Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow
My lifelong passion for snowy winter days
I was planning on writing a piece tonight about why local history matters as a way to nudge you over to my new Substack, Unseen St. Louis. I’m still going to do the nudging, but instead of writing what I had intended, I’ve been caught up with excitement for a pending snowstorm here in St. Louis (they’re predicting anywhere from 7 to 12 inches!), and I thought I’d talk about some of my memories of snowy days in years past.
My love affair with snow
It probably started when I was about six. One weekend morning I woke up before my parents and realized it had snowed overnight. I was still in my PJs and slippers when I slid the glass sliding door open and stepped out onto the fresh snow on the patio, where I scooped up snow in my bare—and tasted it. It was so cold and clean and squeaked in my teeth. And there was something incredibly thrilling and dangerous about being in the snow without a coat and boots. (And in case you’re wondering—I might have been a little kid, but I wasn’t dumb—I was only outside for a minute or two. Snow is awesome but it’s also damn cold!)
Ever since then, I have loved snow, and every time I’m around it, I make it a point to taste it. Always. (Don’t come at me about toxins and pollution because nya nya I can’t hear you!)
The 1982 blizzard
Forty years ago (almost to the day), St. Louis experienced the third-largest snowstorm in history. Originally the concern was flooding, as it rained heavily before the snow fell, and forecasts called for only four inches of snow. But Mother Nature had other plans. Snow started falling Saturday evening and just kept coming.
Officially, 13.9 inches fell on the city, though some areas saw as much as 22 inches. (According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the 1982 storm was the third-heaviest snowfall ever recorded here.)
And I’ll never forget it. Around 5 AM Sunday morning, my parents woke me up to tell me what was going on. My mom had to get to work at Jewish Hospital (now Barnes Jewish) less than three miles away, but there was so much snow.
Now you must understand: I’m not a morning person. I’m allergic to being awake at 5 AM. But the snow! It was a total game-changer I got dressed as fast as I could and helped shovel the car out from its parking place on the street. And I loved every second of it. Being outside in snow like that at sunrise? There was something absolutely captivating about the moment. Forty years later and I can remember it clearly.
Once we cleared a path around the car and to the street, my parents set out for the hospital. Somehow in a regular car, not a 4-wheel-drive or anything, my dad was able to get all the way to the hospital and back without getting stuck. It took a while, and he’s often talked about passing the dozens of other cars that weren’t as lucky as him, but somehow, he made it home. (That was sheer Dana-family determination and willpower at work!)
My school, which was literally the very last holdout for snow days, cancelled classes on Monday and Tuesday (two days? It was unheard of!). We went back on Wednesday even though nearly every other school was still closed, but as luck had it, another round of snow was forecast and they let us out early. It took my dad, who was working just a couple of miles away, around two hours to pick me up. Mind you, this was before cell phones, so there was no way for him to tell me where he was, or that he was even safe.
Meanwhile, my mom ended up staying at the hospital for the entire week. For the incredible dedication and sacrifice of the staff who stayed through the worst of it, the hospital rewarded them generously—with a gift of a coffee mug that proudly displayed, “I survived the 1982 blizzard.” Needless to say, she was not impressed.
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Leaving the snow belt
I left St. Louis for Columbia, MO for college, and we got some decent snowfalls in my time there, though thankfully nothing as big as 1982. In those days I frequently rode my mountain bike through the snow, following car tracks or people’s footprints, and it was kind of fun as long as it wasn’t too deep.
Then I moved to Austin, TX, where it rarely drops below freezing for more than a few days for the entire winter. In nearly three decades, there were only a few dicey weather moments where ice stopped everything in its tracks.
In the mid-1990s an ice storm shut things down for a couple of days, and my boyfriend and I walked to the convenience store just to get out of the house. We watched cars sledding down the main road near our duplex, unable to control their vehicles as they hit ice while going 30MPH. We were glad to be on foot. And there was a spectacular ice storm in the early 2000s that coated every tree, pole, and blade of grass with a thick diamond glaze. For that storm, I was living in the country just outside of the city, and we didn’t even try to get into Austin for a few days.
