Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Weather Extremes

Never again will I brag about warm, springlike weather in January.  I am singing a different tune now.  After experiencing 70 degree weather  last Thursday, schools were closed today in Pueblo, Colorado and Colorado Springs because of temperatures that ranged from 0 to -4 degrees.  In some areas, the wind chill factor made the temps feel like -45.  That is Colorado for you.  This is a place where you can experience all four seasons in one day.

After seeing my neighbors on a picnic in the sun last week, I ran into them again yesterday at the grocery store.  They were dressed in boots and heavy parkas.  I asked if they had dropped by to buy food for another afternoon picnic.  No, they were going home to make soup.

I'm not really complaining about our temperatures here because I know many of you are dealing with snow that just will not stop.  I worry about my children in Boston.  I know how difficult it must be to deal with such large amounts of snow when the main modes of transportation are public transit.  So many live in the small towns outside of Boston and must take the train to town in order to go to work or school.
Leadville, Colorado

When I was a senior in high school, we lived in Leadville, Colorado.  Leadville's elevation is two miles high.  It has the nickname of City in the Clouds.  It is an old mining town situated over one mountain from Vail, and over another mountain from Aspen.  Breckenridge is nearby; you just have to drive over a mountain pass to get there.

In the winter it snows a lot.  I've even seen it snow on the 4th of July.  The snow plows begin their work early in the day in Leadville.  I remember hearing them out about 4:00 A.M. when there was a big snow storm.  They had to clear the roads so the miners could get out of town and make their way to Climax to work in the molybdenum mine.  In the 60's when I lived in Leadville, the mine was still going strong and provided the town with its main tax base.  This meant that the roads were plowed early and often.

Snow would begin to pile up down on the main street of town.  Since there was not place to put the snow, the plows would dump it down the middle of Harrison Avenue which was the main drag through town.  You could barely see from one side of the street to the other.

Snow never stopped anything in Leadville.  I have seen pictures of the old high school in Leadville that showed a tunnel like path to the school door.  Snow this deep was a new thing to me when at age 17,  I moved to the mountains after living in the flatlands of Pueblo.  The first things my father bought me after we moved to the mountains was a warm coat, a Pendleton, with a lining that looked like a heavy plaid blanket, and a pair of fur lined boots.  He said I would need them if I were going to live up in Leadville.  That coat was wonderful!  It did keep me warm when I walked home from school.  Most mornings, with the thermometer hovering around 0 degrees, he drove me to school.    School never was closed due to the weather.  Never.

In the last year or two, it was in the news that schools in Leadville had closed for the day because of snow.  That was a first in many, many years.  In fact, it may have been a first ever.  Like I said, nothing stopped in Leadville because of the snow.

I remember my father telling the story about the time there was a terrible snowstorm in Leadville.  He worked for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, and he had an important meeting in Pueblo at 10:00 in the morning.  It started snowing during the night, so he got up early and made sure we had coal (yes, coal) in the furnace that heated the house.  Then, early, around 4:30 or 5:00, in the morning he started making his way to Pueblo.  He drove through ice packed mountain roads until he was finally down on what we called the flatlands near Pueblo.  Finally, he could relax a little.  The snow was not blowing and drifting.  In fact, it was barely snowing.  It was much warmer.  He would make it to the meeting in time. He got there just before the meeting was to start.  No one came to the meeting.  He finally found a phone and called to see where everyone was.  They had cancelled the meeting.  Those who lived in town didn't to get out and drive in the snow.  It had never occurred to him that they would cancel the meeting, and he would never have called to say he couldn't make it.  He loved to tell that story whenever he talked about how tough the people in Leadville were.

Things are different these days.  For one thing, there are more people living in our cities in Colorado.  The roads are more congested.  People live in Colorado who did not grow up here.  They don't know how to drive in the snow.  The big cities across the country also have a lot of congestion on the roadways.  People live in suburbs or in surrounding small towns and work in the city.  They must rely on public transit.  They have long commutes.  Local governments can't handle snow removal in our sprawling cities.  Parents work and can't always drive children to school when it snows.

So, as they say, the new normal is:  When it snows, schools close.  Schools are closed here just because of the freezing temperatures.  I think that is ok.  I don't want kids standing out waiting for a school bus in this weather.

I think when it gets like this, it is just a good day to put on a pot of soup, make cookies, and curl up with a good book.  Stay warm!  Stay inside if you can.


Kay said...

Wow! You really do have the weather extemes! My daughter is in Chicago and she said it was a complete white-out. This sure has been an incredible winter. Ummmm... snow in July? That's amazing!

Arkansas Patti said...

Loved the memories, I can so relate. Had to laugh when your poor Dad went to all that trouble and no one showed.
When I grew up in Ohio, I can't remember a snow day. We loved it when it was cold enough for the lake to freeze for then our walk to the bus stop was much shorter.
There were times when we stood in the freezing cold with numb feet and hands and were giving the bus 5 more minutes to show or we were going home. It always creeped over the hill in time and we went to school.
Here, schools close all the time. I am jealous.

becca said...

i am so ready for spring and summer to get here

DJan said...

