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We can still get dumped on

Country Roads

March 26, 2012
Arvid Huisman , The Daily Freeman Journal

Whoda thunk that we would ever experience an 80 degree St. Patrick's Day in Iowa? Not me. But 80 degrees it was and a beautiful St. Patrick's Day it was.

As I write, it appears that winter has left Iowa early and that is a joy for me. However, after experiencing more than six decades of Iowa winters, I'm nervous. Some of the worst blizzards I can remember occurred in late March and in April. We can still get dumped on!

Those of us who are comfortably middle-age or older can remember a nasty late-season blizzard 39 years ago.

Article Photos

Saturday, April 7, 1973, dawned cold, gray and damp in Webster City, Iowa, where I was the sports editor and a photographer at the local Daily Freeman-Journal. At mid-morning I shot photos of the local Easter Seals Pony Express riders as they departed for Camp Sunnyside north of Des Moines.

I remember feeling sorry for the riders and their horses as I shot the photos. It was going to be a miserable ride.

The next morning was still cold, gray and damp. It was raining lightly as my wife, infant son and I left church that Sunday. We were invited to a family dinner at the home of relatives about 15 miles away.

We were enjoying after-dinner conversation when I looked out the dining room window around 3 p.m. and saw that the rain had changed to snow a very heavy snow.

Our son was less than four months old so I suggested to my wife that we head back home before the roads became impassable. We bundled up and left for home.

A few miles down the road we encountered our first challenge. A sizeable drift had already formed across the highway. Having more guts than brains at the time I stomped on the accelerator pedal and plowed through the drift, barely making it.

About five miles later we came upon an accident that had occurred just minutes earlier when a Chevy Impala and a VW Beetle collided nearly head-on. While the occupants of the Impala and the VW driver were okay, a passenger in the VW had been seriously injured and was lying on the snow-covered pavement. But for a few strands of tissue, her left foot was severed just above the ankle. She also had chest injuries.

Just a week earlier I had completed an advanced First Aid course and was alarmed when I discovered that no one else on the scene had any medical or First Aid training. The training kicked in and I cared for the patient until an ambulance arrived more than a half hour later, its 10-mile trip slowed by the raging blizzard.

(I was shocked but pleased when I learned that the victim survived the accident and, in spite of losing her foot, was released from the local hospital a few days later.)

The blizzard raged on. I got to work Monday morning but when the plant closed at 1 p.m. I discovered my car was snowed in. I began the mile-plus walk home, stopping at the police station to warm up along the way.

I was a reserve police officer at the time and the chief asked if I would stay and operate the communications radio for a few hours, promising me a ride home in a squad car if I did. The cops got me home that evening but broke a tire chain doing so.

The sun shone brightly as I walked to work on Tuesday morning. At the newspaper, a caller reported an 8-foot drift across a county road in the central part of the county. I grabbed my camera and drove to the location only to realize the drift was at least 10 feet deep. A large front end loader was struggling to dig a path through it.

That April blizzard dumped more than a foot of wet, heavy snow which was whipped into 8 to 20 foot drifts by 50-70 mile per hour winds. Snow fall amounts ranged up to 20.2 inches in Belle Plaine.

At the time the April 1973 blizzard the media called it the worst spring snow storm in 80 years.

One of the seasonally-latest snow storms in Iowa occurred on May 27-29, 1947, when parts of northwest Iowa received up to 10 inches of snow.

I'm not relaxing until June 1. We can still get dumped on.



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