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Mild winters may be a thing of the past

Bill McMillan tried to relay the message. The Old Farmer’s Almanac warned us. Even the woolly worm agreed. Not to mention too many August fogs, and thicker than normal corn husks this fall, but even with all the indicators, many of us were not fully prepared for this winter. With record low temperatures and snowstorms that never seem to end, the winter of 2010 still has us in its mighty grip and doesn’t seem to want to diminish.

Although the mild winters of this past decade have lulled east Tennesseans into believing winters around here aren’t so bad, perhaps the bone-chilling nights and ice laden back roads of late will bring back memories of winters past. Remember those nasty 1970s winters?

I recall sometime during my elementary school days, when I wondered if the snow would ever stop falling. If my memory is correct, school was dismissed for Christmas break and amid a flu epidemic and record snowfall, we were not able to return to class until the middle of February. That year, we were forced to make up days by going to school on Saturday and although my class watched televised cartoons, I remember thinking what a bummer it was to be in class on a weekend.

Snow days at my house cannot even be compared to those of my children. There were no video games, computers, cell phone texting and 150 television channels to peruse. Although our Atari game system could mesmerize my sister and I for hours, you could only get so good at PacMan and eventually the hungry little yellow circle would haunt you in your sleep.

My dad was a block mason and his profession was dictated by the weather so we had a special weather radio to constantly monitor incoming systems. When that little contraption predicted an upcoming snowstorm, my mom would put up a quilt in the living room and invite the neighborhood ladies over for day after day of stitching. Even my dad would relent and contribute some fancy finger work to the creation.

Although most “quilting days” were accompanied by some sort of delicious winter concoction such as homemade potato soup or baked potatoes smothered in hot chili beans, basically it was super boring. After a day or two of watching the two television channels we were able to pick up, and pretending the homemade quilt frames were a tent, ‘cabin fever’ began to set in, and I was pretty much ready for classes to resume.
Although in hindsight I do not agree with the decision, we went to school in some pretty bad weather. I recall traveling to class on several occasions where the bus driver had installed chains on the tires for greater traction. I also remember the announcement: “buses will not operate on slick roads,” so naturally those classmates living in Shady Valley or near the North Carolina line in Trade either were transported by parents or didn’t get to school at all.

Tennesseans, and Americans in general, are currently reliving those cold, old days as frigid weather continues to sweep across the entire nation. Reports indicate this winter even reaches into areas not usually affected by cold temperatures with ice and snow now threatening orange and strawberry growers in Florida and causing loads of overtime for social service crews all across the south.
In addition to an excess of missed school days with state tests looming in early spring, there are other weighty concerns related to this never-ending harsh winter such as the tremendous increase in the cost of home heating, the decreasing supply of materials on hand for treating slippery roads and the tremendous cost of clearing the mess of auto accidents and downed power lines.
Hopefully this is not a new trend. Our economy can’t swallow it, and neither can I. The ski slopes in neighboring North Carolina may be enjoying this flashback to the 70’s, but this Tennessee girl is ready for some sunshine and spring temperatures.