Friday, November 7, 2008

Blizzard of 1986

It started raining yesterday morning. It turned to ice pellets and sleet as the day wore on. Travel is not recommended in Southern Manitoba. By 7:00 last night, the precipitation had turned to snow - the first snow of the season. We aren't expecting a lot of snow before this storm passes by later today - maybe 15-20cm (6-8inches), but the initial layer of rain and ice will make things miserable for awhile. I'm really glad that I don't have to go anywhere for a few days! This first storm of the season also comes on the anniversary of another Manitoba blizzard....

7 November 1986, Winnipeg, Manitoba: Early major snowstorm dumps 30 cm (12 inches) on the city. Winds gust to 90 km/hr (56 mph) creating whiteout conditions.

1986 November 7 and 8 - Winter Blizzard - Length 11 hoursTemperature (Max/Min) -6 degrees c/-12 degrees c, 21 degrees f/10degreesf Amount of Snowfall 35.2 cm, 13.9 in.Wind Speed 70 km, 44 mph.

November 10th, 1986: Winnipeg dug out from beneath 35.8 cm of snow left by a monster 32-hour storm that dumped 30 to 50 cm of the white stuff and created 2 m drifts in southern Manitoba and northwestern Ontario. In Winnipeg, officials pulled buses and snowplows off the roads and closed the airport. Residents used snowmobiles to navigate main arteries.

On Friday, November 7, 1986 at 9:45AM, I caught a Grey Goose bus out to the country to visit my parents for the weekend. My mom picked me up at the depot a little before 11:00 and we drove to Winkler and Morden to have lunch and shop. We went about our day as we always did - talking, browsing for bargains and eating.

We started heading home about 3:30 or so. It was just starting to snow very lightly. The further north we went the more the snow falling and the visibility was getting low. We were about 5 miles from home when we turned on the car radio and heard that we were under a "Blizzard Warning"! The forecast had been predicting snow and the possibility of a blizzard as we were on the edge of an Alberta clipper. Alberta clipper's are notorious for creating havoc with our winter weather. Mom and I looked at each other and said "Good job we're almost home - dad will be getting worried!" Sure enough, first thing dad said was "Where the hell have you two been? Didn't you hear there's a blizzard?" We reassured him we were fine and home safe.

It snowed all night and part of Saturday. The wind was howling and whipping the snow around pretty hard. It was Sunday before the weather started to clear. Our back door faces south, as does the patio door in the living room. Both doors had snow drifts blown in almost to the top! My brother - who has a home on the same property - had to come down to shovel us out. He and dad got out the front end loader for the tractor as well as the snowblower and spent hours, clearing out the driveways to his home and my parents as well as the lane. They also had to shovel snow off the roof as it was so heavy they were worried about damage. The municipality had some of the main roads cleared by Monday, but the province was not recommending any travel until mid week unless it was an emergency.

I don't remember if we lost electricity, but if we did it was only a few hours. I had planned on going back to Winnipeg on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning at the latest. So much for that idea! We spent the time telling jokes/stories, playing games, reading, listening to the radio and watching TV. Mom and I did some baking. Dad and I played cribbage. Once the lane was clear, I also went down to my brothers house to visit with his wife and my two little nieces.

I finally took the bus back to Winnipeg on Wednesday, November 12 in the afternoon. The trip was normally about 1 1/4 hours from depot to depot. It took over two hours! I had ridden with that driver many times over the last couple of years, so we talked a lot about prairie winters and this storm in particular on the way home. The highways were actually pretty good, but once we crossed the Perimeter Highway and hit city streets... well that was another story!

The city was just starting to get back on it's feet. The streets were a mess and buses were running very slow, late and full!. They were also getting stuck on a regular basis. A normal 5 minute walk from the depot to my bus stop took at least 15 minutes as I also had a big heavy suitcase with me. When a Wolseley bus finally came, it was packed with standing room only! I was going to wait for the next bus, but the driver said I should come suitcase and all as I may be waiting 30-40 minutes for another one and it would also be full. It was Arlington before I could sit down and that was only a couple of stops from my street. I lived in an attic apartment about half a block from the bus stop at Wolseley and Ruby. Ruby had one narrow plow path down the center of the street and what amounted to a mule path on what used to be the sidewalk. It took me ten minutes to get home!

The entire trip from my parents farm to my apartment would be just under two hours in good weather but this one was 3 hours and 15 minutes! I was so glad to be home! It was the end of the week before most streets were plowed properly and into the following week before all back lanes and sidewalks were cleared.

I've never been a huge fan of winter travel. Growing up on the prairies, you see more than the average snowstorms and their aftermath. I've been storm-stayed and been in vehicles that have gotten stuck more than I care to remember! For some reason, winter storms often hit while I was travelling! Even my friendly Grey Goose driver used to joke that he had to double check the weather reports if he saw me at the depot! He wasn't sure if it was safe to travel with me!

Well, I don't do much traveling outside of the city anymore, and I've learned to keep a full pantry. That doesn't mean that I WANT a big snowfall or a blizzard, but I'm ready!

