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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Storm Journal

For those of you who have never experienced a mid-western or an east coast winter, our good friend, Kent Ballard, is keeping a journal of what it's like. Believe me, it's a lot more enjoyable living through one of these storms vicariously . . . than actually experiencing it yourself. Even for those of us who have lived through big blizzards, Kent's account brings back rather unpleasant memories.

The National Weather Service is saying the storm that is about to, or has, hit Chicago, is likely to be worse than 'the storm of 67.' I lived in Chicago (Evanston) in 1967 and went through that blizzard storm. I distinctly remember watching people pulling sleds to the grocery store as the snow was so deep on so many streets that you simply could not drive to the store. It reminded me of a scene from a Russian winter.

Kent Ballard lives on a 40 acre estate on the central-western edge of Indiana. He is very well prepared for most eventualities. As you will see, he keeps a pretty interesting journal:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Storm journal #1
Date: Tue, 01 Feb 2011 18:25:48 -0500
From: Kent Ballard

02/01/2011 3:00 PM EST

I decided to keep a running journal of the storm as it sweeps over me. Right now we're in a "sucker hole," with overcast but nothing coming down. The National Weather Service radar shows it to be shaped like the letter "C." My home is in the middle of the "C." To the north and south the storm is sweeping around us and the western wall of the "C" is now a few counties into Illinois.

I switched from the Indiana radar to the national radar mosaic and immediately wished I hadn't. This monster stretches back to Nebraska and Missouri and the leading edges are already over the north and south portions of Indiana. My home is on the far western edge of the state, right in the middle. I set the radar to "loop" and it gave me about a three-hour animation of the storm's direction. All the nasty orange and red stuff in the radar picture is apparently heading for my front door.

Actually, that's not an exaggeration. The Weather Channel last night showed a graphic they came up with that was pretty interesting. It showed an area from Missouri to Ohio. There was a slightly curved blue band arcing from the first state to the last that appeared to be about eighty miles wide or thereabouts. They said this was the track of the major portion of this storm, the area that can expect power lines down and then heavy, blowing snow. Inside the blue line, there was a much thinner red line, looking to be about forty miles wide, and the first Weather Channel guy who explained this graphic said the blue area was the center of the portion of the storm. After using all kinds of dreadful words to describe what would happen within the blue line, he said, "The red line you see here will..." and he groped for words, then lowered his voice "the red line will look like a war zone."

Whatever comes, I'll have a ringside seat. My home was dead center in the red line.

Upper Illinois and the counties in Indiana surrounding Lake Michigan are all under Blizzard Alerts. I'd cheerfully swap conditions with them. What's going to kill a helluva lot of people in that red band will be the power outages caused by snapped power lines, then the heavy snow will keep repair crews from getting out and fixing them. We're being warned to prepare for "extended power outages" of possibly a week or more. They will begin to freeze in their own homes and most of them will probably try to make a break for it and get to a relative's or friend's house and they won't make it. Also anyone on a home oxygen unit will be in desperate straits. They need electricity to operate.

About seven or eight years ago we had a lovely neighbor woman who was on home oxygen. She was dying from cancer. There were reports of a hard winter storm coming then, and I talked with her husband. He was beside himself with worry about what would happen if the power went down. I had two large "deep cycle" batteries and a 650 watt power inverter. I told him to call me at any hour if the power stopped and I'd get all that stuff to him. Sure enough, two nights later, the power went out. The phone started ringing. I knew who it was. When I answered, Steve simply said, "Kent, the lights just went out. I have Elsie on her portable travel unit. It only lasts forty minutes..."

Long story short, I loaded up what I needed, threw in a couple of outdoor extension cords, and even tossed our grandkid's sled into the back of the truck. I figured if I got stuck enroute, I could load the batteries, inverter, and cords onto it and drag the damned things to their house. The only question was, would I make it in time? And would the unit operate on 650 watts?

