I've driven through more than a few midwestern blizzards, driving truck for an insane chain of wholesale bakeries from 1978 through 1992. November just flirted with us, providing mostly a hint of snow that melted on the still warm ground. Maybe around thanksgiving we got some real snow that stuck. But in December winter finally got serious with heavy snows, followed by the bitter cold of January and more and more snow in February and March.
We didn't know it yet, other than maybe Dr. Hansen and a few others at NASA, but our world was changing. 1987 brought our first heavy hint of global warming, with folks bicycling through the winter in Minneapolis, followed by a summer of serial hundred degree daily highs.
By Halloween of 1992 I was driving one of a half dozen shuttle runs between a distribution warehouse in Minneapolis and New Hampton, Iowa, 170 miles to the southeast. Through the night and early morning the company's tractor-trailer trucks left Minneapolis and the company's bakery in Davenport, Iowa. We met in the parking lot of the old Klunder's cafe in New Hampton and traded our empty trailers with the drivers from Davenport for their loaded ones and then we each headed home.
I drove the last of the shuttles, leaving Minneapolis about 9 am and normally reaching New Hampton by around 1 pm. On thursday, the day before the blizzard hit, many truck drivers already had heard the blizzard was coming and their companies were telling them to get a motel for the duration if they wouldn't be driving away from the blizzard. Before I punched out I checked the schedule, and indeed friday's shuttle runs hadn't been canceled.
By friday morning the outer bands of the blizzard were already hitting Minneapolis, so I had a slower than normal trip to New Hampton. The drivers coming up from Davenport were running late due to the storm too. But while we had to slow down due to the slippery roads, visibility was still fairly good as the winds hadn't started to really whip and rip yet. I'd just unhooked my empty trailer when the two earlier shuttle drivers loaded trailers arrived, so we bade quick hellos and compared notes before they hooked up to the loaded trailers and headed back to Minneapolis. The driver bringing my load from Davenport was late too, and talking to other drivers it looked like they were all sitting out the blizzard in New Hampton, with the exception of my employer's drivers.
By around 4 pm the driver from Davenport had arrived with my loaded trailer and I'd hooked to it and headed back north to Minneapolis. The company's policy was that we had to keep driving until either we got stuck in the snow or the police closed the road. Conditions rapidly deteriorated as I headed up US Highway 63- During the whiteouts I had to come to a complete stop right on the roadway and wait for several minutes for visibility to improve. The fastest I dared drive was around 30 MPH, as the road was become slippery with wind polished compacted snow and visibility was only a couple hundred yards at best. I stopped at the convenience store at the Minnesota border, grabbed some coffee, and picked up a couple fellow travelers- salesman trying to get to the nearest available motel room up the road in Stewartville who followed me.
We plod slowly north, and despite the fact that the salemen's car had a lot better lights, tires, etc. than my truck they had no interest in passing me. Finally approaching Stewartville, I spotted a truck in the ditch, no place for me to stop but the trooper was already there. I later found out that the driver of that truck accused one of the shuttle drivers ahead of me of running him off the road... Not likely given that the road is pretty wide there with paved shoulders. The salesmen safely turned off at their motel in Stewartville, and I was all alone creeping along a four lane expressway. A few miles further, I narrowly missed a giant overhead road sign that had been blown down and landed in the roadway. I later found out that it blew down right as one of our other shuttle trucks came through and dinged up the grill and bumper.
By this time I'd fully expected the troopers had closed the road at Rochester. I made the loop from US 63 to US 52 and continued north to Minneapolis. But no police, no troopers, no roadblocks, not even a parked DOT truck blocked the highway. At the last exit in Rochester I pulled over a the top of the ramp and looked around... Not a cop in sight. So following company policy, I plodded on. Turned out the police that we're blocking the road were pulled away to deal with the two accidents I'd passed. The two shuttle drivers ahead of me had bread to unload at the Rochester depot where they were finally told they could park and get a motel. Not having any bread for Rochester, I didn't get the word.
The next 20 miles or so to Pine Island took over an hour, and I damn near went in the ditch when my left wheels sank into an unpaved left shoulder that'd had it's pavement stripped for construction that wasn't completed. I pulled into the old cafe on the top of the hill between Pine Island and Zumbrota- having now exhausted my legal hours of service I finally had excuse to park it and call it a night. Unlike my employer, I'd planned ahead, bring along a below zero rated sleeping bag, air mattress, and a few bits to improvise a bed across the seats. Despite the weather, the cafe was busy and I chowed down before settling in for a night's sleep in my improvised "sleeper cab".
I dragged my feet on saturday morning, waiting for the winds to drop and the DOT crews to get at least the thick layer of snow cleared off the icy roads. After a very full breakfast I finally got rolling about 9 a.m., crawling up the icy and empty 4 lane expressway at maybe 30 MPH. At the top of the 5% downgrade before Cannon Falls I slowed to nearly a stop, knowing that if the road was blocked down the hill there was no way I could get stopped from speed on the downgrade. I crept north on US 52 and then west on Interstate 494 around the twin cities, on empty roads with only the occasional glimpse of bare pavement. Finally back at the distribution center in Minneapolis, I then spent a final hour getting repeatedly stuck and unstuck in the snow before I finally got the truck all the way back to the loading dock doors. After being on the clock for over 30 hours straight, all of that overtime, I finally punched out and drove my VW diesel the couple miles home through the snow.
The blizzard cleared up saturday, but the snow and especially ice lingered for weeks. On sunday morning I had to stop on an uphill right on a freeway in the suburbs when a car spun out ahead of me. The grade was slight, but due to the ice I couldn't get enough traction to get moving again. I had to back down the hill to get moving, but fortunately one of our mechanics in the plow truck was behind me and held up traffic on the freeway for me. On monday and tuesday, a couple days after the storm ended, cars and trucks were still getting stuck on main highways. And the side streets... Folks had all they could do just to move their vehicles out of the way of the plow trucks. Newly elected republican governor Arne Carlson's DOT had held off on purchasing road salt to make their budget numbers look good, and were caught with little salt on hand to deal with the ice. The layer of ice on the roads lasted for weeks, and they spent a fortune in grader blades and overtime trying to peel the ice off the roads.
Twenty years later, we except such weird weather as "normal", with the exception of the climate change deniers of the party of Bachman, Perry, and Cain. And just when you think you've seen it all, another unseasonable storm or drought or deluge hits. Hold on folks, you ain't seen nuthin' yet...