The guns have been silent at American Clarion for the past two days, laid low by a devastating fall blizzard in West River South Dakota. Power has been intermittent and completely out during that time.
The snow started Friday morning with overnight rain transitioning directly into snow. It was sticking and becoming slushy right away, and not long after daylight Friday morning, the power started to come on and go off, come on and go off.
By late Friday afternoon, the snow was starting to pile up: more than a foot in many places in the Rapid City area. At our house on the east side of Rapid City, power went down again about 7:00 pm…and stayed out for the next 26.5 hours, coming on again last night at 9:30 pm.
The snow stopped early Saturday morning, but by that time, we had somewhere between 2-3 feet in our back yard and even higher drifts in the front yard.
Fortunately, we have a wood stove in our livingroom that we haven’t used in over 15 years, and that I’ve thought more than once about taking out. We were glad to have it this weekend, and my daughter did a fine job of bringing in long-stored wood from behind the house and keeping it stoked. The only contact we had with the outside world during the power outage was my smartphone (with a healthy battery backup that I used miserly) and a small battery-powered radio that we dug out Saturday morning to listen to local AM news station KOTA.
All day we listened to local law enforcement authorities talk about efforts to clear the roads (a “no travel” order was issued by mid-day yesterday, with no travel allowed in Pennington County) and get power back on. Estimates of people without power in the Rapid City area ranged from about 40,000 to about 48,000. However, the entire western part of the state was hit hard by the blizzard, and so that number was undoubtedly much higher when taking the West River area into consideration.
We also heard many people calling in to the radio station on cell phones, stating they had been stranded on I-90 west of town and had spent the night in their vehicles. One man said they had run out of gas, but fortunately had some camping supplies stowed in the back of their SUV, so they wrapped up in them. We also heard reports of people being stranded in grocery stores, and some literally trapped in their hotel rooms by snow drifts that were higher than the door to their room.
By the end of the day, Gov. Dennis Daugaard had mobilized National Guard resources (many already in place, due to advanced warning of the coming storm) to help clear roads and get utilities back online.
We went to bed early at my house, with all of us in bed by 8:30 pm last night; there is only so much you can do with no electricity and candles for your light. My wife and I were just drifting off to sleep about 9:30 pm when we heard some clicks and pops, signalling that our furnace was coming on and several lights left on in the house were once again burning.
Thankfully, the last reports I heard yesterday indicated no deaths or serious injuries due to the storm. It seems the storm’s worst impact on people only ranged from minor to major inconvenience–and when compared to the loss of limb and life, that’s alright.
As for me and my family, it resulted in some frustration and boredom, but we can live with that. We came through it with some experiences that we’ll remember for years and years to come, and got back in touch (in the case of my children, for the first time) with what it’s like to live without many of our modern conveniences.
At some point yesterday afternoon, I reflected out loud with my family that this event should serve as a reminder to us how fragile civilization is. Our culture has developed an unthinking arrogance that we are so much better than previous generations, that we are much fancier and sophisticated than they were–and that reality unfortunately leads us to the false conclusion that we are smarter and more capable than they were. Yet they no doubt would have taken such circumstances in much greater stride than we.
And what would happen if such conditions were extended by some unforeseen catastrophic circumstance? What would we do if the genteel strands of government broke down, and we were no longer protected by the world’s most powerful military, and no longer had our every need supplied to us by a $3-4 trillion government? What would we do if we no longer had multiple layers of law enforcement and a highly complex judicial system to protect us from lawlessness and bad people?
Are we really as smart and capable as we imagine we are?
And are we really ready to surrender our freedoms and right to self-protection in exchange for government promises of complete provision?
These are questions we need to spend long and hard time asking ourselves.
Meanwhile, we’ll begin the process of digging out today in preparation for the coming week.
UPDATE: Lots of pics in this Daily Mail article.