"When she was in bed with Mary and Carrie, she stayed awake to keep on being happy. She was so sleepily comfortable and cosy. The rain on the roof was a pleasant sound." (all quotes are from The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder)
We live with an advantage Laura Ingalls Wilder couldn't have imagined in the winter of 1880-81: weather forecasters. We were expecting rain, and we were planning for snow as colder air was expected to wrap itself around the low pressure system.
The forecast on Thursday morning said "potential for significant snow accumulation", "12-14 inches", "20 inches in the Hills."
I told my husband he should take his overnight kit with him to work - but he didn't think we'd really get all that snow. "Up in the Hills, maybe..."
Around 6:00 am Friday morning, the rain turned to snow. We had already gotten 2 1/2 inches of rain overnight, and before the day was over we were to receive the highest recorded one day snowfall total for our city: 19". (By the time the storm ended, our official total was 31", and up in the Hills they got 48".)
|Thatcher's first snow. He wasn't quite sure what to make of it in the beginning!|
The wind picked up around noon, and soon after that the hospital where my husband works called "condition snow", which means no employees leave their job until their replacement can come in. My husband doesn't have a replacement - he would be at the hospital for the duration.
By mid-afternoon, letting the dogs out through the patio door was impossible. The winds, increasing in speed by the hour, swirled the snow around the corners of the house. Drifts climbed higher, blocking doors and windows, and tearing trees apart.
I took them out the front door, where the garage formed a wind block. The dogs ventured out into what had been our front yard....
Wynter, who has always loved the wind, and will often face it with her nose in the air catching every scent, turned her back to this monster.
I ventured out of my shelter and gasped for breath. The wind was just as Laura had described so many years ago - a living, angry thing.
We went back inside the house.
Our middle son works at the mall, just over a mile away from our house. The mall closed at 3:00, and he got home around 4:00, after helping some of the other mall employees who had gotten stuck in the drifts.
|The dogs went out to greet him!|
Our two other sons and our daughter hadn't gone anywhere - school and work were cancelled - so when Benjamin got home, we were tucked in for the night...all except for my husband, holding down the fort and feeding the employees and patients at the hospital.
"The window was a white blur of madly swirling snow. Snow had blown under the door and across the floor and every nail in the walls was white with frost.
Pa had gone to the stable. Laura was glad that they had so many haystacks in a row between the stable and the shanty. Going from haystack to haystack, Pa would not get lost.
'A b-b-b-b-blizzard!' Ma chattered. 'In Oc-October I n-n-never heard of...'"
Our power flickered on and off all day on Friday, but daughter Carrie decided to try to make dinner anyway. She and Michael worked together to make us a feast. Not quite Ma Ingalls' beans and salt pork, but it was delicious.
So, what do you fix for dinner when the electricity is flickering? Whatever you can find in the pantry...
We found some cooked Italian Sausage in the freezer, some of the tomatoes I canned in September, and a can of diced tomatoes...so Carrie and Michael "MacGyvered" some spaghetti sauce.
MacGyver That Sauce
8 oz tomato sauce
1 cup water
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 pound Sweet Italian Sausage (browned)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
1 Bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon Rosemary
1/2 teaspoon Parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon Basil
1/2 teaspoon Thyme
salt and pepper to taste
Cook sausage and garlic together. Add tomato sauce, water and diced tomatoes. Stir in all seasonings and let simmer 20-30 minutes, or until desired consistency.
Add to cooked pasta and stir to mix.
It was delicious! She also made an apple torte with salted caramel topping for dessert - tune in next week for that recipe :)
We had just cleared the dishes when the power went out. And stayed out. We ate our dessert by lantern light.
"Then Pa had to bring in more wood. They were thankful that the woodpile was close to the back door. Pa staggered in breathless with the first armful. When he could speak he said, 'This wind takes your breath away. If I'd thought of such a storm as this, I'd have filled this shanty with wood yesterday."
We were so thankful for our wood stove. It kept the house so warm, the boys were sitting around in their undershirts (Boys. Sheesh.) After a few rousing games of Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan, we added wood to the fire, blew out the lantern, and went to bed.
As I tried to go to sleep, the wind pounded at the house, driving the snow against the window, searching for a way inside. Thunder roared along with the wind...
What? You've never heard of thunder snow? Oh. My. How do I describe that? It was like a battle in the night...the wind howling, the thunder crashing, and the constant hammering of the snow against the house....
