Chilling in the polar vortexWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
Hey, kids, here’s a fun math story problem:
If it normally takes Michael 50 minutes to drive from Downtown Toledo to Tecumseh, but during a polar vortex it takes him 120 minutes, then:
1) How many extra minutes does the drive take?
2) How many of Michael’s knuckles turn white from gripping the steering wheel?
3) How many other drivers on the road qualify as (insert your vulgar body part name here)?
On Jan. 2, my family and I swam under the 80-degree South Florida sun, literally soaking in the final day of vacation. Toledoans may remember the sun; it’s a large, round ball of fire that in many parts of the world rises in the east and sets in the west. We usually see the sun in Northwest Ohio from 7 a.m. July 7 to 7:24 a.m. July 7, with other rumored intermittent sightings, like a celestial Bigfoot. But in South Florida, the sun shines every day. Not all day, as there is often a brief afternoon rain shower, but the sun is as much a part of daily life there as political chicanery is here.
We were aware that Winter Storm Hercules (trademark courtesy The Weather Channel) had smacked Northwest Ohio and that Winter Storm Ion (trademark courtesy The Weather Channel) was threatening more mayhem. We were driving from South Florida and planned our departure to arrive between storms.
It’s about 1,500 miles from there to here, and the trip down had blessed us with dry, clear weather for 1,499 miles, so I assumed the opposite would be true for the ride home. But while it was much colder through the South than usual, it was a smooth drive back and we did not see much impact from Winter Storm Hercules (trademark courtesy The Weather Channel).
It’s winter in Northwest Ohio; how bad could it be?
Turns out, with Florida sunshine still warming our cells, it could seem pretty bad.
By Sunday morning, it became clear we were in for a major winter event, and no amount of vacation memories would buffer us from the storm. As part of its news planning coverage, 1370 WSPD brought its news team and on-air personalities together (I serve as news director for WSPD’s morning show) and offered accommodations close to the station so everyone could safely be in place Monday morning. By 4 p.m. the snow and temperatures were falling with equal ferocity. Around 6 p.m., WSPD morning show host Fred LeFebvre wanted to tour the Downtown area so we repaid Clear Channels’ efforts to keep us safe by jumping into the WSPD Ford Explorer to explore the streets.
I drove down Summit Street and across the Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge, stopping at key points so LeFebvre could take photos. It was already slippery and deep snow piled in drifts. Visibility was greatly reduced; the lighted names atop the Downtown bank buildings were obscured in the wind and snow. Most cars were off the streets but two parked in front of Imagination Station were already plowed under.
The next day started at 4 a.m. as LeFebvre and I jumped back in the WSPD Explorer. We drove through the South End, to the Anthony Wayne Trail and back through Downtown. It looked like the snow had largely been pushed aside but the ice and wind were brutal, and we had not yet seen the low temps being described as an “arctic outbreak.”
The next two days were a blur of warnings, updates, closings and incredible photos showing the impact of snow and historic low temperatures. Walking even a few blocks in the cold felt like walking through a gantlet of knives on the skin; layering and hats and gloves were crucial.
By Tuesday afternoon, 48 hours into news coverage for Toledo Free Press and WSPD, I was ready to be back home with my family. Clean clothes and smart food supplies had dwindled. I had hoped Lucas County would drop to level two snow emergency by noon (most of my travels would be through Michigan, whose counties do not declare snow emergencies) but when that did not happen, I checked out of the hotel and prepared myself for an icy, dicey ride to Tecusmeh.
Had I known just how bad it was going to be, I would have rinsed out clothes in the hotel shower and started raiding the vending machines.
There were very few cars on Monroe Street to I-475, a blessing as there were no clear lanes and even at 30 mph, the car constantly slipped and wanted to spin.
The cars crossing into Michigan on U.S. Route 23 fell into a uniform line, slowly following the clear tire paths. There were a number of stalled cars facing the wrong way on the road or abandoned in the ditches, their back ends sticking out of the snow like dinosaurs sinking in a tar pit. Just past Exit 5, a jackknifed semi closed both lanes; traffic was backed up to Exit 9, and I said a silent prayer that the hundreds of backed-up cars were riding full tanks of gas in the cold.
Of course, “cold” wasn’t a dramatic enough label, as we heard “arctic event,” “arctic outbreak” and “polar vortex,” which sounds like a Santa Claus sex position. Ho, ho, ho.
Despite the hazardous conditions and the dawning realization that none of us had any business being on the road, several cars tried to jockey for position and speed by, oblivious to the ice. They say God watches out for drunks and idiots (as redundant as that is) and while the speedsters seemed to maintain control, I was not above hopefully anticipating seeing one of them in a ditch up ahead.
As bad as U.S. 23 was, I was more concerned about M-50. Other than the occasional state trooper, that stretch of road is under the jurisdiction of the road gang from “Mad Max.”
My concerns were justified. Long stretches of M-50 were indistinguishable from the cornfields that surround it. It was a 20 mph trip and by the time I pulled in to our driveway, I was shaky, exhausted and extremely grateful that God had seen this idiot home safely.
The excited hugs and chatter I received from our little boys reminded me of why I had made the journey — and just how much I had risked by making it.
I was 12 during the local Blizzard of ’78, and I keep hearing The Polar Vortex of ’14 was nothing like that. I agree, and I am thankful.
Story problem answers: 1) 70 minutes that felt like 700; 2) 9 (my wedding ring finger is always contrarian); 3) All of them: ****s, *******s and ******s.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star and news director for 1370 WSPD. Email him at email@example.com.