Monday, January 21, 2008

Blizzard of '48

It was sixty years ago this month, in January of 1948, that the goddess of nature decided to treat us to a snowfall. We were happy to see it. We were kids then and enjoyed frolicking in the snow so the goddess of nature gave us some more. As we played, the snow kept coming. Then more snow came down, and wind, and sleet, and it wasn't quite as much fun anymore because now the snow was above our knees. The wind starting howling, freezing our cheeks and the sleet was stinging our faces. Mom made us come inside; the fun was over. And the snow, it kept coming. After a while, that fluffy white stuff we had enjoyed started to take on an ominous look. From the front window of our cottage I watched as it rose up to the window sill. The wind was forming great snowdrifts. After a time, you couldn't see out of the window any more. The lights went out ! For the first time I learned what it was like to live by candlelight just like the pioneers. Now that was a new adventure ! Children love scary adventures and there I was in the middle of one, flickering shadows on the wall, creaking noises, howling wind and all. It was what history would call The Great Blizzard of '48.

Even after it stopped, the adventure continued. The powerful wind had created some impressive drifts and our house had been on the receiving end. When the front door was opened, my goodness, the outside world wasn't there anymore . . . just a wall of snow !
The task of digging us out fell upon my Dad. I volunteered to help with my little toy shovel, but Mom said, no. She was sure I would get buried in an avalanche. I watched. There he was, hour after hour, one man and a shovel against a mountain of snow. Our house was not close to the street. A long path was needed. But, after what seemed like forever, the path, or should I say tunnel, was done and I went outside for the first time. The path looked like a snow tunnel to me, the top was way over my head, which didn't take much at the age I was then. But what really impressed me was that it was over my Dad's head, too! That was a snow storm to remember.

The town, as a whole had not fared well. Media accounts of the storm and the aftermath reported :

"Families were reduced to primitive status as lights and heat were lost for some time after the storm."

"Washington Avenue was in the worst condition it has been in since it was a cow path."

"Three plows and a road scraper were brought in from a contractor in Passaic. By 4:00 A.M the following morning, one lane in each direction had been opened on the avenue. Afterwards, traffic moved along at 5 mph. Commuters, hoping to go to work, waited at length between the mountains of snow for buses crawling along through axel deep slush. Cars were stranded and abandoned everywhere"

"The entire police and fire department were on 24 hour duty shifts looking for people who may have been trapped and trying to restore some sort of civil order to the town. The entire police auxilary was mobilized. Live power lines were down in many places. Two of the three fire alarm systems in town were out of order. The Red Cross was providing cots and blankets for the much over-worked police and firemen."

The huge volume of snow and the great drifts made the clean-up and recovery a Herculean task. Most side roads had been slowly opened by a community effort, armies of neighbors with shovels. For days, the chink-chink-chink of chain-clad car tires and the scraping of shovels were the most common sounds. Cars were made of heavier stuff in those days so many were able to move once the roads were partially cleared but chains were mandatory if you had hopes of going more than ten feet through the deep ruts.

Eventually, Spring came and we forgot the hardships brought on by the blizzard, but for long afterwards we swapped stories of our experiences during the storm. But I really do think it is better to remember 'The Blizzard of '48" through the mists of time, because it actually wasn't all that much fun to be there.