It's cold here, for the PNW, that is (I think it got to the mid-twenties last night) but clear and no rain for a change. I've been watching the weather across the country along with the news coming out of Egypt with a great deal of concern. I am one of those people who moved to Colorado from somewhere else, but you are a native! I had to learn to drive in snow and even got studded tires once... for my bike!

KathyA said...

Temperatures like those are just brutal. Good to know that they have the sense to close the schools.

Schools never closed when I was growing up -- we just dealt with it. I think it's more responsible now to think of life and limb (and yes, litigation)!

Retired English Teacher said...

I think litigation is most likely the key word here. If that is what it takes, I do think closure during extremes is the responsible thing for school districts to do. For instance, if the heat goes out, or pipes freeze, what do they do with a school full of kids who can't get home because the parents are working? In Colorado Springs, the policy used to be that once schools were in session, they did not send students home because of the myriad of problems that would cause. The schools were responsible once school was in session to make sure the kids were safe, warm, or that they got home safely.

Lynilu said...

Sooooooo, we can blame this all on you, eh?

I was struck by learning you lived in Leadville. I lived in Salida from 1951 to 1953! I attended school there 2nd and 3rd grades, then my family moved to NM. We lived in an old two story duplex with no central heating. The house was warmed by the coal burning cook stove and a huge pot-bellied stove in the living room. The heat rose through vents in the floor to the bedrooms on the second floor. Getting up in the morning was brutal!! Dad always got up and started the fires, but it took a while for the house to warm up, so we jumped up, grabbed our clothes (always laid out the night before) and dashed down to dress beside the roaring fires on the first floor! What an experience!

Linda Myers said...

My grandfather's last job before his retirement in 1958 was superintendent of the Denver and Rio Grande railroad. I wonder if your dad knew my grandfather.

Retired English Teacher said...

Yes, Lynilu, that is how it still was in Leadville in the early 60's. We had a Stokermatic coal furnace that was located between the living room and dining room. It really only heated that part of the house. We also would grab our clothes and dress in front of the furnace. Sometimes we would sit on top of it.

The back part of the house was heated by a small propane heater in the kitchen. My mother would put a pot of soup on it to simmer all day. I loved the smell of that soup when I got home from school.

Joanne said...

Ouch wind chill -45? I can't even imagine that! Schools are closed here too. Ice storm this time. Your Dad was tough. I find so many from That generation were. Stay warm and remember that spring will eventually come....I pray! Blessings, Joanne

Retired English Teacher said...

Linda, I'm sure he did. Who was your grandfather. I would probably recognize the name. Small world...

#1Nana said...

One thing I am enjoying about retirement is that I don't have to go out in the weather unless I choose to. Mostly I choose to stay home.

Friko said...

I love reading stories about the old days and how people coped then.

Here in the UK people have gone soft too; the trouble is, very few here have a four-wheel-drive or winter tyres on their car and it is just too dangerous to drive in snow and ice; snow ploughs can't always cope either and everything comes to a dead stop.

When it's like that we can't even get the car out of the garage.

KleinsteMotte said...

Ah yes.Snow and cold and extremes, I get that. These days I have not done much walking at the pond and I miss it. Hope the warmth comes back soon. I enjoyed this post :)

Deb Shucka said...

I think it would have been a shame to not make a big deal out of a summer's day in midwinter. :-)

Your snow stories have made me cold, and made me remember growing up in northern Idaho where drifts often blocked our living room windows.

I think I'll go make some tea and curl up with a good book now.

Cape Cod Kitty said...

Just catching up with things.....Interesting about Leadville and that you lived there. I visited Leadville in the late 60's and in the 80's. Really neat.
We are so lucky that the Cape has been spared all the snow mess. Tonight it is 42 and very foggy with heavy rain. Off-Cape roofs are collapsing under all the weight. Very scary for so many!
Always nice to read your words.

Jeanie said...

We were just talking about how things have changed in the snow-day department. When I was a kid we rarely if ever had one. and all the photos I have show a LOT more snow than we typically have now. Now it sees as though if the temp drops a little too low, they close the schools. They say it has something to do with the buses, and maybe so. Still, it seems so extreme. I live in Michigan -- not, say, Tennessee -- so we're used to the snow and I don't understand why it happens.

Now, in the case of the last-week blizzard, makes a little more sense. Still... have we wimped out since the days my dad "walked miles in the snow..." (And he did -- I drove it one day to see!)

I Wonder Wye said...

After college I wanted to learn to ski so I worked at the Alta Lodge in Alta Utah -- never seen such snow...moved there in the summer and marveled at the 2nd story windows that were doors -- and then really marveled when we were walking out of those windows by November!