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What does Y2K have to do with The Great Ice Storm ?

Stick around and you will find out. At time of this writing, themusic has an excellent write-up (in this node) on The Great Ice Storm that slammed the Northeastern US and Southeastern Canada, especially Montreal, in January, 1998. I read about the storm online with great interest because ice storms are all too common where my family lives in Western Arkansas / Eastern Oklahoma, an area known as the Ouachita Mountains. Meanwhile, as the end of the 20th Century approached, panic began to set in regarding an expected meltdown of computer systems triggered by a glitch in the way the software systems track dates. In hindsight it seems like, meh, no big deal, but at the time, some people were freaking out. One person who was especially freaked out was Margo at the front desk of the Hotel / Lodge where I worked. Margo was clearly terrified and I tried to reason with her.

"They're going to come to my house and kill me and steal my food!", says Margo.

"No, Margo, they won't. People in our area are not like that.", says I.

"They'll come from other places and break into my house and kill me!", says she.

I might have been more freaked out myself had I not read those articles about The Great Ice Storm of '98. Things were bad, really bad, when that storm hit, but people helped each other get through it. Not to say that there wasn't looting, there was, but it was the exception, not the rule. Human beings seem to be at their best when times are at their worst. I really tried to convey this to Margo and others like her who were so frightened but, fear begets fear. As it turns out, my theory didn't really get tested at all by the turn of the year/century/millenium. Computer systems and software barely seemed to notice and the panic of Y2K was soon forgotten.

Then, I had a major "EOTWAWKI" moment on February 11, 2000 (and I didn't feel fine). But that isn't the story of the ice storm, I was just setting the stage.

Roll the calendar forward to the Christmas holidays of the year 2000 and I'm spending Christmas with my daughter and her family in Pine Ridge when the ice storm hits. I decided to spend the night and see if the roads improved the next day. To say they didn't is an understatement. We had the worst ice storm anyone around here remembers ever having, before or since. I'm fond of saying that this was "the real Y2K". It was three days before highway crews could get the state highway cleared from the "Jot 'em Down" Store and Museum (right next to my daughter's home) to our town and even then it was one lane much of the way. The storm was followed by a deep freeze which lasted about two weeks. Power was out for ten to sixteen days depending on where you lived.

Once I finally made it to my remote loft cabin, much more remote than my daughter's house, the scene was unimaginable. The cabin is surrounded by massive pine trees, much too close for comfort. These trees were now bent over the little house like mourners bowing down over a casket. I barely recognized my place, which I had to reach by foot. I still have no idea how it managed to escape being destroyed by those behemoths. All the pipes were burst, of course. No power, of course. Before I could get serious about trying to "put Humpty Dumpty together again", someone from work tracked me down somehow. "Joyce wants everyone at the lodge that isn't dead", they declared. Ok, that wasn't the exact wording but close enough.

Joyce was the State Park Superintendant where I punched the clock. I caught a ride to the Park in their 4 wheel drive and camped out in the rooms with the rest of the emergency crew. The management generously provided rooms (and board) free of charge (it's not like they could rent them, right?). Major goals: to keep the plumbing from bursting and to somehow get water for bathing, flushing, etc. We took turns preparing meals over the fireplace in the lobby. It was actually pretty cool once the routine got worked out. A small generator provided enough power to run a few lights and watch a movie after dinner. We ran those kerosene shop heaters that look like freakin' torpedos throughout the building and they had to be re-fueled several times daily. We hauled water from the standpipe tank in buckets and barrels for personal hygiene and such and heated it on the fireplace and a Coleman stove. Nothing will make one appreciate creature comforts like doing without them for a spell.

This story wouldn't be complete without describing how amazingly beautiful this devastating storm was. Everything was coated with a couple of inches of ice which became clear as glass as it partially thawed and re-froze. There was an arched lattice tunnel-shaped trellis that graced the entrance to the "Windmill Garden". It had countless icicles hanging in it that all looked like they were made of lead crystal. The lawn was almost impossible to walk on because every blade of grass was a knob of clear ice. The trees, those that survived, looked like huge crystal sculptures.

I felt vindicated that people "pitched in" and "got through it" and (insert idiom of your choice here) together. Doubtless the same would have been the case if Y2K had turned out to be the apocalyptic event that was foretold. It was a relief when the heroic power line crews finally restored power and the massive cleanup effort began. Still, property damage aside, once things gradually settled back into the normal routine, I couldn't shake the feeling that we had lost something. It's hard to explain but the (almost) pioneer lifestyle we were forced to live for a while had an appealing quality to it.