Monthly Archives: February 2011

Lifetime weather event #5: Recent history … The CoMo Blizzard of 2011

5. The Blizzard of 2011: As bad as our recent blizzard was, it could have been so much worse. It could have struck during rush hour. It could have caught us off-guard. (Check out No. 2 on my all-time weather list). And I might have had to go without Diet Coke another day or two.

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The happy (and generous) panhandler

Stop me if you’ve already had this experience.

You’re leaving the Break Time at Providence and Ash, and you’re approached by someone asking for money.

Don’t stop me yet.

“I’m not homeless and I’m not a bum,” he says, meeting me in the middle of the parking lot after I waved off his offer to join him at the corner of the building, just out of the light.

I think he wanted to hug me. He called me “brotha.” We did a bro-love sort of handshake, a quasi hug.

“You got a couple dollars? Really, a dollar-twenty is all I need.”

“No cash,” I answered. “Sorry.”

“You got a credit card then,” he persisted. “And I won’t lie to ya. I need some papers so I can roll one.”

I stared and blinked, like someone who would stare and blink at a panhandler who admitted he was getting ready to consume cannabas.

“C’mon, brotha. I’ll hook ya up.”

“Excuse me?” I go from staring to asking. I tried to convey an incredulous tone (can a tone be ‘incredulous?’), but my new BFF mistook my curiousity for keen interest.

“That’s right,” he said. “I’ll give you one. I just need a dollar-twenty for papers.” He caught my eye and let me know he wasn’t a bad person. “I ain’t gonna lie to ya. I need me a smoke. I got good stuff.” He repeated the offer to give me a joint just for the trouble of my $1.20 donation to his joint-rolling fund.

I waved him off and walked away, thinking for a moment that it would have been cool to walk around with a joint in my pocket. You know, I would have felt more like a CoMo-ite, all progressive and toting a toke. I could have induced heart attacks in many of my conservative friends. That would have been kinda fun.

Then I snapped back to reality with the picture of me calling Kelly to tell her I’d been arrested for possession. My mug shot in the Tribune, probably right next to a story that carried my byline. (Probably my last Tribune byline).

I’m not sure if the happy, generous panhandler found any takers for his offer. My money is on “yes.” I’d bet $1.20.

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Lifetime weather event #6: Baby it was COLD outside!

This project started three weeks ago and has dragged on a la the baby journal Dave Berry talked about in “Babies and Other Hazards of Sex.” There’s an entry every day — sometimes several times a day — for the first couple of weeks of baby’s life, from descriptions of spit-ups and “diaper bombs” to a variety of mind-boggling observations. Then there’s nothing until, “Timmy started second grade today.”

Considering that I’m no Dave Berry and that the grand total readership of Jackson’s Journal is somewhere between three to five people, maybe it’s time to steam on through the rest of my Top 10 lifetime weather events.

Christmas Eve/Christmas Day 1983, Deep Freeze …

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All-time weather: No. 7, the perfect snow

No. 7, March 1975, snow days and snow tunnels. Some of my all-time life weather events are easy to recall because there’s a written record. That’s why No. 10 and No. 9 were more difficult to summarize: no newspaper account, no diary.
That’s right. I said “diary.” I never called it that, though. What 12-year-old boy says he has a “diary?” That’s a girl thing, right? My little black book was no less important to me than the detailed journal entries written by Lewis and Clark. I began recording my adventures and exploration the summer that I turned 10.
No doubt that leads you to an inescapable conclusion: I’ve been a nerd a long, long time. (I also have a day-by-day, class hour-by-class hour account of all four years of high school).

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Weather of my life: No. 8 …

The Bullseye, Page 1, March 15, 2006

No. 8: Tornado outbreak, central Missouri/Renick, all day, March 12, 2006 – The front page of the March 15, 2006, edition of the Northern Boone County Bullseye showed stories of both tragedy and triumph in tiny Missouri towns just 25 miles apart: a killer tornado in Renick and jubilant basketball fans in Harrisburg. A more personal account of a close-up brush with Mother Nature’s fury was the focus on my Page 4 column, “Thinking Out Loud.”

Rather than rely on memory, here’s that column that was written less than 24 hours after the storm.

