Monday, January 6, 2014

When Survival Is Workout Enough

The main problem the current cold snap brings me (at least so far) is finding a way to get in a proper walk with Superdawg. It is just hitting here, and will deliver temperatures in the teens tonight and a high tomorrow that won't make it out of the 20s. Wind chills are expected to be below zero tomorrow morning (though to be sure, nothing approaching the minus-37 in Minneapolis). The winds are tough to bear.

Most likely I will just encourage Sadie to dart into the woods out back to do her business, and then I will go to the community workout room to pedal the exercise bike. Fingers are crossed that the power doesn't go out.

This cold spell brought to my mind the Great Ice Storm of '51 in western Tennessee when we were more concerned about survival than a daily workout. My Dad was Superintendent of Shiloh National Military Park near Pittsburg Landing on the Mississippi River, and our family lived in a large log house provided by the Park Service. On today's blog is the account Superintendent Holland wrote of the devastating impact of the ice storm on this park that had been the scene of one of the bloodiest battles in the Civil War. Our power went out for more than 100 hours, and we survived by huddling in front of a large fireplace where my Mom also cooked our meals.

Among my most vivid memories (I was then a lad of 9) are great trees loudly snapping like matchsticks under the weight of ice; squirrels being unable to gain traction on the solid ice; and birds freezing to death the night it plunged to 14 below zero. I sure hope the current cold blast will not inflict that kind of damage. And of course I pray for all the people who are hardest hit in Canada and a wide swath of the U.S. They have it a lot worse this time around than do we in the Southland.

At any rate, it won't last long here in South Carolina. Temps are predicted to be back up in the 60s this weekend -- almost beach weather!

Here is my Father's official storm report:

Shiloh Visitor Center

Park Administration and History

The Ice Storm of January, 1951

Nature, for the most part, has been kind to Shiloh and no subsequent natural disasters have equalled the cyclone of 1909 in destruction of park values. However, in late January 1951, an ice storm gripped the area, leaving in its wake the destruction of hundreds of trees and the mutilation of thousands more. A graphic account of the havoc wrought by this rampage of nature is given in the following extract from Superintendent James W. Holland's report on the storm and its aftermath:

"A total of 1.21 inch of rain fell Sunday, January 28, and started to freeze about 11:00 p.m. Ice formed on the tree twigs and branches and remained the following day when 1.05 inch of sleet and freezing rain were added to the trees' burden. On January 30 there was more sleet, turning to snow.

Wednesday, January 31, saw all the trees in the park under a heavy glaze and snow covering the ground to a depth of about 2 inches. The electric power went out at 6:30 a.m., back on at 7:45, off again at 8:30. After that, service was not resumed until 5:00 p.m., Sunday, February 4. During that time, 104 consecutive hours, the park was without electric power and consequently without heat in the Administration Building and the two largest residences. These are not heated by electricity but are dependent upon electric current for firing and operation. The water supply all over the park was out…

The ice and snow made the roads extremely hazardous and, in places, impassable. Great ice-covered limbs, weighing up to 600 pounds, came hurtling down on the roads, throughout the woods and in the developed areas. About twenty trees fell directly across main roads and had to be removed immediately. The magnificent oaks in front of the Administration Building suffered cruelly. Two good red oaks, among a host of others, topled /sic/ over in the grove in front of the superintendent's residence.

Then followed the coldest day on record here. At Memphis, a low of 11 below zero was recorded that being the lowest for that city in the 72 years the weather Bureau has been in operation there. The nearest approach to the 11 degree temperature was in 1899 when there was a reading of 9 below. At Shiloh, it was 14 below zero at 2:30 a.m., February 2."
Fortunately no serious structural damage was suffered by park buildings, although burst water pipes and failure of electrical power caused considerable hardship. The 17-mile telephone line to Corinth was wiped out, and for several days the park was in a virtual state of isolation.

Today, almost four years after the storm, evidence of its fury is still visible in the form of shattered, bent and dying trees. While many trees are dying from more immediate causes, their susceptibility to other forms of attack may be traced directly to the destructive effects of the ice storm.

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