Well, here it is — winter arriving on the very weekend when the holidays begin to embrace us but before they grab us by the throat. What could be more … well … Christmasy.
Look around. Even if you hate snow — for the record, I like snow — you’ve got to admit it’s beautiful. It’s exciting. It’s embracing. It’s challenging.
Hold it. Time for an important digression: It’s no secret that these columns are actually written a few days before they appear in the paper. This one is being written as the weather forecasters are warning of impending snowstorms, not just one but — gird your loins — two. Oh, the horror.
But as I write, sun is peeking through the window. The grounds and roads are bereft of snow. You could golf, if you like golf. Wear gloves.
One of the things I notice about modern weather forecasting is that we get such dire warnings of bad weather on the way that once it arrives, it isn’t nearly as bad as you thought it was going to be before it got here. It can be disappointing.
I do a lot of looking back in these columns because I’ve got a lot to look back on. Weather forecasting in the past was not nearly as scientific as it apparently is today. Weather men (they were always men) on TV were not called meteorologists because they were not meteorologists. They were guys making their way through careers in broadcasting who took on the assignment of reporting on the weather on the 10 o’clock news.
They did their best, based on information they got from the “Weather Bureau” but they were just announcers who weren’t really weather experts. In my earlier life as a journalist in Duluth, I often wrote learned weather stories for the newspaper based on what the men and women of the Weather Bureau, who were meteorologists, said on the phone.
And woe betide anyone who said they were “predicting” upcoming weather. Predicting is for soothsayers like Nostradamus. Meteorologists forecast the weather based on scientific knowledge. They have “models” that track weather fronts across the country. These are not the kind of models that traverse the ramps in fashion shows.
But enough science. As dire as this weekend’s warnings have been, no blizzard could possibly be as bad as the ones in my early life. Yours, too. I feel sorry for today’s children who missed out on the really bad snowstorms of decades before they were born.
Why, when I was a young lad, it snowed so hard the roofs of buildings were crushed beneath the weight. Schools had to close. Only vehicles with chains on their drive wheels could move at all. Buses all had chains, and so did many cars. Eager to get my driver’s license at 15, I put chains on the family sedan for fear I might not make it to the driver’s license testing station after an overnight snowfall.
And speaking of forecasting (and not predicting), nobody knew days ahead that big snowstorms or blizzards were on the way. I can remember going to movies on clear winter nights and coming out two hours later in a raging blizzard and harboring serious doubts about even making it home.
Those were exciting times unequaled today.
But I have deep regrets about being born too late to have experienced snowstorms in my father’s day. When he was growing up in Duluth 100-plus years ago, it snowed so hard, people could only get around on skis. One time, he set out on skis from near Skyline Drive and ended up on the roof of a house buried in snow.
Boy, those were the days.
But you should hear about how hard it snowed in his father’s day. It makes more recent blizzards sound like powder puff snowfalls compared to how hard it snowed in those earlier times. Horses were buried in drifts until spring. People had to bore tunnels through snow to get out of their dwellings.
That’s as far back as I go on snowfall history in Duluth.
I now have grandchildren living here, and I feel sorry for them never being able to experience blizzards as bad as they were in my day, my father’s day, his father’s day, and so on and so forth.
And finally, after all this, it better have snowed when this column appears. In the meantime, maybe I’ll take a jaunt over to the golf course.
Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He maintains a blog at jimheffernan.org and can be reached at email@example.com.