My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

The Groudhog’s Day Blizzard of 2011

Well, I survived the blizzard, as did every one else as far as I know. There are plenty of news reports out there, so I won’t go into many of the details about the records it broke and what not, but just share my observations. It isn’t so much a post about the outdoors until the aftermath, but I’d like to get my thoughts down now while fresh in my mind for future reference.

It was a well forecast storm, I had talked to my boss the day before, since he affords me almost complete control of how I run my route. I am a truck driver, in case you didn’t know, I now run a set route each night, starting in Grand Rapids, and I have to hit the company’s branches in Lansing, Michigan, and South Bend, Indiana, every night. Since the storm was predicted to hit the Michigan-Indiana border around 7 PM, I had talked to my boss and told him I was going to go to South Bend first no matter what. He agreed that even if I didn’t have room for all the returns coming back from South Bend, it would still be better than ending up stuck in the snow someplace and not being able to finish the run. In fact, he called me Tuesday around noon to tell me he was going to see that the trailer was loaded by 3 PM so I could start early if I wanted to, instead of my normal 4 PM start time. He didn’t have to twist my arm.

So I was there a little before 3, helped finish loading the truck, and off I went. I got just a little south of Saugatuck when I saw the first flakes fly past the truck, and thought “Oh, no, this isn’t a good sign” and it wasn’t. The snow continued to pick up strength the farther south I went, and I could tell from the way the trailer was moving around that the wind was picking up as well. The surprising thing was that none of the snow was sticking to the road, at least on the expressway, which is the big story of the blizzard as far as I am concerned. By the time I got to the Benton Harbor area, it was snowing very hard, visibility was around a quarter of a mile or so, and the wind was driving snow across the road and everywhere else, but still, none was sticking to the road itself. There was very little traffic on the expressway, something I think helped to keep the snow from getting packed down on the roads, the wind was blowing it off the roadway keeping it clean. I made it to South Bend in not much longer time than it normally takes me. The city streets were much worse than the expressway, but there were only a few inches except for some small drifts starting to build up.

That’s pretty much the story for my run Tuesday night, I finished in South Bend, made it to the truck stop in Mattawan, Michigan, where I take my lunch break, then to the branch in Lansing. It snowed extremely hard the entire time, and the wind never let up, but all the blowing snow stayed down low to the ground for some reason, I never did hit any real white-outs. The run from Lansing back to Grand Rapids was a little worse, by then there was some snow on the expressway, mostly in drifts here and there, and more traffic for some reason. I took it a bit slower from Grand Rapids to Lansing, I had been running 50 to 60 MPH most of the time before that stretch, but my eyes were getting tired of staring into the snow trying to pick out tail lights if there were any, or a vehicle stuck in one of the drifts. The couple of miles from I 96 to the shop takes me down 28th Street, and it was a pain, there was one lane open and way more traffic than there should have been, going extremely slow, even though the one lane open was completely clear of snow. I spent a lot of time busting through the drifts in the lane that wasn’t open, just so I could get done, I was only doing 35 MPH or less, but still passing people in the open lane as if they were standing still. Even that wouldn’t have been so bad, but they were all tailgating one another, and as soon as one of the cars at the head of the line applied his brakes, it was panic time for the rest of the idiots that were following way too close behind the car in front of them. Over all though, I have never seen it snow and blow so much for so long without it causing more problems than what it did.

I made it to the shop, the hardest part of the night was getting the truck down the ramp into the dock, as the dock is on a steep incline down, and the snow plow driver blocks the room I need to get the truck lined up to the dock. Since the roads hadn’t been that bad all night long, I was surprised on the drive home to see how bad the streets were once I was off the expressway. The ramp from 28th Street to 131 south was almost impassable, even with my all wheel drive Explorer, but I made it home with out too much trouble. But I had noticed over the last hour or so that the storm seemed to be getting even stronger. I had just gotten out of the Explorer when there was a brilliant flash of lighting, but I wasn’t sure if it had really been lightning or a transformer blowing up somewhere. I waited to hear the thunder, but the wind was roaring so loudly by then, I never did hear it. As I was eating my dinner and checking out the news reports, I saw more flashes of lightning, and did hear the thunder once or twice. As I looked out the windows, I could see the snow was coming down harder than ever, and the wind seemed stronger than ever as well. I saw the snow plow drivers show up around 2 AM, just before I turned in for the night.

When I got up a little after 8 AM, I could see the snow had let up considerably, and I thought the storm had been a bust. Then I looked down ( I live on the 3rd floor) and saw how much snow there was on the ground, and knew the storm was no bust. The plow drivers were still at it, but they only had one pass down the parking lot in front of my building open. As I was standing there drinking my coffee and trying to figure out just how much snow we had on the ground, one of the plows started trying to clear in front of the building I live in. He wasn’t doing very well, he would drop the plow and make it 20 to 30 feet before the truck would be stopped dead, and he would sit there spinning the tires. He would have to back up, move a little to one side or the other, and try again, and again. They do have a Bobcat with tracks that was faring better, but that seemed to be used more for pushing out the trucks when they became stuck than pushing snow. The news reports say we got 18 inches, and that looks good to me, it is hard to tell for sure because of all the drifting. By noon, the sun was starting to come out, and they were finally making some progress in getting the parking lots and drives cleared out enough for people to get in and out.

My boss called me several times that day, changing my start time around as they didn’t have many people at the shop, and didn’t know how the branches were doing. As it turned out, I started at 5 PM, and it would have been a rather easy night, except at the branches themselves. It took me almost 45 minutes to get the truck up the ramp here in Grand Rapids, and I had to fight my way to the docks at both branches, but, the expressways were fine. There was almost no traffic at all, anywhere, which made the job easy. I made it to the expressway around 5:45 PM, and there wasn’t a car in sight, now that’s just weird, but I was glad. I set the cruise to 60 and made my run, it was about the easiest 350 miles I have ever run since there was almost no traffic.

So far, I have only walked around the apartment complex here, I haven’t made it out into the woods yet.  There are some huge snowpiles from where they managed to get the snow pushed off to the side, but they still only have 3/4 of the main entrance cleared here. I have seen the turkeys that live around here struggling to make it through the deep snow, and the flock of ducks that live in the creek have taken up residence in some one’s yard under a bird feeder since the creek has frozen over. It will be interesting to see what it looks like out in the woods tomorrow, when I am going to go to Saugatuck and walk the trails there.

The storm hadn’t even finished before people were comparing it to the blizzard of 1978, one that I lived through as well. This last storm didn’t have as big of an impact as 78, that storm stuck around a lot longer, and had much stronger winds with it that made the drifts even bigger than during this last storm. The impressive thing to me about this last storm is how much snow it dumped in a relatively short time. The ironic thing was that most of my friends and neighbors didn’t go in to work for two days, where I, as a truck driver, didn’t have to take any time off from work due to the storm, when you think it would be just the opposite. The storm was one for the record books, even though I breezed through it as if it had never happened.


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