My 4x4 truck got me through the drifts and when all was said and done we plugged in her home O2 unit and it began to operate again. We had eight minutes left to spare. I loved that elderly couple and fought as hard for them as I would have for my own parents, but eight minutes is cutting it pretty damned close.

There will be other elderly and ill people who won't have neighbors as well prepared across the nation. And some of them will die in this storm.

They're now saying two feet of snow will hammer Chicago. That's four inches more than Indy got during the Great Blizzard of 1978. Good God, how would you like to be a Chicago cop or ambulance driver this week? Or perhaps worse, a fireman?

The human cost has yet to be calculated from this storm. There will undoubtedly be many millions of dollars in damage to cars, buildings, homes, everything. A large ice-covered tree breaking under the weight can slice a house in half.

Late last night I heard a crash outside. Due to the peculiar acoustics in this house I couldn't tell if it was a small crash up close, or a larger one farther away. I went out with a flashlight and looked all around my home. Nothing had fallen near it. Daybreak this morning revealed a large snapped and collapsed tree in the ravine behind my house.

I have several fully grown white pines and one Norwegian pine within falling distance of my home. While out last night, I noted one limb that I can drive the truck under during normal conditions. Last night, with merely a fraction of the ice they're calling for, the end of that limb was at the same level as my waist.

I've moved the truck out into the center of the front yard, away from anything that might fall on it. There's a bed full of firewood in the back, covered with a tarp, and another tarp covering the cab of the truck to keep ice from accumulating on the windshield and windows, also to keep the doors from freezing shut.

Power or no power, I'll consider myself lucky if a large tree limb--or perhaps an entire tree--does not fall on the house.

The weather alert radio on our kitchen table has a siren that goes off whenever the National Weather Service has an important bulletin. It's been screaming its head off all day, all of it bad news.

One news reader on the Weather Channel said that 100 million Americans will be affected by this storm. So I guess I'm in good company. I'm baking all the biscuits that were in the refrigerator. Our oven is electric and I might as well use it while I still can.

It has just started snowing here.

More to come as long as I have electricity.



We're getting sleet right now, or whatever you call it when the water is
*already frozen* when it hits the ground. This is the best news we've
had for a while. According to some power & light guy on the radio, this
stuff does not stick to power lines as badly as "freezing rain," which
is apparently what we had yesterday while I was out cutting firewood.

This stuff does tend to bounce off things when it hits. This will buy us
more time, I hope, before the 'lectric goes out.

But what we have already is beginning to take it's toll here on my
luxurious wooded estate. One white pine branch about as big around as my
leg is in the driveway (I managed to drive around it) and several other
trees that are standing by good luck only. I took the truck and drove it
around to the garage door where I unloaded about a third of the
firewood. This will get me through to about noon tomorrow, easily, then
I'll take out more.

Double-checked all the lanterns, DC lights, batteries. Everything in
fine shape.

I had a former coworker call me just to check up and make sure I still
had power. I did, but both of us have noticed periods of flickering
lights. He said he didn't go into work last night and sure as hell
wasn't going tonight. We're both reasonably certain that we'll lose
power tonight. The only question is when.

I heard part of a radio report, and if I gathered it correctly the state
of Missouri has simply closed I-70 and Illinois probably will too within

While one weather map shows my house out of the "red zone," another
shows me inside it. This may be due to the changing track of the storm.

More later as power allows. In the meantime, check this out...

Be careful, everybody.

Dad / Kent


Kent Ballard lives on a 40 acre estate on the central-western edge of Indiana. He is very well prepared for most eventualities. As you will see, he keeps a pretty interesting journal:

Ahem! That's 71 acres, my good man!

Kent, just hanging around, waiting for it to rain icebergs next...

(I stand corrected. Well, really, I sit corrected. It's really hard to type and stand at the same time. Kinda like trying to walk and chew gum at the same time. Took me 34 years to learn that trick). - lyle

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