Fog on the Ohio River

Fog on the Ohio River
Canon PowerShot S80
2009

Photography
Image
Personal, Stories Told

What the ice storm could have taught me about myself

What a great day, walking through the park with my camera after the ice storm!

After the ice storm

It was 1990. I was 23 and didn’t know myself yet. Who does at 23? College was about a year behind me; I had gone to work. Trying to figure out what it meant to be an adult, I mimicked what I saw growing up. My parents went to work come hell or high water, even when sick, even in treacherous weather. The ice storm had blown hard all night. The radio said that roads were dangerous. Dutifully, I drove to work anyway.

The trees sparkled, their bare, drooping branches coated in ice. How beautiful they were! I wanted to stop and look, not drive, not pay attention to the road. But keeping my car straight took all of my concentration.

Ice-laden power lines had snapped and lay in the streets. Power was out at the office. Dim light from distant windows lit my way past cubicles to the break room. There I found a few co-workers huddled around tables drinking gas-station coffee, shivering in their coats, hands around cups for warmth. A couple of them nodded at me when I entered; most stared blankly into their cups.

I stood there for a minute, uncertain. There would be no work until power returned. I wanted to be out among the trees. And then, impulsively, I did it: I left.

As I stepped quickly toward my car, I felt free, elated — and anxious. Would I be in trouble the next day? Could I be fired? But I was in all the way. Driving slowly, carefully toward home, I made my plan. I would stop at the drug store and buy film. I would walk the one block from home to Collett Park and photograph whatever I found glistening with ice.

After the ice storm

I walked carefully; the sidewalks were as slippery as the streets. When I stepped into the grass, it crunched under my feet.

After the ice storm

Growing up in South Bend, I was used to bitterly cold winters with heavy snow blowing in off Lake Michigan. Terre Haute’s relatively mild winters were so easy! But Terre Haute got about one ice storm each winter. I’d never encountered anything like it. Such joy I felt in the discovery that morning that every inch of a chain-link fence would be coated in ice, just as would an enormous slide on a playground.

After the ice storm

Ice dripped off horizontal surfaces. Had it thawed a little and refrozen? I wondered.

After the ice storm

On the playground, the chains on the swings were frozen solid. I pulled one of the chains and the ice broke at a weak point. I thought that was so cool that I operated my camera with one hand while I held the chain with the other.

After the ice storm

There would be no tennis this chilly day. Ice clung even to the net!

After the ice storm

I had no camera skills at 22 and didn’t know that my point-and-shoot camera couldn’t focus closely. My intended subject, the branch, was out of focus. But thankfully this miffed shot gave me this broad view of the park. I so enjoyed Collett Park. I walked up there all the time and took strolls, or sat on a bench and watched people go by.

After the ice storm

The sun came and went all morning. When it came, the ice in the trees lit up with a paradoxical warmth.

After the ice storm

The cold stung my hands, bare so they could work the camera. I suffered for as long as I could because I didn’t want this rare joy to end. But my hands finally went numb. This time would have to end. I walked back toward home, stopping at the top of my street to photograph the street sign and the tiny icicles hanging off it.

After the ice storm

Back home, I took one more shot, of stubby icicles hanging off the clothesline.

After the ice storm

What a great morning! Returning inside, I made some coffee, turned on the radio, and puttered around the house the rest of the day. I felt great peace and surprising satisfaction — until the next workday, where anxiety struck over the hooky I had played. But the boss never said a word. I heard that the power came back on too late the day before for any real work to get done anyway.

25 years have passed. Today I know that this day was so me. I didn’t then, and I’d like to go back now to that happy afternoon of puttering and have a chat with myself:

Middle-aged me: Young me, pay attention to today and learn from this. You had a great day! Why do you think that is?

Young me: I’m not sure. But the ice really captured my attention, and spending the morning taking pictures of it really energized me. I really hope those photos turn out! I don’t really know what I’m doing with a camera. But I wanted to remember what I saw today.

MAM: You will. Actually, you will never forget this day, in part because you will always have these photographs and every time you see them they will bring back all of the good feelings this day generated. Do you have any idea why today brought so much joy and pleasure?

YM: I don’t.

