Wednesday, February 29, 2012

White Out!!

Dateline: Rogers, Minnesota
When I set out on this trip two days ago I was still hoping I would make it all the way to Grand Forks, North Dakota with the weather on my side. It is a gamble this time of year, but I remained the eternal optimist. There were a few patches of snow in the shady spots as I traveled across the higher elevations of western Maryland and southwestern Pennsylvania, but by the time I reached Wheeling, West Virginia, and all across Ohio and Indiana, I saw no hints of winter other than the brown farmland of America's heartland.

Such would be the case yesterday until I reached the northern suburbs of Chicago, in northeastern Illinois, in the late afternoon when I began to see more frequent patches of snow along the road and across the urban sprawl that is enveloping more and more of the once pleasantly rural landscape between Chicago and Milwaukee. The skies grew overcast and by the time I crossed into Wisconsin near Kenosha there were flurries in the air. A few miles later I began to see thin bands of snow swept across the road by the wind that was increasing the farther north I drove. When I turned west at Milwaukee for the final miles of the day that would take me to my night's rest in Madison, the snow had stopped, but the ground was white and the rivers and lakes I was passing were now iced over. It is still winter in the upper Midwest.

This morning I had to brush a light accumulation of snow off my car and scrape the ice off my windows before I started out on the longest leg of my trip - from Madison, Wisconsin to Grand Forks, North Dakota. It would be a long day under the best of conditions. Northern Wisconsin and the Arrowhead of Minnesota were in the throes of a major blizzard , and the farther north I drove, the more snow I saw on the ground. The ceiling continued to drop as did the temperature. But the roads were clear and I pressed ahead.

The snow began to fall as I took the northern by-pass around the Twin Cities. It was light at first and blew off the road, but the storm grew in intensity and by the time I began to head north from Minneapolis toward St. Cloud the snowfall turned horizontal and quickly accumulated on the road obscuring the lane marking. To make matters worse, the trucks were throwing up slush which would temporarily blind me. It was time to get off the road!

I pulled off at a truck stop to top off my tank just to be safe and to get a big mug of black coffee to steel my nerves. By now there were white out conditions! I chanced upon a Minnesota state trooper at the truck stop and I inquired how the roads were farther north. His response was less than promising - multiple accidents and partial road closings with several more inches of snow and blizzard conditions expected before the storm passed. If I didn't have to be on the road, it would be best that I stay put. I have traveled through storms like this and it is no picnic to be sure. I took his advice to heart. My day on the road had ended.

I have found haven in a local inn and I am waiting out the storm with a warm room, a cold beer, and a good book. Tomorrow is another day.

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