The mother of a close childhood friend (close enough that she helped to raise me too) passed away early last week, and I had to go quickly to Jackson, Mississippi for the Friday memorial. But the weather guys were predicting a big snowstorm for Wednesday; New York had missed the previous week’s pounding, which shut down D.C., but we wouldn’t be so lucky this time. So I flew to Jackson on Tuesday, very proud of myself for beating the blizzard and the airport shutdowns (which indeed happened: if I hadn’t left that early, I wouldn’t have made it at all). I didn’t expect to be present for Mississippi’s heaviest snowfall in many years.
The Deep South above the Florida panhandle is only semi-tropical, so it can get cold and wet in the winter, but ice storms are more common than notable accumulations of snow. In both cases driving can be dangerous, especially for people who aren’t accustomed to winter weather, and power lines snap as laden tree branches fall over. They’re actually used to being without power down there. Most people think Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, but that’s not so. The hurricane made landfall much farther east, in South Mississippi. It was the failure of New Orleans’s levees to hold back high wind-driven water which flooded the city, not Katrina herself. Meanwhile, more than 150 miles north of landfall, Jacksonians watched the still-mighty storm uproot centuries-old trees and throw them around like kindling. (At least the storm had weakened enough to spare most of their houses; back on the Coast, it simply demolished everything standing.) As if that weren’t enough misery, Mississippi is among the top ten states for tornado incidence, and some killer tornadoes later tried to finish what Katrina couldn’t. So when the TV meteorologists started warning of a snowstorm of historic proportions, with big, wet, heavy flakes that would surely test branches and power lines, people paid attention.
I stayed with another close friend who’s made great hay over the years by boasting that it never snows where he is. He lives in Mississippi, so duh, but whenever he travels to a Northern city in the winter, no snow falls while he’s there. Never. On Thursday I could see the storm on radar aiming for the entire Deep South, and I heard what it dumped in Texas, so I bet him that by Friday morning, the grass in his back yard would be covered with snow and his longtime “record” would be snapped in two. We stepped outside as the snow began about 6 p.m. Thursday and he was still skeptical. It was falling, all right, but it had to stick too – enough to make his back yard a winter wonderland. Here’s what it looked like the next morning:
It had snowed all night, but really started falling at whiteout-strength about 3 a.m. and continued through morning rush. Jackson got just shy of six inches, its largest February single-day snowfall in 50 years, and the tenth biggest “snow event” ever. All the schools closed, and many businesses too: the directive was to stay off the road unless you absolutely had to be there, but Mississippians aren’t used to taking such orders just for a bunch of snow. Still, there’s no such thing as a snowplow in Jackson, Mississippi. If there were, the idiot who bought it should be shot and gutted.
I thought how lucky the schoolkids were: in New York, it had snowed on Tuesday night, making Wednesday a snow day. But Mayor Bloomberg actually apologized to New York’s kids early Thursday for reopening schools that day. In contrast, Jackson’s snow day was Friday, just perfect. Snow-lovers – including, funniest of all, dogs which had never seen the stuff before — had as long as the snow lasted to play.
Some people will doubtless seize upon Friday, a day when there was snow on the ground in 49 of the 50 states (guess which one escaped? Obama’s home!!!), as evidence against climate change, specifically global warming. That’s like noticing a skinny guy in line at McDonalds and concluding that fast food doesn’t make you fat. The more often we hear, “once-a-century storm,” “once-in-fifty-years snowfall” – and aren’t we breaking meteorological records all the time now? — the very least it indicates is that weather patterns seem to be changing. We’re experiencing more anomalous events, like rain where it’s not supposed to be (CA, AZ) and drought where it is (GA). Hurricanes are rarer but stronger, with lesser storms taking up the frequency. Daily highs and lows are historic in unusual proportions. And all this is predicted by the climate change models of most serious researchers.
Of course, back in our own little corner of earth, we were among those who did have to be on the road Friday morning, because we had a mother to memorialize. As we drove toward the church about 10 a.m., the roads were still pretty awful, and it kept snowing as we waited for the service to begin. But then the sun appeared, the temperature rose toward forty, and by the time we walked out, branches were shedding snow. Nearly all the power lines that were destined to fail already had, including at the home of one of our pallbearers, but he got power back only a few hours later. There was more melting on Saturday – the trees were all wintry bare again – and on Sunday rain swept away the last of the “white stuff.” Except for snowmen, now standing guard by themselves in grassy yards. I wonder how many of the families that happily built the big guys realized that one of the reasons we make snowmen in the first place is because they’re always our last surviving memories of the snow that just fell. By Sunday evening, they were all that was left of the amazing Blizzard of 2010.
P.S., at the end of the month: Here are the climate change points I was trying to make up there and much more, only stated more artfully and authoritatively.