MAM: Young me, please listen carefully to this: You felt this joy and pleasure because this morning you were fully you. You went off by yourself to explore. You experienced something new to you. You tried to really see it, and you used a camera to do that. And so when you came home, you felt lighter and happier. You felt energized and more ready to go out into the world. Young me, know that going off by yourself is how you restore your energy. And you love to experience new things. And you do see things best through a camera’s viewfinder. And every photograph you take will catalog a memory you might have lost otherwise. Make time for this to happen regularly in your life.

YM: But film and developing are expensive. I don’t make very much money.

MAM: Budget for it. You will not regret it. When stress runs high, explore with your camera. When you’re lonely, explore with your camera. When you are all peopled out, explore with your camera. You will refresh yourself.

YM: But …how do I even say this? I’m the only person I know like this. I feel so weird and out of place.

MAM: I understand. I know you wish you cared about football or golf so you’d have something to talk about with the guys. But I want to urge you to pursue the things that make you happy anyway, and try not to care whether anybody else gets it. And know this: in time, you will find others who love to spend a morning out walking with their camera, too. They’ll enjoy looking at your photographs, and you’ll enjoy looking at theirs.

Alas, that conversation didn’t happen. I didn’t figure this out for another 20 years. I’m glad I did! But I would have liked to figure it out then.

When this blog was brand new in 2007, I wrote a post about these photos called “A good icing.” It was my fourth-ever post; read it here. That post used scans I had made from prints. When I scanned all of my negatives last year, these images looked startlingly better than the print scans. I thought I’d re-run “A good icing” with these new scans. But when I reviewed that old text I decided to start over and tell this story from a different perspective. 

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Snow-covered Caddy

Snow-covered Caddy
Palm Pre
2010

Photography
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Vintage Television

Vintage TV: 1970s weather forecasts

I watched a lot of TV news during the recent ice storm so I could catch the weather forecasts. Local stations went all out during this storm with expanded and extra newscasts. Reporters were live all over the city showing what it looked like outside, in case our living-room windows were malfunctioning and we couldn’t see for ourselves. Meteorologists were front and center in every newscast, showing us the latest imagery from their Super Duper Ultra Doppler Nine Billion TrueVision™ radar systems. They hopped across the screen with great energy, swooping their arms to show the storm’s movement, speaking with grave urgency, leaning into the camera a little to punctuate the drama.

I actually think local news is at its best during severe weather. They provide useful and timely information and actually help draw viewers together in the shared experience. They just kick the hype up a notch or two beyond what’s really needed.

All this weather coverage got me thinking about the state of the TV forecasting art during my 1970s kidhood. I remember Dick Addis on WNDU, the station we watched most. He was just as animated as today’s TV meteorologists, but he had to be. He started his forecasts with a big map of the United States and, as he spoke, furiously scribbled weather patterns onto it with a big Magic Marker. The most advanced technology he used was a still black-and-white satellite image. WNDU was kind of a trailblazer at the time in that Dick was actually a meterologist. Many stations in those days just had a staff announcer read the weather forecast.

I don’t have any WNDU clips, unfortunately, but I found several 1970s weathercasts lurking around YouTube’s dusty corners. This one is from WDIO in Duluth, Minnesota. Dig that giant map of the nation with all the little numbers stuck to it. Also, the weatherman delivers a live commercial! And check out the hand-written forecast.

If you’re thinking, “Yeah, but Duluth is a small television market; bigger markets had to have better technology,” check out this 1973 weathercast from WLS in Chicago. WLS did have a groovy rotating board with all the maps, but everything on it was hand-lettered. At least they had access to the National Weather Service radar.

In 1974, KAKE in Wichita, Kansas, was using some more advanced technology. They used a character generator to create a scrolling national temperature list, and they had animated satellite imagery. Also, while the forecast graphics were still letters and numbers stuck on the wall, at least they used chroma key to show some of it. And the whole weathercast was approved by the American Meteorological Society – something we take for granted today, but was kind of novel in 1974.

The pretty weather girl has been a fixture of TV news for a long time. In the 1970s, it was often the only real way a woman could be on a news team. KMBC in Kansas City, Missouri, apparently offered no exception. In 1977 they had a big rotating weather cube like WLS’s, but used a character generator for the forecast. Kansas City had just experienced some serious flooding at the time of this clip, which is why they’re expressing concern about showers in the forecast.

