enough to have crushed the roof, but I wasn’t happy. Dustin dragged me back to bed and tried to reassure me that our roof was not going to collapse, but the branched just kept falling, and I could not get the image of the entire tree coming down on us out of my mind, so I got up and went outside.
The scenery was incredibly beautiful. After getting a long-distance view and satisfying myself that the tree probably wasn’t going to come down in its entirety, I went around and shook my little trees again, along with all the lilacs I could reach. A fire truck was parked father up the hill (because someone had reported a house fire that did not exist, I later learned). As the truck rolled past me down the street, the sky filled with a flash of blue and the street lights flickered. Five seconds later, another flash of blue and all the lights went out.
By the time I got back inside, Dustin had raided the attic and pulled out our propane camp stove and lantern. He’d also lit a handful of candles, though I wasn’t sure what we’d do with them at 1:30 in the morning.
Sleep did not come back easily. The tree continued to lose limbs, at least one of which fell and crushed our patio furniture. We were up by seven, and it was very clear there would be no going anywhere that day (Friday). Dustin warmed up the stove and we made ourselves bacon and eggs. Bellies full, I headed outside to get some photos.
Break for narrative. Our mission on Friday morning took us down to the office so I could get photos and Dustin could get his spare phone battery. That got him a bit of internet access, but only enough to let folks know we were alive. At 11:30 Friday morning, my fear for the contents of my fridge/freezer overwhelmed my theory that as soon as I moved their contents outside, the power would come back on. “It’s not like you have anything else to do,” was Dustin’s winning argument. On the up side, we discovered lots of things that we never knew we had…
On our morning foray, we had learned that much of Main Street was open and serving food, so we made some plans to get down there for a hot dinner. We landed at the Saloon #10 and got some very delicious cheeseburgers.
On the way back to the house, we realized the power was on in our neighborhood. I waylayed some poor worker on his way down from our neighborhood and asked him how long it had been on, sincerely hoping to come back to a toasty house. Twelve minutes was the consensus, just as the lights went off again.
Now, I’d just like to take a moment to extol the virtues of being well-prepared for a storm like this. Sensible people that we are, we had an emergency supply kit put together. (It was lacking a few things, which are now on our shopping list, but in general it was pretty great.) We had light, lots of candles, a camp stove, the good sense to fill lots of pots with water before we had to turn off the water to prevent frozen plumbing, and plenty of food. But the very, very best thing in our emergency kit:
Dang man, these things are awesome. We had them stuffed in our socks, pockets, and hats. When your house has dipped below 60 degrees, it’s really wonderful. Layers of clothing only go so far, and you can only cuddle so many hours of the day. (Which, truly, could be a lot of hours.) The funny thing is, when Dustin busted them out my very first thought was “Noooo! Those are for emergencies!” I then had to spend a fair portion of time contemplating the nature of “emergency.” I mean, what if the power went off forever, and instead of having to survive for two 32-degree days, we had to survive a whole winter full of negative-20-degree days?! We’d be really sorry we used our handwarmers already.)
Saturday morning dawned cold and bright. The snow was no longer coming down, but that’s because it had ALL already come down.
I was anxious to get outside and take photos because there were signs that the sun was coming out, and I wanted to get the goods at their deepest possible point. It’s also possible I was more interested in Lee Street Station for breakfast than I was in staying in my freezing house and finding my own.
Walking through the snow would not be an option. We’d had enough trouble with less than two feet on Friday evening. This had turned into a very solid four feet, where it wasn’t drifted higher. I gave some thought to jumping over the porch rail to the side of the house (making sure the vents were uncovered was Mission A), but realized that would not do me any good if I was, once again, stuck in four feet of snow off the side.
Finally, taking a cue from the belly-flop maneuver I used to get out of the pickle pictured above, I took a flying leap off the front steps and landed on the snow on my belly. I did not sink. Tentatively, I began something between a baby-style and swimmer-style crawl across the snow. Guess what? This totally works! It’s like using your shins as snow shoes (which, by the way, are on our list of things to add to our emergency supplies). Look, Dustin got some video:
It’s a pity he stopped recording when he did. Right after this, I fell into an air pocket between the car and the window (that lump to my left is the car) and had a moment of serious panic that I would die in my own personal mini-avalanche. I got out somehow, cleared the vents, and crawled around the back of the house to get some more photos.
Everyone else in town (local and stranded travelers) had the same idea. Thankfully, Lee Street was warm, dry, and had internet for about half an hour before the communication lines all over town went down.
We had a nice breakfast, charged up our devices, then headed out to see what the rest of town looked like.
I headed inside to put on the pot of chili I’d been dreaming of for two days, and Dustin began the epic task of shoveling out.
This is about the point when I once again fell into a hole created by pockets of air around the car. I was stuck, stuck, stuck. Dustin took lots of pictures, then a nice video of me hauling myself out of the hole. It didn’t end well for him when he was more concerned about my boot and his car than my about-to-be-avalanched state:
That’s where we gave up on Sunday. Monday we went back to work, but spent a very generous lunch “hour” digging a proper driveway so I could leave on Tuesday.