Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Taken by storm

There are only two things being reported on the Chicago area news: the revolution in Egypt, and the Storm of The Century in Chicago.
It was not a tempest in a teacup. It was a TEMPEST. Was? Is. It's still carrying on outside, though from my 11th floor condo perspective, things have settled down extraordinarily since last night, when it peaked. Well, I'm not sure I would say it peaked, in the usual sense of a point on a line graph at the top between steep upward and downward slopes. It plateaued, raging unchanged for hours and hours and hours.

We can't say we weren't warned. For the last 48 hours all radio and TV channels trumpeted warnings: The Storm of the Century is coming! The sky is falling! Sixteen to 24 inches of snow! Dangerous gale-force winds! How often this kind of anticipatory hyperbole is deflated when in actuality we manage to pile up 4 or 5 inches of snow. This time, they were right, and the prediction has so far been phenomenally accurate. The winter storm warning went into effect at 3:00 p.m. yesterday, just about the time I arrived home. The president of the organization I work for had sent around an email with subject, "Winter storm event" (so that's it's called!) suggesting people leave while the going was good, and announcing that we are to work from home today, so here I am, signing off the blog momentarily to carry on the good fight.

But before I go, I have to say, I've never experienced anything like last night's storm. The wind coming unimpeded off of Lake Michigan seemed to blast right through my (modern, industrial-strength, double-paned, heavy aluminum-framed) windows at high velocity, making it uncomfortably cold and creepily noisy to sit anywhere near them. Somewhere deep inside my building, a 15-story mid-century mid-rise, something set to vibrating at about the same frequency of a jet flying within hearing range overhead, the oddest, steadiest background hum I've ever heard in the the 23 years I've lived here. The view outside was so whited-out that it wasn't possible to see snow, only occasional long cloud-like streams of scintillating moisture shooting past horizontally against the background glowing gray from the city lights.  I kept thinking of the early Arctic explorers, imagining homesteaders in their sod houses on the Dakota plains, stray kittens huddling in alleyways, and above all, Chicago's homeless unwilling to go to shelters. Soon we'll know how many did not survive Chicago's Storm of the Century.


  1. Goodness, I hope your power stays on and you have heat throughout the storm. Your description of what it's like to sit near your windows is chilling - it reminds me of hurricanes we've had here. On our news, we have Egypt and snow ruining everyone's travel plans, with 200 flights in and out of South Florida canceled so far. Stay warm!

  2. Thanks for your comments, Ellen. Things calmed down finally and I've been enjoying watching the cross-country skiers on Lake Shore Drive (still closed) having a ball today - they don't often have enough snow to go out and play.

    I will need your wish to stay warm, tomorrow's prediction is sunny and -2 degrees. And unlike today, I have to into the office, should be interesting :-)

  3. The Charlie Russell painting is appropriate. There was the occasional killing winter on the northern frontier that wiped out whole herds of cattle and drove cattlemen out of business. Wallace Stegner wrote a great short story called "Carrion Spring" that is good historical fiction on the subject.

    I've been in Chicago in winter months and remember the fiercest freezing wind coming off the Lake. Hard to imagine what you are describing. Working in mid-town Manhattan, I remember how the building would creak in a stiff wind, like a ship at sea. Unnerving.

    What I'm thinking of right now are the passengers stranded at O'Hare...

  4. Very amusing musings, Veronica. I thought the same things, watching the world turn white outside my window. I wondered how the settlers of this great land, two hundred years ago, would fair against storms like this. They certainly didn't have plows or salt trucks to keep the whole town from freezing over. Keep up the good work!

  5. Oh wow, hard to imagine as we swelter in summer temperatures. At least you were well informed and warned to prepare.

    We have been following with interest the category 5 cyclone Yasi that has hit northern Queensland Australia in the last 24 hours.

    Poor Qld has suffered in the last six weeks with the flooding last month. That was mostly in the Southern part of the state. A friend who was visiting her daughter there at the time said that it was interesting to see the wildlife that appeared as a result of the rain. They had to cope with a rather large snake in the backyard. Nothing around her was underwater though.

  6. Hope you made it through OK. Winter seems to be a little on the tough side this year. We have been really cold this year -- but that wind in Chicago, nothing is that cold.