By Tony Hooker
With the threat of inclement weather nigh, memories of the great blizzard of 78 came flooding back. And they’re all pretty darned good ones, too.
What I remember most about the blizzard was the fact that my mom and step dad were stranded at Kentuck’s Hideaway and couldn’t make it home. I can’t verify whether the rumors that they were having so much fun that they threatened bodily harm to anyone who offered to get them out are true or not!
We were living south of VG, in Lakewood Estates at the time, in an all-electric house, and I remember we were without power for days. Not having the burden of satellite tv or cell phone batteries that might go dead, our main worry was staying warm, but even that wasn’t a bother, because we had a beautiful fireplace that heated our family room and kitchen. Of course, my intrepid step bro’ hung a blanket in the hallway and kept the heat in those two rooms, for the most part. Truth be told, it seems like he was the main fire maintainer, with me being relegated to “go out and get more wood” duty, but some memories are hazy. I know that our neighbors were there to keep an eye on us, as well.
To be called a blizzard, a winter storm must have sustained winds or frequent gusts of greater than 35 mph along with falling or blowing snow that restricts visibility to less than one-quarter of a mile for at least three hours. According to the NWS, temperatures in a blizzard will generally be 20 degrees or lower as well. A severe blizzard has sustained winds of over 45 mph that can limit visibility completely.
Trust me…in 78 it was a severe storm. In fact, some of the lowest barometric pressure readings ever recorded in Illinois were taken during this event and it lasted for three days. It was a storm!
To the Wombat and I, however, the howling winds and blowing snow presented an opportunity! The fence line behind my house was a perfect windbreak, and resulted in drifts that were at least ten feet high. And where there are tall drifts, there had to be tunnels, right? So, for hours, Wombat and I dug and dug, and by the time of completion, we had a system of towers and tunnels that would have made the Viet Cong envious. (Minus all the terrifying booby traps, snakes and such.) I estimate that we spent at least 12 hours out there, in winds that reached 55 mph, with the wind chill hovering right around 45 to 50 below zero. What can I say? We were industrious, if not necessarily bright. Honestly, once we got the tunnels started, we were out of the wind and it really wasn’t that bad. If we got cold, we would go in, sit by the fire and thaw out for a bit. Just good clean fun, in the blizzard of the century. Looking back on it, I’m not entirely convinced that tunneling beneath ten feet of snow was a great idea, but no harm, no foul, right?
As with most things, we eventually tired of digging and tunneling and moved on to other distractions, most likely our Ted Nugent or Kiss records if power had been restored. Napping, if not. Oddly enough, the end of the story didn’t come until the following spring, when the farmer who owned the ground returned my stepdad’s shovels, which we had left in the tunnels when we abandoned the project.
So, stay safe, stay warm, and relax in the knowledge that the storm of 2021 probably isn’t going to match 1978’s ferocity. If you get a chance, bundle up and go make some memories of your own.