Get My Drift

Snowdrift against barn

As a child growing up in the south Puget Sound region, I never remember wind and snow arriving together to create havoc in the same storm. Each on its own, they could be intimidating enough: the Columbus Day Storm of 1962 blew winds over 100 mph leaving many homes without power for weeks. The heaviest snow fall in Olympia was in January 1972 with 14 inches over 24 hours and three feet over several days–big heavy wet flakes heard to splat as they landed. Many roofs caved in under the burden.

So when I moved with my husband up to Whatcom County over a quarter century ago, I was ill-prepared for the devastation that a snowy northeaster can bring to a community. I had never seen a “white out” before (my family always jokes that I considered the appearance of four sequential snowflakes a “blizzard”), and I certainly had never experienced subzero wind chill temperatures. Now this was real winter–not the pretend winters I grew up with. This was honest-to-goodness prairie-blizzard midwest-sturdy-stock finger-frostbite Arctic blast winter. My Minnesota-born husband considers it no big deal. I believe this is what it must feel like when hell freezes over.

We’ve had a few humdinger northeasters over the years with over 90 mph screaming wind gusts that threaten to pull the roof right off a barn (and sometimes does). We’ve seen freezing rain/sleet storms that cover everything with an inch or more of glistening ice, breaking off telephone poles midway up from the one-two punch of weight and wind. And we have seen drifting snow–in 1996 we had ten foot drifts we needed to tunnel through or climb over in order to get to the barns to feed the animals stowed safely inside.

I was so naive to think I knew winter before coming to Whatcom County.

Today brought significant snow to my old stomping grounds in Olympia, threatening that 1972 record for snow accumulation over 24 hours. We had a mere 8 inches fall here at our farm in northern Whatcom County, which would have been just grand if the northeast wind hadn’t decided to start picking it up and moving it around today. Windchills have dropped into the negative mid-teens and there have been white out conditions on many county roads as the once peaceful snowflakes of two days ago are lifted up and blown miles before they hit a barrier and drop like a rock in growing pile-ups. Snow fences used to be put up every fall along major roads to prevent the predictable drifts from obstructing traffic flow. As there had not been a significant storm in over ten years, the farmers and county public works have not been as diligent. The roads are filling with drifts and our county’s meager number of snowplows can’t keep up. So cars and citizens get stuck, swirled, snarled and overwhelmed with white stuff.

It is now after 10 PM and the county snow plow just showed up to push aside the large snow drift covering the road on the hilltop where our farm is located. He’s been going back and forth for over an hour, just working on the snow on the road in front of our house. Hey, I’m very grateful for the 24/7 shifts these workers are pulling. We might find our mailbox again in a few weeks and so we can go to work in the morning, we’ll be digging out the new mountain of snow on our driveway entrance.

So enough already.

Give me rain. For me, webfoot that I am, that is real winter: sloshing soaking squishy spongy muddy puddles and pools everywhere. It may not be as pretty or as dramatic, or provide great stories to tell to the grandchildren someday, but being a little wet never hurt anyone.

I think you get my drift.

North Whatcom County photo by Phil Dwyer