Archive for Thursday, January 6, 2005

Ice storms near worst Kansas has to offer

January 6, 2005

As I type early Wednesday morning, the police scanner in the news room squawks with near-constant reports of vehicle accidents, downed powerlines and minor fires. For those on the front line of emergency service delivery, the most miserable day of the year is also the busiest.
Those responding to downed powerline reports do a quick triage of sorts. Incidents that appear to threaten lives or property are referred to utility companies for quick action. Others that only send an occasional shower of sparks are put on a less pressing list. It's a wearisome job, as revealed on the responders' voices as the night drags on and the freezing rain keeps falling.
We don't get hurricanes or monsoons, but there is little else in the weather lexicon that doesn't apply in Kansas. With the exception of tornado, none of the terms in that vast collection is as feared as an ice storm. They are so dreaded, their occurrence makes us look out at the persistent rain and wish it would just start snowing.
Downed powerlines, power outages, unpredictable roads and sidewalks all make ice storms deadly in myriad ways. But I would venture most of us dread them not for the dangers they bring, but from past experiences of coping for hours or days with no power.
It's tempting to say we're just too spoiled, hooked as we are on electricity for everything from food to entertainment. But the cause of our concerns are more about the loss of options than privilege. Food stores now are in the form of frozen meats in the refrigerator, not salted pork buried under straw in the icehouse, and few of us have alternate cook stoves. But at the bottom, ice storms are so dreaded because they are so boring. Yes electricity has provided a home full of wonderful labor-saving devices, but it's real change is in how we spend that spare time. The sheet music, conversation and parlor games that entertained those of 75 years ago seems to belong to a far more distant age.
Of course some of this is at our loss. During a power outage of 25 years or so ago, my brother and I were forced to talk to each other for a long evening. Although we didn't talk of anything deep or meaningful, it was a special evening and one that would have long vanished from my memory had we watched whatever was on television that night.
But I'd be the first to admit my company can get old, especially when cold, hungry and bored. And if pressed, I could recall sharing laughs with my brother as we watched Darren McGavin in "The Night Stalker," one of our shared favorites. I told you we weren't into things deep and meaningful.

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