Only 5 months or so till spring...



prairiepatch said...

I enjoyed your story about the storm of 1986. I thought I would share my story with you for that time. I was working at the Victoria Hospital as an x-ray technologist and I was living in Summerland. At least that is what it was called back then. It is the apartment building with a glass greenhouse in the middle, it backs onto Pembina Hwy. Anyway I was to work the day after the storm. Nothing was moving but I lived close enough to walk. For some reason I didn't have a great deal of winter clothing but everything I had I put on and off I went. There where monster snow banks across Pembina Hwy. I would climb up one side and slide down the other side, right in the middle of the road. There wasn't a soul around I was the only person out there. It felt like I was the only person in the whole city. But I kept climbing these snow banks one snow bank after another it took forever to get to the Hospital.

Once I got there it was a strange situation. For some reason it didn't occur to me that if I had a hard time getting to work it would be the same for the rest of the hospital staff. Some of the night shift made it into work but they couldn't leave and the day shift wasn't able to get in. In a hospital the night shift isn't a full shift of personnel. There are less nurses on duty, there was no staff in the kitchen, no one worked nights in the x-ray department, etc, etc. So there was a hospital full of patients with a bare bones staff that were already very tired.

The x-ray department was very quite. There were hardly any doctors there to order any x-rays. So I got to work else where in the hospital. I was up in the nursery helping change diapers. I was all over the place helping out where needed. There was a bunch that went into the kitchen and started making toast to give the poor patients something to eat. Everybody was doing what they could, it was really fun. I remember thinking what a blast it was.

At one point I made it to the front lobby and it was just utter and complete chaos. It was like a very crowded and chaotic air port. What happened was that the army got involved and they got the APC's (Armored personnel carrier) Anyway they went around and started picking up nurses and other staff with these things at the same time taking some of the tired worn out staff home. Also I am not sure how they got there maybe they asked for help on the radio, but there where a bunch of guys on snowmobiles and they were doing the same thing. Bringing in staff and taking staff home. So when I popped into the lobby to see what was going on I saw a big APC sitting right in front of the doors, it is a rather huge and intimating thing. But it was there unloading and about 5 or 6 snowmobiles running up and leaving. The lobby was jam packed with people either coming or going. I remember talking to one of the older nurses that had just gotten a ride in on the back of a snowmobile. She was all pink cheeked and wind blown and she said "Man that was fun".

By the end of the day things were getting back to normal as far as hospital staff. It took the city a while to dig out from that one. I made my own way home at the end of the day. It was kind of a let down after all the excitement. But it was really nice a few months later I got a letter from the province thanking me for my help in a time of crisis. That was pretty nice.

Anyway I thought I would tell you my little story.

dnsyl57 said...

Hi Prairiepatch! Thank you SO much for sharing that wonderful story! I can imagine you traversing and sliding on the snowbanks and all the chaos at the hospital! True dedication!! I've had over 100 hits on this post in the last couple of days and it is great to have someone else post some memories of that time!! Stay safe and warm with our charming winter weather!! - dn

GMacWpg said...

I was just a young kid (Grade 3?), but I remember the storm distinctly. The second half of the Friday afternoon (Nov 7) was my turn on one of Brock-Corydon school's Mac II-C computers to play "Where in the World is Carmen SanDiego?"...quite the treat. It has just started snowing on my way home at about 3:30 and everyone was talking about an impending blizzard. I remember our family going out in the old station wagon for a drive after dinner, and the snow was already deep enough that we had to be careful not to get stuck.

The next day we woke to a kid's dream. I remember getting all dressed up and playing outside with my cousins. My Dad tried getting the station wagon out of the driveway, but that was a lost cause.

On the Sunday (I believe) we had tickets to the Jets game. We walked across the train bridge that spans the Assiniboine River and got to the area. The Devils were able to make it into town, and i think they were taken from the airport to the area in tracked-vehicles. Anyway, I remember that there was almost nobody in the old arena and we could sit wherever we wanted. Pretty cool NHL experience. On the way I remember being able to walk up a snow drift and touch the second level of the (newly built) Polo Park parkade.

School was cancelled on the Monday, and the Tuesday was Remembrance Day. When we went back to school on Tuesday there were awesome snowbanks all over the place to slide on.

During the storm I remember seeing tracked army vehicles on pass by on Wellington Cres. And the only sign of life on Academy Road were snowmobiles (whipping by at very high speeds, to our great cheers).

Fantastic prairie winter experiences that go a long way toward shaping a childhood!

Wart Snuff said...

Hello there,

Storm of 86 I had a massive 4 x 4 truck.. I had just finished building.. had a snow blower in the back to help when I did get stuck. (several times BTW lol)
I went to the airport and started taking people to hotels.. when I got home. my father was a doctor at St.B.. he asked me to take nurse's and doctors to the hospital and home. I remember one nurse screaming so loud as I crashed through a snow bank that left us blind.. but I knew I would get stuck so I kept the throttle wide open and we got through.. I will never forget her screaming !!! I imagine she will never forget the ride in my truck either :)