Wading in a Winter Wonderland

phdpiefillingstorm1Since moving to America I have lived through the Ice Storm of ’08, traveled on a plane that took off at double speed in the snow to avoid the impending closing of airspace, survived without power for weeks at a time, seen the statewide driving ban of Blizzard Nemo, but Blizzard Juno was something different. In this blizzard, my cold-loving, who-needs-a-coat Minnesotan boyfriend wore a scarf! In terms of days that will live in infamy this one is definitely up there.

Juno seemed to come from nowhere. Suddenly the weekend news was full of reports of impending doom, and weather reporters used terms such as “historic” and “life threatening.” I have something of an obsession with tracking things. Indeed half the fun of ordering online for me is that I can track my package across the United States. Storms are rather like the holy grail of tracking. From its first appearance on the Sunday morning news I watched every model, read every “emergency preparedness,” “pantry essentials,” and “how to survive being trapped in your car” article I could. I followed mass.gov on twitter, kept refreshing the “service and disruption” on the MBTA transit website, and I am ashamed to admit that when I turned on the news to find it discussing Syria, I internally cried, “Syria?! There’s a storm coming!”

The local dentist sent an email saying they were closing, our apartment complex delivered a three-page letter of what to do in the storm, offering the comforting news that our clubhouse had a generator. The local schools announced they were closing for 3 days, New York City shut its subways, the regional news announced that no morning commute would be possible, and yet still my University planned to be open. Finally about 2 o’clock in the afternoon the announcement came that it would close. Public transit similarly shutdown, and then the governor pronounced a state wide driving ban.

There is something very surreal about knowing that your environment is about to change (albeit temporarily), and there is nothing you can do to stop it. The waiting is equally exciting and excruciating. Having lost power for significant periods this is always my worst fear. Before a storm I am now completely obsessive about charging and recharging electronics. Left with no choice but to batten down the hatches I got the torch box out, systematically placed torches around the house and gathered matches, lighters, and candles together. New Englanders always fill up their baths during storms. I didn’t, as I don’t understand what purpose it serves. However, ignoring this sage old tradition does tend to fill me with a sense of panic. Maybe one year I will just follow suit.

The night of the storm we did what any storm-fearing Englishman would do and made bangers and mash with onion gravy. The American sausages contained so much maple syrup that it actually tasted more like pancakes and onion gravy, which is not exactly delicious. However, we tried. As the night drew in, my boyfriend became increasingly woeful, as snow totals did not match the predictions. Minnesotans, it seems, really enjoy getting destroyed by Mother Nature. Thankfully by about 10 p.m the snow started to pick up, and while I slept peacefully he stayed up till 4am watching the snow and taking frequent trips outside to monitor progress.phdpiefillingstorm2In the morning I awoke to find the power still on, and about 20 inches of snow by the back door. The patio chair was just visible, but disappearing fast. The wind raced, picking up snow and swirling it around creating a vortex of white haze. Ice formations spread over the doors like feathers etched in glass. The snow fell for nearly two days, dumping 3-4 inches an hour. In total we received 39 inches outside our backdoor in one 24-hour period. At the peak of the storm we went for a walk and the snow was somewhere between my knees and hips at all points. The snow was coming down so hard and fast that I had to rearrange my multiple scarves and hoods so that I only had one eye visible. Even then I squinted to minimize open exposure, snow blowing directly into the eye is very painful. My long hair froze solid and I cracked it like an icicle when I got home.

phdpiefillingstorm5Unlike England where grey skies tend to dominate the winter months, Boston gets beautiful winter sunshine. As the snow ceased, the sun came out magnifying the dazzling effects of the glittering white snow. The red fire hydrants that people had painstakingly dug out shone against their stark white backdrop. On the roads and car parks, petrol swirled in the melting snow creating marbleized pools of red, pink, and purple. Caution tape started to appear around building entrances now armed with icicles ready to spear unwitting victims.

phdpiefillingstorm4Things seemed to be getting back to normal, however, within a week of the blizzard, we were hit by another winter storm. After another couple of feet, chaos reigned. I waited for nearly 40 minutes for a train in the morning. All the departure boards were empty except for one which had serendipitously got stuck during a “we are experiencing serious delays due to extreme weather” announcement, so that it just read “weather.” At four out of the first five stops the train overshot the platform and had to reverse up the track to reach the platform. I suspect that when the tracks are too icy for the train to stop, this is likely a sign to stay home. Once off the train, the winter commuter faces new challenges having to navigate across partially plowed streets and side walks. Crossing a road becomes a single-file experience. You have to wade through a snow bank to get onto the sidewalk, putting your feet in the holes left by those who have crossed before you. This can be particularly challenging when the holes don’t tally with your own stride. Invariably having crossed the bank you land in a puddle of dirty, cold, slush. My fifty-minute commute took over two hours each way.

phdpiefillingstorm3In one week, the transportation department announced, snow had burned out the motors on 60 trains. This is usually the total for the entire winter. As England tends to fall apart with a couple of inches of snow, friends at home often ask me how the city can cope with so much snow. After seven New England winters I can confirm that while generally the area manages the weather well, five feet of snow is the breaking point. Train motors burn out, brakes stop functioning, and Minnesotans wear scarves.