#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.


– 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 …


1 Comment

Filed under MIP: Memoir-in-progress, Uncategorized

One response to “#CoMoBlizzard 2011: Where it ranks on my life list

  1. Pingback: Snowpocalypse revisited | Jackson's Journal

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