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All-time weather: #9, #8 share something twisting in the clouds …

In honor of the No. 9 and No. 8 all-time weather events of my lifetime — and one of the Top 5 — here’s something to get your pulse pounding. (Until I learn how to embed video — or until some tekkie gives me some schoolin’ — you’ll have to open the link).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLeOAQsqouU

No. 9: Tornado, Clay County, Mo. (Kearney/Holt), summer 1969 – My maturation as a writer and storyteller has led me to an inescapable, humbling conclusion: I might be prone to embellishment. Just a little. Most of these recollections have landed in newspaper columns or were actual news stories that I penned at some point over the last 32 years. But when it comes to creating a digital record via the internet, let’s just say I’ve paid extra close attention to the accuracy of the most trivial details.

All-time weather event No. 9  presented a challenge unique among this rambling Top 10: I needed to use a lifeline, so to speak, in order to craft a summary. In other words, I asked my brother and sisters to verify and elaborate on my memory. My actual memory of the tornado that chased away a crowd of people assembled for a youth league baseball game in Kearney, Mo., is part snap shots – kind of like decades-old still frames from an old movie projector – part embedded family lore that has been passed down through the years, and possibly snippets of other storm-related memories from my earliest days of childhood. The only “moving video” part of the memory is about 10 seconds of chaos, where I’m watching my youngest sister, Kathy, running off in a panic down a path or sidewalk.

It was a month or two before my sixth birthday, so this is going way back into the memory vault. I can recall only two or three memories that are older, so this is truly vintage stuff. Thanks to my sis, Kathy, and brother, Robert, for providing authentication. My oldest sister, Sharon, says she can’t remember being there, but since she is my OLDEST sibling, it’s also possible that memory was simply erased. Thanks to the collaborative effort of the youngest three Jackson siblings, here’s what happened:

My brother, Robert – seven years older than me – was playing in a baseball game at a field in Kearney, Mo. An ominous, black-blue curtain of clouds appeared on the horizon just beyond left field; there were sirens going off; and everyone made a mad dash for their vehicles. Robert’s recollection: “Everything got real cool and the sky turned green … we could see a tornado forming way above in the sky.” I can’t tell you for certain that I did or didn’t see the tornado. (Let’s say I did for the sake of argument). A police car drove by and the officer told everyone to leave, that a tornado was coming.

I see Kathy sprint away or, as Robert recalled, “went bonkers a bit.” Kathy remembers it well enough to still express embarrassment over her reaction, but if I was not yet 6, then she was 7. (We’re 21 months apart). No shame in a little kid freaking out during a tornado.

We were in a white station wagon. Dad drove fast through a driving wind and rainstorm to our home in Holt, about eight miles to the north. We went to the basement. Can’t recall how long we stayed down there, except that I felt safe. We had a huge black-and-white TV (I was a little-bitty 5-year-old, so everything was huge) and we must have watched weather warnings. I also remember watching Red Skelton on that TV, but can’t say for sure that Red was making us laugh the night of the tornado. I like to say he was.

The next day, we drove around and looked at some of the damage. I distinctly remember the Howard Johnson Hotel billboard on Interstate 35 being wrapped up like the lid of a sardine can. And there was a flooded cornfield. (Might have been another storm another time, but the dots have been connected in my head for so long that it’s one memory stream).

Thanks to Kathy for filling in a few other storm-related memories, including:

–          A Sunday School picnic at Watkins Mill State Park that was interrupted by a storm (tornado?)

–          A heavy snowfall on Easter Sunday, either 1968 or 1969, and Kathy and I found a kitten in the snow. We named her Missy. I remember mom giving her a saucer of milk.

–         I was probably 14 or 15 when a violent windstorm and tornado warning made me take cover under my bed with my terrier-mutt, George. My little buddy hated storms and I think he went into shock or something. I thought he’d died.

No. 8: Tornado outbreak, central Missouri/Renick, all day, March 12, 2006 – More to come …

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All-time weather: #10, Scared little boy

Violent thunderstorm, lightning strike, 1971, Belle, Mo. — No. 10 on my lifetime list of Top 10 weather events is really rather uneventful. It could have been placed among the honorable mentions. But this one is important if only for the irony of how today my heart races, my pulse pounds and energy surges inside me when a thunderstorm rages. Ironic because when I was 8 — it was 1971 — I developed a paralyzing fear of storms. Today, instead of hiding under the covers or calling out for one of my parents or getting sick to my stomach from fear, I look forward to the storm. I wake up at 2 a.m. to welcome the storm.