"But even after Laura was warm she lay awake listening to the wind's wild tune and thinking of each little house, in town, alone in the whirling snow with not even a light from the next house shining through. And the little town was alone on the wide prairie. Town and prairie were lost in the wild storm which was neither earth nor sky, nothing but fierce winds and a blank whiteness.
For the storm was white. In the night, long after the sun had gone and the last daylight could not possibly be there, the blizzard was whirling white."
We woke the next morning to a white world. The snow continued to drive in on the north wind. Drifts mounted...we couldn't open the front door anymore. I shoveled an open spot on the patio for the dogs.
We heated water on the wood stove for hot chocolate, and cooked the boys' favorite Boy Scout camping breakfast: shipwreck (eggs, potatoes, sausage, cheese, all scrambled together).
After more than twelve hours without electricity, we filled our cooler and set it in the snow, and ate everything that didn't fit in the cooler. I planned to start eating out of the freezer on Sunday...but we weren't in danger of running out of food, like Laura and her family were....
"Slowly they ate the last potatoes, skins and all. The blizzard was beating and scouring at the house, the winds were roaring and shrieking. The window was pale in the twilight and the stove pressed out its feeble heat against the cold."
The wind lessened on Saturday afternoon, and the snow let up enough so we could see out the windows. Three drifts filled our cul-de-sac. Another drift filled the yard on the north side of the house.
|This drift, on the north side of the house. was about eight feet high.|
Our other neighbor had a drift as big and curved as a surf boarder's dream come true in their front yard. The dog's pen was filled to the top of the fence and over - the dogs had a nice romp through the neighborhood!
|Our wire fence is four feet high. The privacy fence across the creek to the left is six feet high.|
By suppertime, we had emptied the refrigerator of everything that was perishable, so I made chicken and noodles from ingredients in our emergency pantry (canned chicken, canned broth and noodles).
And then, just as we were going to bed, the power came back on. The storm was over.
On Sunday morning, the wind had died down and the temperatures warmed up to the 50's. The neighborhood came alive with folks shoveling the heavy, wet snow. By mid-afternoon, our streets were cleared and my husband was able to get home!
|This was the underpass on the highway a couple miles from our house last Sunday.|
|Sunday afternoon - a very welcome sight!|
|This is one of four snow piles left in our cul-de-sac!|
But then we started hearing about the aftermath of the storm from beyond our back yard...
"When Pa came in Ma asked him, 'What was wrong with the cattle, Charles?'
'Their heads were frozen over with ice and snow,' Pa said. 'Their breath froze over their eyes and their noses till they couldn't see nor breathe.'
Laura stopped sweeping. 'Pa! Their own breath! Smothering them,' she said in horror."
We live in ranching country. These ranches, most of them owned by families for more than a hundred years, are the life blood of western South Dakota. Since this area is semi-arid, the ranches are huge - measured in thousands of acres. Many ranchers own airplanes just so they are able to manage their land.
But it's October. The cattle hadn't grown their winter coats yet. They hadn't been moved to winter pastures yet. The fall calves were still little....
This storm surpassed all predictions, all of the meteorologist's "computer models". We got twice as much snow as we were expecting, and the winds were at least 20 mph stronger than expected with gusts up to 70 mph and beyond. The prairies east of us weren't supposed to get snow at all...or maybe only a couple inches. And the storm started with rain...the animals were soaking wet when the wind and snow hit them.
The cattle, ones who didn't succumb to hypothermia, drifted in front of the wind until they reached a barrier - a fence, a creek, a ditch - and huddled together. They were covered by drifting snow and suffocated.
Cattle, horses...the storm wasn't picky.
We don't know yet how many animals died in the storm. I've heard estimates ranging from 15,000 to 80,000. Pray for the ranchers in South Dakota. Some of them have lost everything. Everything. You can't start over from that.
Since the storm ended, our weather has been beautiful. Warm days, cool nights. The snow is nearly all gone. It's hard to believe that just a week ago we were still struggling to get out of our neighborhood.
"Nobody could say, exactly, that anything was wrong with that weather. It was beautiful Indian summer. Frosts came every night and sometimes a light freeze, but all the days were sunny. Every afternoon Laura and Mary took long walks in the warm sunshine, while Carrie played with Grace near the house."
But, like Pa Ingalls, we can't shake the feeling that there's just something wrong with the weather. Call me paranoid, but we're restocking our wood pile and our supply of lamp oil. The pantry is stocked...but I look at a half full bag of dog food and think "I need to get another bag."
Are we looking at another Long Winter? I hope not...but I know we'll get through it just fine.