News of Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming, from the Ranger's award winning journalists.
This year's early snow was trouble, but the storm 30 years ago was even worse
Oct 3, 2013 - By Betty Starks Case
Yes, last week's heavy, wet snow was a damaging surprise. But do you recall one dubbed "a late summer snowstorm" by The Ranger on Monday, Sept. 13, 1983?
We lived at Pheasant Crest Farm then. And Garfield, the comic strip cat, covered his head and swore he wouldn't even get up on Monday, the 13th.
About 6 p.m., snow began falling -- soft , beautiful and most unseasonal. As night fell, so did more snow, thick and fast and heavy, laden with moisture. The huge canopy of 80- to 9- foot cottonwood and elm trees surrounding our house and three-acre yard grew even more picturesque in the fresh fluffy drapings.
We'd barely closed our eyes that night when we were jolted erect by a resounding crash to one side of our room, then a crack, followed by a smashing roar to the other side.
We leaped to the window and stared. In the eerie, white radiance of the security light out by the garage a scene of horror grew. All about us great tree limbs began to creak, shudder, then crash to the ground, sprawling like quivering giants across the big yard. Not old dead skeletons, but enormous, green branches, still vibrant and heavy with leaves on this not-yet-autumn night.
Swiftly, my mate yanked on jeans, jacket and boots and headed for the back door, my frantic protests trailing behind him.
"Don't go!" I pleaded. "It's a disaster out there!"
"I have to!" He dashed into the moaning night. "The new travel trailer ... I have to move it ... to the clearing."
His words bounced back erratically as if ricocheting off the tumbling trees.
I pushed the door shut against the storm and ran to throw open a window.
"Forget the trailer," I screamed. "I need you. If a tree falls on you, I can't get it off. The driveway's a jungle. We're trapped."
Unheard or unheeding, Ned sped into the darkness, and my words floated off to join the vain arboreal cries that rent the air.
I hovered near a window, trying to keep him in sight. He started the pickup truck, then promptly became mired in snow, mud and fallen timber. Mounting the old Ford tractor, in seconds he saw his vulnerability and ran for the safety of the garage.
Now, hugging the buildings for protection, he tripped and stumbled through huge soggy limbs, while others continued to creak, crack, then land in a shower of snow on the outbuildings and carpet the spaces between. At last, he neared the house.
"Thank God, you're back!" I cried, pulling him in the door. A monstrous limb fell to close off the trail behind him, its leaves slapping at his heels.
Soon we heard the ominous sound of the rising wind tugging at more and bigger branches. A flash of light sent us whirling to the windows.
"Oh, no. Not the garage!" Ned moaned.
The entire side of the building glowed with blue sparks exploding wildly in all directions as a weary bough broke loose and sprawled across electric wires, ripping them from the garage and carrying them, live, into a foot of wet snow.
We reached for each other in the dark. Electricity was gone. We were on our own.
Suddenly, I felt like some sort of pioneer woman.
I lit a big candle, filled the yellow teakettle with water and put it on the wood stove in the family room to sing its uplifting song. The fragrance of a thawed chicken with veggies in a pan on the wood stove permeated the house. The juice turned to a golden gravy.
Next day, Ned threw the electrical breaker switch and clambered out through the greenwood graveyard to drag huge limbs from the top of our house and outbuildings.
Knowing the well pump could be off for days, we brought in buckets of moisture-filled snow, dumping it into large containers about the kitchen.
Thawing freezer foods were preserved in a snowbank.
When Ned stumbled in, chilled and soaked from laboring in heavy snow, one quick whiff sent him charging for the little wood stove and the fragrant chicken stew.
"You're coping very well," he observed.
"Who, me? Not really ..." my voice trailed.
The next morning, we stared out at our loved trees, transformed to pitiful, ravaged creatures. Tall, jagged spikes loomed everywhere, limbs hanging like swinging gallows victims while they slowly died. The little apple tree crouched out in the yard, carried to the ground by its own rosy fruit and the weight of snow.
On the fourth day we were resting after lunch when a sparkling brilliance suddenly flooded the ceiling. I squinted.
"REA to the rescue!" I shouted, flinging my arms wide as if to capture the magic before it escaped again.
Ned jumped from his nap on the sofa. The sun popped out to join the illumination game.
The little apple tree burst into a glow of its own as dozens of tiny goldfinches descended to feed on its sweet fruit in the snow.
I ran to the kitchen and turned a knob on my electric range. A tiny red signal winked back at me. The refrigerator and freezer began to hum a merry duet.
Feeling totally in command now, I turned to face Ned who'd stepped up behind me, his face a dance of amusement.
"That pioneer woman really was a whiz, wasn't she?" I commented.
"What pioneer woman?" Ned sobered and peered into my face. "Are you suffering cabin fever?"
"No," I said, laughing. "I mean the character who took charge when I was so frightened and desperate. She didn't seem to need this modern equipment. But I'm glad she's gone. I was about fed up with her noble routine anyway."