I love strong, loud, bright, window-rattling storms. I have an almost obsessive fascination with the weather, as this novel-length memoir of my life’s greatest weather events indicates.

But not when I was 8. We lived in the parsonage at First Baptist Church in Belle, Mo., where dad was the pastor. I was the youngest of four — the “baby” of the family — and pretty much a typical preacher’s kid. In other words, a holy terror. I was a show-off (yeah, hard to believe, I know) and was certain that the earth didn’t revolve around the sun. It revolved around me.

It was a dark and stormy night … really. I lay awake listening to the thunder crack, the wind roar and the house shake. Angry lightning bolts rocketed from the clouds, striking at will. There had been other storms, sure, but this one was different. Maybe it was because I was awake, letting my imagination run wild.

Maybe it was because after one white-hot bolt zapped through the clouds, there was the “pow!” that I’d never heard. Moments later, there was a siren and I mustered just enough courage to peek out my window that looked out over the street between our house and Mr. and Mrs. Slate’s house. I saw the reflection of flashing emergency lights as a fire truck speed down a street almost out of my field of vision.

Something bad had happened.

The next day at school, my friend, Tom, wasn’t there. Somebody said lightning struck his house. Naturally, I imagined the worst, thinking that if lightning zapped Tom’s house, and if Tom wasn’t at school, then Tom was probably … well, I didn’t know. Didn’t want to know. It turned out, Tom was fine, and his house was, too. At some point I went past Tom’s house and saw that one corner had a small, charred streak from where the lightning had zapped the roof. Not much of a fire.

No big deal.

A few nights later, there was another storm, another flame of lightning zapping something, and that unmistakable “pow!” that announced the “something” was very close.

Then I smelled smoke. Overcome by tears and the absolute certainty that lightning struck our house, I shouted for my dad.

But our house was fine. No smoke. No fire. False alarm. Still, I was terrified.

I’m not sure when that fear subsided and eventually turned into something the exact opposite, but for the longest time after that storm, I smelled smoke each time I saw lightning. It was as real as anything I knew. I smelled smoke.

One night, a lightning strike did cause a power surge through the house, and the zap turned on the television. Don’t know how it happened, can’t remember the details … and that’s part of the problem. For the longest time, my mom has said that I “remember big.” It’s not that I’m lying or fabricating anything, but maybe the little details take a prominent role, sometimes to the point of obscuring the actual perspective.

But that’s okay. I guarantee that no one else in my family smelled smoke when they saw lightning or heard a thunder-clap. However, that’s my perspective, and maybe the television coming on in the middle of the night — all by itself — during a thunderstorm had nothing to do with lightning. But I do remember that it wouldn’t turn off without being unplugged. Go figure.

When fears grips a little boy in the night and he must call out for his daddy, the context and perspective of reality isn’t something the little guy is going to grasp right then. He’s scared beyond comprehension. And he smells smoke. Maybe he needs to go from room to room for assurance that, no, nothing’s on fire. We’re all okay.

Maybe, now with 40 years of distance between me and that little boy, the self-centered little punk who spent every waking minute showing off and cutting up just needed to hear his daddy say, “It’s okay. We’re safe.”

Just maybe.

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Shoveling about midway through the CoMo Blizzard 2011

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#CoMoBlizzard 2011: Where it ranks on my life list

It hasn’t snowed this much since …

Actually, I can think of two other times, and I’ll crack open the memory vault to tell you. When the Blizzard of 2011 began bearing down on our little neck of the Show-Me State Tuesday morning, I found a legal pad and started scribbling notes. It seems that storms of any kind — wind, snow, rain, whatever — are something of a multiple personality muse for me. (This is clever foreshadowing. You’ll see the storms-as-muse motif referenced throughout my Top 10 countdown).

