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Looking back on blizzards of the past

Well, Mother Nature wasn’t as rough on us here in the Ohio Valley as forecasters predicted she might be over the past week.

I, for one, can live with that.

Sure, it’s been cold and snowy and we’ve had more than our fair share of ice in some parts of the area, but what else can we expect in February in Ohio?

We did not experience days on end of single-digit and subzero temperatures as anticipated. A storm that was expected to dump 8 inches or more of snow on Eastern Ohio largely missed us, dropping only a couple of inches of white stuff.

Not everyone in the country has been so fortunate. Parts of Tennessee and Kentucky were nearly crippled by ice. The delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to many regions, including ours, was delayed by dangerous conditions.

Far to our south, in Texas, widespread and long-lasting power outages brought on by wintry weather left thousands without heat or safe drinking water. In some cases, people resorted to melting snow to fill the tanks of their toilets, and some relied on gas stoves to warm their fingers and toes.

I feel for them, as well as for all the workers who are out in blustery conditions working to set things right again. From the plow truck drivers who are clearing ice and snow from our roads to the linemen who are climbing high overhead to restore electrical lines and service, there are thousands of people putting themselves in harm’s way for the rest of us.

At least we Ohioans are somewhat used to all of this. For me, recent weather conditions have brought to mind some of the many past storms we all have weathered.

Less than 20 years ago, the Presidents Day Blizzard II raged up the East Coast in 2003. It smothered many of the nation’s biggest cities beneath 15-30 inches of snow that fell over a period of five days.

I was actually working in the Moundsville office of the Wheeling Newspapers at the time. I finished up my tasks for the day around 6 p.m. and called the editor in Wheeling on my way out the door. He advised me to go get a hotel room instead of trying to drive home to Belmont. Since I saw little evidence of precipitation outside my office window, I decided he was worked up over nothing and set out to drive home.

I crossed the Ohio River and turned north. By the time I was approaching Shadyside on Ohio 7, I was already driving with my passenger-side tires on the rumble strip because I couldn’t see the road at all. I ended up exiting at Shadyside, creeping through town and then entering Ohio 7 again to try and make it to Bellaire. I gradually made it most of the way across Belmont County to my hometown, taking a couple of hours to complete the trip. In the end, I was unable to make it up the township road to my home and had to park my car in the middle of Belmont and climb the hill on foot.

That was one time when winter weather caught me off guard. Our region received several inches of snow over the next few days, but the impact here was not nearly what it was along the coast.

Ten years earlier, I weathered the Storm of the Century in Fairborn, Ohio, where I was attending Wright State University. That cyclonic storm formed in the Gulf of Mexico and tore across the United States and Canada for three days before falling apart in the North Atlantic. This massive system literally dumped multiple feet of snow in many areas, but it also contained hurricane force winds and caused storm surges and a tornado outbreak in the South.

As I recall, the Dayton area was buried beneath about 18 inches of snow by the time it was all said and done. Cars wheels were buried and people were digging out with whatever they could find.

I specifically recall one young man who lived in my apartment complex who had no idea what to do. He was an airman stationed at nearby Wright Patterson Air Force Base and hailed from Florida. I went outside toward the end of the storm to find him trying to remove nearly 2 feet of snow from around his vehicle using the lid from a spray paint can to dig. He was also planning to pour hot water over his windshield to thaw the ice and snow that coated it.

I think he was lucky that I came along. Being from Belmont County, Ohio, I was equipped with a couple of ice scrapers, a collapsible snow shovel and dry gas additive for my fuel tank. I also had plenty of hats and gloves; I shared a knitted hat with him but I didn’t have any gloves or mittens that would fit. I helped him out and shared my equipment. He, in turn, helped to dig out my car. Most importantly, though, I stopped him from pouring hot water on that windshield.

The deep snow closed Interstate 70 and other roads for days, leaving me stranded and unable to come home to Eastern Ohio even though my classes were canceled for more than a week. But it wasn’t the snow that bothered me, it was the cold.

Montgomery County, where Dayton is located, is nothing like Belmont County. It’s flat. That means there are no hills or valleys to slow the wind.

During the 1993 blizzard, temperatures in the Dayton area plummeted. The fierce winds plowed straight across the landscape, driving windchills down to 25 and 30 below zero for days on end. Under those conditions, many people found that their vehicles would not start. That was not the case for me though; my 1977 AMC Matador started every time I turned the key.

That ugly old car also traveled surprisingly well in the snow. It had positraction, and I seemed to be able to go nearly anywhere I wanted. So, I loaded up my jumper cables and set out to help free my friends from their snowbound parking lots. I actually have no idea how many cars and trucks I helped to jumpstart over the course of that week. But I was happy to help and pleased to have found a way to pass the time.

Looking back over the years at storms like that one, it’s clear that the weather we are experiencing locally right now is not so bad. Only once in the last week or so has my husband needed a push from my brother to get his car out of our driveway. The shoveling, salting, and plowing we have done has not been overwhelming. Best of all, the Ohio State Highway Patrol has not reported any serious weather-related accidents during snow showers or periods of freezing rain over the last several days.

So, I’m going to keep my chin up, continue to bundle up when I venture outside and keep thinking about spring. After all, it’s less than 30 days away.

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