Thursday, February 3, 2011

stormin’ the teacup

One of my biggest gripes about living here in the US is that the news media seems to be hell bent on making everything as frightening as possible. In the last decade I’ve survived everything from a deadly flu pandemic to a full scale invasion by terrorists and plenty in between. The thing that annoys me most, and on a regular basis, is the weather reporting.

Now where I'm from, the weather reports are pretty understated. By which I mean the hurricane of 1987 was, and I quote “actually, the weather will become very windy”. The “very windy” weather was, in fact, hurricane force winds. In one single night, they went on to devastate much of south-east England’s woodlands, losing nearly 15 million trees, about 4% of England’s total.

Living here, I’ve become used to the ‘storm in a teacup’ factor. Listen to what’s being said, then scale it back by about 25% and stripping out all hyperbole and eventually reach some kind of information I can actually use. So you can imagine when weather anchors started talking about the Great Blizzard of 2011, I dialed it down in my head to maybe a foot of snow, blown around a bit and everything back to normal by breakfast time.

Hah. This time I should have paid attention.

On the day in question, Tuesday February 1st, I had been invited to a surprise party. By late afternoon, it had begun to snow. So light and feathery, it was blowing in all directions and dancing around against a pale gray sky. By the time I had to be at the party it was blowing a gale and I had begun to feel a little like an Antarctic explorer trying to get to base camp as I walked towards the party. By the time I reached my destination my face felt it had been sand blasted with ice and the breath sucked from my body.

All, of course, forgotten at the ensuing party with the liberal application of alcohol, friends and dirt cake. Although the numbers were down and every time the birthday boy’s almost-brother-in-law went out for a smoke on the balcony he comes back looking 50 years older, his hair is white with snow, it still all seemed like a little bit of overkill on the weather reporting front.

That was, until it came time to go home. Amid alcohol-fueled goodbyes and offers of a comfy couch to sleep on, I stepped out of the condo sure that it would be nothing more than a few inches of snow and that I could jump in a taxi and head home. My first hurdle came in getting out the door of the condo building. It was stuck. After leaning on it with all my weight the snow drift keeping it shut gradually gave way, giving me just enough room to get out.

That should have been my first warning. By the time I reached the nearest junction, I felt like turning back; the wind was blowing hard in every direction, there were already 2 foot drifts and it was hard going and, not a taxi (or any other kind of vehicle for that matter) in sight. As I crossed Lincoln Avenue, I had a tiny flash of fear that something could happen to me out here and no one would know. They’d just find my iced up body with my purple-gloved fingers grimly clutching my laptop bag and a look of surprise on my face as the thaw set in.

But strangely, I began to enjoy my journey. It was so peaceful. There was no traffic and it was awe inspiring with drifts of snow in beautiful shapes and the wind sweeping it up and back down into new drifts. It took me almost 40 minutes to get home, a journey which normally takes about 25, and in parts the snow was up to my knees. The hardest part came in trying to get down the path to my apartment building as the snow was up to my butt.

Reaching home I was tired, soaked, and bits of my body were colder than they had ever been before but I was exhilarated, it had been the most amazing journey home I had ever had. I had been given a chance to experience a dramatic force of nature at it’s most humbling and had lived to tell the tale.
So to all those Chicago weather anchors I say “Storm in a teacup? So what? Bring it on!”