I listed the top weather events of my life, and considering that I’m a couple years from turning 50 — a whole half-century — it dawned on me that finally, maybe, I’m actually qualified to speak in one of those, “I remember when” tones. So the list I began 36 hours ago is whittled down to the Top 10 Weather Events of My Life. Don’t worry. CoMoBlizzard 2011 is on there. It started as No. 10, simply because of the forecasted magnitude, and simply because the forecast said “blizzard warning.”

I haven’t seen those words describe my weather in my lifetime.

As I scribbled, my memory bank began spilling as the snow banks were slowly growing. As you might imagine, my legal pad had far more than 10 weather events listed. So before breaking down the Top 10 with two more posts — I mean, can you expect anything less than a three-part series for such an important Top 10 — I share with you the “honorable mention” top weather events of my (almost) half-century of life.

HONORABLE MENTION

– Valentine’s Day 1991. My spelunking friend, Mark, and I had a too-close brush with disaster, escaping a flooding cave in the nick of time. I was crawling out with the back of my head pressed into the low ceiling and my chin dragging the top of the water. Scary. You don’t forget something like that.

If you’d like, read my account of the harrowing experience by clicking the “Indian Ford Cave” tab.

– Hailstorm, street flood, 1982, Warrensburg. My freshman year in college. We were having play practice for “The Apostle” in the education building. My role was Luke. (The gospel reporter, of course). Play practice came to a screeching halt when the lights went out and we heard hail pounding on the roof. I remember thinking we were having a tornado and I worried that the hail and wind might break the windows.

We left to discover that the streets were flooded. So much hail had fallen that it clogged the storm sewers. Some cars were stranded in water that wasn’t supposed to be that deep. Hundreds of dorm room and campus building windows were shattered.

The only thing comparable was a hail storm in 2003 that left homes on Route J between Harrisburg, Mo., and Highway 40 looking like they had been blasted with an atmospheric shotgun. Straight line winds turned the hailstones into shotgun pellets. I drove through the tail end of that brief but violent storm.

– 18-inch snowfall, January 1995, Central Missouri. It wasn’t a blizzard, but the depth and drifts rivaled our most recent snowstorm. I was editor of the weekly Callaway Courier in Holts Summit. Our three-person staff somehow managed to put out a newspaper — we were still pre-email and pre-internet. Somehow we managed, although I worked a couple of days from home.

– Ice storm, circa 1971, Belle, Mo. We lived in the First Baptist Church parsonage (dad was the pastor), and my room was upstairs with a good view. A neighbor on the opposite corner, Doe Tellman, sometimes shot squirrels right in his yard. Hey, it was a small town. And also, squirrels prepared just right are downright tasty.

Anyway, it was a frigid winter morning when I awoke to the sound of … Doe shooting squirrels with his .22? What? What I watched, instead, were tree limbs, one after another, snapping and crashing to the ground, weighed down by a heavy layer of ice. “Pow! Pow!” It seemed to last most of the day. It was one of many weather events that etched my psyche at that house. (Clever foreshadowing again.)

– Amarillo tornado, 1998. My mother and I drove my daughters, Kishia and Natasha, to Amarillo, Texas, to spend a few days with my oldest sister. (Here that Sharon? “Oldest.”) We were 40 or 50 miles from Amarillo when the sky turned a murky green. Hail, wind and horizontal rain pounded the car. Most motorists pulled off the road or waited it out under overpasses. I stopped at a convenience store where the television weatherman said there were too many tornado warnings to give them all. The guy looked sick with panic. “Get to shelter NOW!” he bellowed.

I got back in the car, reported what I’d heard … and we continued our trip. The hail finally stopped, but the clouds hung low to the ground. I glanced back at the girls and Kishia pointed out her window, to the north. (We were headed west). There, dancing in a field a few hundred yards away, was a thin, spindly sort of tornado. My mom was reading a book.

She never took her eyes off the book.

The next morning, the Amarillo Globe-News had a front page photo of “our” tornado. To this day, I think my mom thinks we were kidding about seeing it. Must have been a good book.

– Flash flood, Gasconade River, 1978, Rollins Ferry Access, Osage County. My friend, Mike, and I were going to spend a week camping on a gravel bar island that was visible just north of the Highway 89 bridge. The day after I nearly drowned (another story for another blog), a woman who lived nearby waded out to our campsite to tell us that a huge storm was approaching. Mike and I broke camp and went to the bridge, where we hitched a ride to Linn, where my mom was teaching summer school.

