Weathering the storm

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 13, 2014

By Wednesday afternoon, forecasters’ warnings of a dangerous winter storm were becoming reality in Rowan County as snow fell, cars skidded on streets and emergency power crews began dealing with outages expected to rise dramatically.
While we sometimes joke about how dire predictions of weather calamity often prove overly cautious, anyone watching this storm’s brawling path across Georgia and South Carolina knew it was no joke. The previous storm that created gridlock in Atlanta and made travel treacherous in our area for a day or so was just a warmup. Forecasters described this storm as the main event, a monster weather system of potentially historic dimensions, with the capacity to leave death, power disruptions and transportation mayhem in its wake.
If you’re reading the newspaper this morning in the comfort of a warm home, with the lights still on and the heat blasting away, count yourself lucky — and by all means stay off the roads unless you absolutely must venture out. Say a prayer and a word of thanks for all those who don’t have that option — road crews, utility workers, police and firefighters, emergency responders, doctors and nurses and others who perform essential services. If you woke up to the sound of crashing branches and a cold, dark house, know that help is on the way — or soon will be, depending on how widespread the damage turns out to be.
This kind of storm can kill, particularly in regions unaccustomed to harsh conditions. But it also bestows a magically altered landscape as well as imparting a deeper sense of human humility. Yes, our technological marvels give more advance warning of nature’s cold fury, but we’re still largely at its mercy. Eyes in the sky can’t change conditions on the ground.
Still, we’re far more fortunate than earlier generations. For perspective, we might consider the great storm of Dec. 3-6, 1886, which brought extraordinary blizzard conditions to the Appalachians, with some sections of the North Carolina mountains getting almost 4 feet of snow and catching many of those Tar Heel pioneers unawares. Another catastrophic storm devastated the Southeast on Nov. 24, 1950, claiming more than 350 victims.
In the 21st century, we’re fortunate that forecasting technology can now give us earlier warnings and more precise information. We might not be able to do anything about the weather, but we’re far better equipped to stay out of harm’s way.