Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Weather Outside is Frightful

Yesterday, I planned to do some shopping, then come home and do a follow-up on my Tuesday's Tip post. All my plans got shot down by...snow.

We've been experiencing an arctic air mass for about four days, with daytime temps in the single digits (this is not counting the wind chill factor which brought it into the negative double-digits). Yesterday, it started to snow at about 11*. I went out to do pick up a battery for my husband's car (this just after getting my car's battery replaced last week...oh, yes, and when we were generously given a car by a friend for our daughter to use this summer, we ended up buying one for that, too!). Most of my Christmas shopping has been done online this year, but Wal-mart was my one-stop choice yesterday for a car battery, picking up prints of my daughter's senior portraits, and a few Christmas gifts for my three young nephews. From there, I needed to drive four miles south on the main street in the city to pick up my son from his school, then swing northwest another two miles to pick up my daughter from her school, with another mile and a half to return home. On a clear dry day with normal traffic and waiting on the kids this trip would have taken 40 minutes, tops.

THREE HOURS LATER we returned, safe and sound with no injuries to ourselves or damage to our vehicle, for which I'm extremely grateful. I knew we were in trouble when I came down the main street hill and saw that traffic in the three lanes on the other side was backed up due to semi's not being able to get up the hill, their drivers attempting to put chains on. After I picked up my son, I had to go up that north hill to get to my daughter, so I took the next best route. We could have made it in my front-wheel drive, except halfway up, three cars in front of me started spinning out. There was no where to go; traffic was backed up behind us. I sat there, praying no one would do anything stupid (like the little sports car in front of me that kept insisting on making attempts up the steep face of the hill, then sliding back dangerously close to me...ugh!). Fifteen minutes later, police officers arrived on the scene, rerouting the traffic backed up behind us and then coaching the half-dozen of us stranded on the hill's face backwards down the hill until we reached the nearest intersection.

We backtracked and arrived back at my son's high school 50 minutes after leaving (from what would have been a normal 10-minute round trip) and proceeded to go the route up the main street's hill, hoping traffic had not been closed. It hadn't, but it was still blocked in some lanes. It took us nearly another hour just to get to the bottom of the hill from my son's high school (again, normally a 3-minute drive, with traffic and lights). The hill was a mess, but the center lane was slowly moving. I was worried about the "slowly" part. Those of you who have front wheel drive know that you get a good run up a slippery hill and just drive fast, ignorning the fish-tailing as long as you have front traction. There would be no good run or start up this hill. We just crept along, foot by foot until about half-way up the hill, when the vehicles who weren't going to make it spun off in the side lanes and those of us who could started gunning it and made it to the top! Success! Once we were up on the flat plains at the top of the hill, traffic moved slowly but steadily. I made it to my daughter's boyfriend's house, where she had walked through heavily-falling snow after hearing we were stranded on the first hill. We picked her up and brought her home. I was never so grateful to get there!

My husband was at work and I called him to let him know we arrived safely. He was confident the roads would be cleared by the time he got off at 11 PM (it was 5 PM at this time). I wasn't so sure. The city had officially closed all roads and was on red alert (snow plows going 24/7 until all 967 miles of street have been cleared...right now, they are focusing on two main roads on both the north and south hills, keeping the routes to the hospitals open, and maintaining the freeway). At 8:30, he called again, saying 40% of the work crew had left, and what was my opinion. I told him I thought he'd better come home because it might take a few hours. He had better luck than I did and it only took him about an hour to get home from what normally would have been a half-hour trip (however, most of his route was on the freeway, which crews were doing a valiant effort to keep plowed).

Today, the city is shut down...no flights, no bus service, no schools open, businesses urged to remain closed unless absolutely necessary. One thing I love about Spokane, it's a very neighborly city. Right now, it's 8:30 and our neighbors have already come out and shoveled our front sidewalks. Yesterday, during my harrowing three-hour journey, I witnessed numerous acts of kindness--stalled vehicles being pushed, allowing cars waiting at intersections into the already congested lanes of traffic, people talking calmly and compassionately to each other after getting into fender benders ("are you OK?"). For the next few days, neighbors will help each other dig out cars; shovel and snow-blow snow of walks, driveways, and alleys; rake snow off roofs; check to see if power and water and food supplies are OK; and offer to run errands for each other. There will be verbal thanks and goodies exchanged "for all your help." I can't think of a better way to enter into the Spirit of the Season.

This photo was taken Sunday morning, and is identical to what it looked like yesterday morning.

This morning, about 2 feet of snow, compacted.
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