When we crossed the bridge on our way back home to Belle, the river had risen several feet, completely submerging the gravel bar island. When the water receded a few days later, the island was gone.

It has never reappeared. It was washed away.

– Sleet, 1978, Mike’s woods, “The Cave,” just outside Belle, Mo. More than a few of my life’s memorable weather events were shared with my buddy, Mike, if only because we spent a lot of time together, and we were usually outside hunting, fishing, hiking, camping or exploring. There’s nothing harrowing about this event. It’s just so wonderfully memorable. 

“The Cave” was really a sandstone rock overhang above a valley in the woods behind Mike’s house. It was high and deep enough to crawl into, and we closed off the opening with a few dozen small trees. Our “cave” was completely camoflaged. It was brilliant and beautiful. Both ends remained open, however, and one end was our fire pit. How we kept from succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning was a mystery. But it didn’t take much of a fire to radiate heat throughout our little hideaway, thanks to the sandstone composition of the overhang.

How we kept from causing that rock to fall and crush us was a mystery.

We camped out in “The Cave” in all seasons. In March 1978, with the forest still brown and dormant, we trekked to “The Cave” on a Friday afternoon to spend the night. Warm sleeping bags, a toasty campfire, half-fried burgers — we felt like royalty.

A sharp chill greeted us in the morning and a couple of inches of sleet had fallen overnight. It’s not like we were in a hurry to go anywhere and we had plenty of firewood. Mike tried to make a pot of coffee that poured like motor oil. Our stomachs growled.

One of the coolest things about spending the night at Mike’s was breakfast, because his parents, Raymond and Mabel, owned the Golden Rule Cafe’ in downtown Belle. Raymond took Mabel to the cafe’ well before sun-up, and by the time Mike and I were awake, Raymond was back with our breakfast, packed in styrofoam containers. Bacon, sausage, from-scratch biscuits, gravy, two or three eggs over-easy and hashbrowns.

To this very day, that is my very favorite meal.

The morning of the thick coffee and sleet-slick landscape, we had hoped to be back to Mike’s in time for that arrival of breakfast. But it was too treacherous to hike back to his house. I poked my head outside our shelter and looked back over the top of the overhang just as Raymond’s voice cut through the freezing air. He was slowly walking toward our cave, styrofoam containers in hand.

The food was still hot. Amazing. And GOOD! (Of course). Mike sometimes referred to his dad by name, so I’ll never forget Mike asking, “Hey, Raymond. Want some coffee?”

– Tropical Storm Claudette, 1979, Pascagoula, Miss., and Tropical Storm Bertha, 1996, Connecticut. Quick explanation of much longer stories. But if you’ve survived my tale of “honorable mention” lifetime weather events to this point, I’ll rush through these two.

Visiting my sister, Sharon, in Pascagoula in 1979 when Tropical Storm Claudette came ashore. I was out jogging at the time. Not so smart.

Traveled to the East Coast with my wife, daughters and mother — and our new puppy Boston terrier, Cindy! — in July 1996 when Hurricane Bertha had spent itself on North Carolina and was a mere tropical storm/tropical depression as it petered out. We were driving to Connecticut through the torrential wind/rain, on our way to visit my sister, Sharon, her husband, Michael (a Navy man), and her boys, Mike and Zeke. (I’m seeing a theme emerge here. Note to self: Visiting your sister Sharon means encountering catastrophic weather events).

My bro-in-law Michael, who was also stationed in Japan at one point — and we didn’t go visit, which meant we probably avoided a monsoon and/or earthquake — gently defused the angst my daughters expressed over watching the trees bend nearly in half from the dreadful wind. His words still ring true in stormy times: “You can’t die unless you’re killed to death.”

– Heat, wind, drought … There have been some 108-degree summer days; periods of drought that lasted months or years; and countless other windstorms that left an impression on me. So I lump all those together as my last honorable mention.

To qualify as a Top 10, a weather event must demonstrate severity, duration, a detrimental disruption of life, and be measurable in a historic context.

Stay tuned …

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