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Thundersnow Thundersnow
by Jack Wellman
2008-01-01 10:26:33
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Old Man Winter comes again to our small plains town. Predictions of another bout with winter are posted with the weather service’s Heavy Snow Warning. It is a prophecy being fulfilled before my eyes. This storm cares not that thousands are still without power due to the winter fury that bulldozed its way across the plains just last week.

It started out so innocently, beginning as light rain…which then began to freeze, before nearly one half inch of ice started bringing limbs and power lines down. And the towns and villages grew deathly dark and quite. Already with knee-deep snow, the northern door blew suddenly open…again…and ushered another dreaded Great Plains Blizzard.

The Great White North has taken lives all too often and even with warning, people are caught unprepared for what wind, ice, cold and snow can do. Now add to this phenomenon, lightning. Lightning can occur in the warm sector of a snowstorms producing thunderstorms or thundersnow that can dump heavy amounts of snow. Sometimes one to two inches per hour. The only thing more feared are thunder-ice storms, which pour freezing rain in copious amounts…and make life miserable for all.

These fearsome thunder-ice storms are actually freezing rain thunderstorms that produce lightning and thunder. These are not simple cloud to cloud but cloud to ground lightning bolts. These powerful “Norwester’s” spawn huge thunderheads at 50 to 60 thousand feet, just as they do in warm weather thunderstorms. They have even produced cold-air funnels that have caused minor damage on the ground.
These are nights and days not fit for man or beast. If a person doesn’t get blinded (white outs) they might loose their sense of direction and drive right into a field or off an embankment. Even walking to the barn or the mail can be a deadly experience. The howling wind is the voice of the storm, heralding a warning of what is to come. It is often the voice of death. Many have heard it and not lived to tell. Others who live to tell never forget.

Nearly 80% of tornadoes occur in the United States with another 80% of these forming in the plains in what is called Tornado Alley. These quick-forming tornadoes than can develop in just over half an hour (and often times, up to that point, out of a cloudless day). With tornadoes or cyclones, you can at least seek shelter below ground as I have over 17 times in my 50 plus years here. But this vortex can not compare with the widespread and sometimes deadly effect of the Great Plains Blizzard. It is perhaps the most deadly of all natural weather phenomenon in the plains.

I can not describe in mere words what it is like, for even as I write this the wind rattles the house and huge flakes with ice pummel the windows. Intense lightning and deafening thunder accompany fierce winds. It makes a body realize one’s own mortality, isolation and insignificance to nature. Just a tiny speck amid a titanic weather machine.

It’s like the whole North Pole has suddenly slide south and there is nowhere to hide. The only thing certain for now is the ice, snow, and wind. It and I, very alone, and completely vulnerable. Who among us are not at the mercy of nature’s omnipotence. This is winter’s revenge on the last vestiges of fall. The score today, winter 1, man 0. And nothing short of the earth’s axis tilting nearer spring can conquer this juggernaut…this Great Plains Blizzard and its thundersnow.

    
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