And then there was Feb 4, 2011. After the previous day when freezing temperatures made for some interesting sights (such as the ice coating the Littlefield Fountain at UT Austin, above), overnight
a foot about an inch and a half of snow blanketed Austin.
Everything was silent when I woke up that morning—again, around 5 AM. That’s the thing about snow, it deadens sound, and also reduces traffic, and weirdly, the silence wakes me up. I hopped out of bed and threw on clothes and ran outside with my dog Orion. It was pristine and there wasn’t a car in sight. We wandered around for a few minutes and then I went back to bed, thinking it would be gone later.
But I couldn’t sleep. There was snow! In Austin! As my photo timestamps remind me, I went outside again at 7:30 AM, and then once more at 9:30 when the snow hadn’t melted yet. I was dumbfounded. Thrilled to get more time in the snow, Orion and I walked the neighborhood. The major road by my house was churned-up snow but only a bus dared drive down it. Snow clung to palm trees and prickly pear cactus, and as I reveled in the weather, I made a great happy face on my car. Sadly, all of that beautiful fluffy stuff had melted into nothing by noon—but we all had a full snow day off work and made the best of it!
Other than a trip to Seattle that brought me face to face with snow (in June!) and a little ice from time to time, that was most of the snow I experienced in 27 years of living in the south.
The pending blizzard of 2022
I moved back to St. Louis in 2019. I joked earlier today that snow wasn’t the main reason I moved back to my hometown, but it’s definitely in the top 5. Maybe even the top 3. That’s how much I love snow.
My timing meant that I missed out on the Winter Apocalypse that befell Austin and much of Texas last year (I know some of my friends down there are not okay with ice in their own forecast this week).
But as Austin was crippled with thick ice, snow, and widespread power outages and natural gas shortages, we enjoyed 4-6 inches of snow—the most I had seen since college. I won’t lie—it was amazing! I have a steep driveway and even though it was hard as hell, I discovered that I still enjoy shoveling snow. I just wish I still had the strength and the back I had when I was 15!
Last year’s snow stopped the city for a heartbeat, but the salt trucks and plows had roads cleared the same day.
But this time, things could be different.
First, it’s been raining for a few hours, and because of that, I don’t think they are laying down any snowmelt this time around. (And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t checking outside every couple of hours to see if it’s freezing yet.) The snow isn’t supposed to start until sometime overnight or into the morning, and we’re supposed to get two rounds, one on Wednesday morning and another later Wednesday into Thursday.
If online conversations are to be believed, a lot of people think it’s going to be a bust. But I’m hoping for a big one. As I write this on early Wednesday morning, it’s 29°F and this is what the National Weather Service is predicting for us:
According to the NWS, the St. Louis area can expect 7-12 inches of snow, with even more just to the north of us.
Will the little kid in me get my wish this year? Will my dog Opal get to run around like a crazy dog in the snow again? Only time will tell! ☃️
Share your snow stories!
I’ve been reading Reddit posts about the pending snow and people’s recollections of past snow days over on the Metabook. (When I was a kid, they announced school closures on the radio and you had to listen through a massive list for a good 20 minutes to see if yours was named—and if you missed it, you were screwed.)
If you live in an area where it snows, I’d love to hear from you. What was it like for you as a kid? Did you build snow forts or snowmen? Did you go sledding or ice skating? What was the biggest snowfall you remember?
If you didn’t grow up with snow but encountered it as an adult (either because of a relocation or on vacation), what was it like for you the first time?
Because I’m obsessed with snow, I would love to hear from you in the comments. Tell me all your snow stories! (And if you don’t get to enjoy snow where you live, maybe you can live vicariously through the rest of us!)
As always, thanks for reading. I’ll have more fiction—and my musings on why history, especially local history, matters—coming your way in a future Story Cauldron, so stay tuned!