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"Snowmageddon" 1973Posted Tuesday, February 1, 2011, at 12:43 PM
On the evening of April 8, 1973, the weather in Platteville, Wisconsin, was seasonably cool. Spring comes later in that part of the world than it does here in mid-Missouri by two or three weeks -- sometimes even later.
I don't remember paying much attention to the weather forecast as I dressed to attend an orchestra concert at the college where my then-husband taught music. "Serenade for a Spring Evening" was the theme -- the front of the printed program displayed a lovely willow tree, swaying in an imaginary light spring breeze. One of the selections for the concert was "On hearing the first cuckoo in spring," a tone poem by English composer Frederick Delius.
Certainly, I was wearing a coat. It's seldom warm enough in Wisconsin in early April to go far from home without one. My husband, appropriately dressed in a tuxedo as a member of the orchestra, left his coat and gloves at home, a decision he would soon regret.
During intermission, one of the concert-goers stepped outside for a cigarette and came back shortly with the news that it was snowing.
"Oh, snow this late in the year usually doesn't amount to much," someone else said. "It'll be over by the time the concert ends."
Mother Nature apparently didn't get that message.
By the time we left for home about 10 p.m., snow was coming down heavily -- big, thick flakes that stuck to streets and sidewalks. Our car was buried under a light layer of the white stuff, but it wasn't any trouble to brush it off.
No, the trouble didn't start until we turned out of the parking lot onto the street. The street was on a slight incline, barely noticeable in good weather. But with snow on the ground, and rear-wheel drive, the car's tires spun uselessly as we slid steadily backwards.
Taking a different way home wasn't an option. Platteville is a very hilly town. The hills aren't necessarily steep, but in bad weather they can turn even a short drive into a long adventure in futility.
By that time of night, the parking lot was empty of cars and people and anyone with good sense was either already home or nearly so. A tow truck might have helped, but seemed an unnecessary expense, given the situation.
But we still had to get home and the snow was intensifying. With no other apparent options, my husband got out of the car and pushed, as I gunned the engine and guided the car forward. He cut quite a dashing figure in the tuxedo, especially as the red lining of his coat flashed in the light of the street lamps. The white snow brushed his hair with silver, while he pushed hard on the back of the car with gloveless hands, in dress shoes.
It worked. Once we crested the slight rise ahead of us, the driving was much easier and we were soon safely home.
The storm was not of the "over-by-morning variety," however. It continued to come down through the night and by Monday morning, there was nearly a foot of snow on the ground.
My husband insisted on going to work at his campus office that morning. In blizzard conditions, he was gone from my view before he ever reached the other side of the street. The university cancelled classes for the afternoon, a very rare event, so he walked back home in blizzard conditions, too. At least he was wearing a coat.
Tuesday morning, the storm still was not done with us. It snowed and snowed and snowed some more and didn't stop until early Wednesday morning, April 10, leaving behind a record 19 inches of snow that created drifts higher than the roofs of some houses.
With that much snow, we couldn't open our south-facing front door. When I opened the side door to let the dog out, he balked, then plunged off the porch and nearly disappeared. After that, he stayed on the porch.
When I called my boss, 26 miles away in Dubuque, Iowa, and told him all roads out of Platteville were closed, he said, "Well, do your best to get here." Everyone was sent home at about 11:30 that day, but other Platteville residents who worked at the same place I did, who had actually driven to work that morning despite the dangerous conditions, were stranded in Dubuque until Wednesday evening.
One of the women I worked with, who lived in Dubuque, was getting dressed when her husband called to her that he'd gotten the car started and out of the driveway and that she'd better hurry or he was going to leave her behind. She threw on her coat and dashed for the door. It wasn't until she arrived at work that she discovered she'd put on her suit jacket and slip, but in her race to the car, had forgotten her skirt. She got back in the car, drove home and got the skirt and drove back to work just in time for the 11:30 dismissal.
I went back to work on Wednesday morning. It was unnerving to drive past the many cars and trucks that had gone off the road or overturned on slick highways. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt.
Amazingly, all of that snow was nearly gone by the weekend. It was a very wet snow that melted quickly as temperatures rose to normal levels. A week later, with the sun shining and birds chirping, as spring flowers pushed their way out of the ground, it was difficult to believe it had ever happened.
But it was a typical occurrence here in the middle of the continent, where everyone says, at every odd turn of the weather, in every season, "If you don't like the weather here, just wait a half-hour."
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Kathy Fairchild received a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration in 1986 from Marycrest College, Davenport, Iowa. She is also a 2003 graduate of the paralegal program at New York University. She moved to Marshall in 2006, following a career of more than 30 years with the world's largest farm equipment manufacturer. She is an Air Force brat and grandmother of four.