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.