As the 1970s wore on, weathercasting technology began to improve. KXTV in Sacramento, California, had a color weather radar in 1978. It was awfully primitive by today’s standards. But I remember when a station in the town where I grew up got a similar radar, and it was a big deal. Despite this advance, KXTV still had a giant map on the wall with stick-on numbers. Also, if you recognize this weatherman as the same guy from WLS in 1973, you have a keen eye. It’s typical for people in TV news to move from city to city during their careers.

Today, everything you see on a weathercast except the meteorologist is generated with computers. Given how unreliable software can be, I’m surprised I’ve never seen a display crash during a weathercast! You might think the old-style weather displays were trouble-free, but check out what this poor weatherman at KIRO in Seattle, Washington, endured in 1975.

All of these weathercasts had one thing in common – they were delivered calmly! News directors, take a cue from days gone by.

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Personal, Photography, Stories Told

Scenes from the ice storm

As last week began, the weather forecast called for two ice storms in as many days. It looked like it could be very serious – up to an inch and a half of ice, which would cause trees to fall and power lines to snap. The electric companies warned that if the worst happened, power could be cut for days or even weeks. The governor even went on TV to urge Hoosiers to be prepared.

My home has an electric furnace and an electric well pump, so losing electricity makes my house a whole lot less useful. I’ve lost power for long periods on two other occasions, which wasn’t much fun, but at least it was summertime. I’d rather roast without air conditioning than freeze without heat! Just the same, I set aside a few gallons of drinking water and filled the tub with water I could use to flush the toilet. Then I settled in and waited.

The first wave came through Monday night and Tuesday morning, coating everything in a thin layer of ice. Thankfully, it wasn’t enough to bring power lines down.

Ice-covered evergreen

I brought my laptop computer from work so I could work from home, at least as long as I had power. Remembering the great photo opportunities from the last ice storm I experienced, more than 20 years ago, when the freezing rain stopped late Tuesday morning I went outside with my camera.

Ice-covered shrub

The second wave hit Tuesday night. TV meteorologists said that it would start out as sleet and change over to freezing rain, and that the later the changeover the better. Fortunately, it sleeted for hours. I’ve never seen so much sleet. This evening shot over my deck shows how it accumulated. It may look like snow, but when I picked up a handful it felt like fine, cold pellets. Those that didn’t melt in my warm hands ran like sand.

Sleet-covered deck

The freezing rain came as I went to bed. For a couple hours in the middle of the night I kept being awakened as I heard things scraping along my roof. A few trees stand close to the house, and I worried that they were dropping heavy, icy branches. So when I woke up, grateful to find the house still electrified, I dressed and went outside to check for damage.

What I didn’t know was that overnight the temperature rose to about 35 degrees before falling again to below freezing. That caused everything to start to melt and then freeze right back up — including all that sleet on the ground. So I took one step out of my front door and immediately slipped and fell. I landed hard, hitting my head and spraining my wrist. I was fortunate not to need medical attention. I walked around the house and found no downed limbs. I wondered what made those scraping sounds. My roof was covered with ice; could it have shifted? And then I slipped and fell again, but fortunately that time I landed squarely on my butt.

The mayor asked that people travel only if absolutely necessary, so I worked from home yet another day. I went out again later, walking much more carefully, to take more pictures. My yard was frozen so hard that my steps didn’t break through the ice. I tried jumping up and down to break through, but even that didn’t work. Then I realized I was risking landing on my butt again, and stopped.

Shadows over the frozen yard

It was about a half an hour before sunset, so the shadows were long.

Shadows over the frozen yard

I was in such a groove of getting things done that I worked from home again on Thursday, even though reports were that the roads were passable. But by Thursday afternoon, cabin fever was setting in. I went to the office on Friday.

My sons came over Friday evening for the weekend, and then Saturday morning about five inches of snow fell. Finally, a chance for them to help me shovel the driveway! We made short work of it, shoveling down to the underlying ice, which hadn’t gotten any less slippery. All of us, including our dog, had trouble keeping our footing. But with three of us working, we weren’t outside for long.

Dog in the snow

Some of my neighbors were out with spades breaking up the ice on their driveways, but with my wrist still sore I decided that since God put the ice there, he’ll have to take it away. This has been a long and relentless winter, and I’m quite ready to see it go.

You’d think that it would make sense to just head south for the winter. I tried it once, and when I came home, Indiana had its revenge. Read that story.

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