Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Winter Weather - Variations on a Theme

Chicago is known for it's notoriously harsh winters, although they are not always so. Some years we get lucky, temperatures remain relatively mild and snow melts as soon as it hits the ground, as opposed to creating hazardous ice slicks seemingly designed by nature to test the mettle and reflexes of the local citizens. Unfortunately these are often followed by summers so torrid that the soles of the feet burn on the sand as the natives run for the relief of the cool waters of the lake.

Last winter, while not as fierce as some, overstayed it's welcome, resembling a lingering guest that doesn't seem to know when it is time to depart. This year subzero cold was followed by a snowfall which lasted 27 hours providing me with the ironic sight of plastic snowmen on front lawns half buried in snow.

Several years ago we had the "storm of the century". Foot after foot of snow piled up. The muscular, hunky form of Jim Cantore was on the weather channel being blown about on Michigan Avenue by 75 mile per hour wind gusts. He jumped about with glee like a little kid, as lightening broke through the blizzard conditions. Lakeshore Drive, normally filled with cars and buses speeding to their destinations was snowbound and deserted. As we watched the storm from inside our apartment the violent wind gusts caused our building to sway. The prisms and sun catchers in our windows swung back and forth while miniature waves were formed by the water in the toilet. Several of our friends, my partner included, hiked through the drifts to experience standing in the middle of Lakeshore Drive devoid of the traffic that ordinarily have made this act impossible. Videos of cars stranded and abandoned on the drive, buried to their windows in snow, were shown around the world. The second day after the storm buses began to move again along seemingly random routes defined by those streets cleared enough for them to maneuver along them. Standing snow on the sidestreets was two feet high, drifts towered higher than that. The tops of cars peeked out from the thick white blanket giving the signs reading "no parking when snow is over 2" deep" a certain gallows humour.

The next October, driving from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone we encountered winterlike cold and a snowstorm whose large fluffy flakes quickly produced several inches of soft white down. With no wind the snow built up on the branches of the lodgepole pine forest just outside the park creating a breathtaking tableau. The cold and snow stayed with us the next day. We have a photo of my partner and I, bundled up against the chill, standing next to a diminutive snowman someone had built on a rail alongside a trail which wound about one of the park's iconic geothermal features. We returned that year to a milder than normal winter and agreed that the coldest we had been, all season long, was that day in Wyoming in October.

Some people question how we can stand it. Why would we, not only choose to live in Chicago, but defend it as we would anyone, or anyplace we loved. These people have never experienced the magic of the snowfall we encountered one Christmas Eve.

The snow was full and soft, the temperature just below freezing. It created a hush broken only by the sounds of adults giggling like children and the choirs in the churches we passed raising their voices in song in celebration of the holiday ahead. The snow caught in the crevices of the solid Victorian homes which lined the streets where we walked and gathered in the evergreen swags they had been festooned with in honor of the season. We stopped for a time and attempted, with other adults we met that wondrous night, to build a snowman. Alas, the snow was not solid enough to hold together and our construction soon fell apart. We smiled as we bade them farewell and continued through the beautiful silence, a special lack of sound unique to snowfalls like these.


  1. Some of my most vivid memories of living in chicago are the snowstorms. Two stand out almost PTSD like. All the same, I loved getting cozy down during a midwest snow storm; I miss them actually.

  2. I miss snow. I am sure part of it is the selective memory of nostalgia but I always get a little twinge of sadness when I see all the photos of the snow in other parts of the country