All This Before I Even Got on the Train

So you are probably wondering how that trip down to Elkhart went last night. You know, the trip to the train station. When traveling east by train from where I live, it makes a lot of sense to catch it in Elkhart. So, because I had to catch the train a bit after midnight, I made the drive last night. And how was the trip you ask?

Before I can catch you up on that, I need to explain a couple things meteorological.

First of all, there’s the polar vortex! Sounds ominous. In fact it’s a large mass of extremely cold air that right now is migrating from north to south over the Midwest bringing below zero temps. (BTW, where I am right now, on the train somewhere west of Buffalo, it looks like a raging blizzard outside while inside the car it feels like a balmy 90 degrees.) Anyway, the ‘vortex’ was moving in about when I was starting my trip south to Elkhart.

Second, the wind. Last night, driving to the train station, it was very windy. Really windy! Not just a random gust here and there, but a relentless, steady, push the car around at times, windy!

Third, lake effect snow happens when cold air (see polar vortex) moves across the relatively warmer Lake Michigan waters. The warmer water warms up the cold air and adds moisture. The warm, moist air rises. The water vapor condenses into clouds from which snow forms. The snow falls and you have lake effect snow. The wind sends it all inland.

With all that in mind, here’s my story. I started out earlier than normal due to the weather. The car thermometer settled in at 2 degrees. The roads were snow covered, it being so cold that the salt on them had no melting effect. On the highway the snow was blinding. It was a good thing I was familiar with road. It was tough to see past my headlights. I turned south where, according to the weather radar, I’d be driving out of the lake effect snow bands.

I kept a steady speed of of about 40 mph until I got behind the semi truck. I slowed the pace. I figured I could escape it’s snowy vortex when I got to Schoolcraft, the next town. Which I did. Ever so carefully I crept around it and two other vehicles over the ice packed passing lane.

South of town I was on my own, no one near me, front or back. Alone, in the dark, slipping between acres of empty farm fields, the wind buffeting the car. The snow from the fields kicked up by the wind, swooshed across the road, making small drifts for me to plow through. Visibility? Well, close your eyes. What do you see? Yep, that was about it until I reached that wooded area alongside the road. For awhile, all I could see was a cloud of white in my headlights and, of the road, the occasional glimpse of the white line, for only a few seconds at a time.

As I went farther south the snowfall decreased and by the state line the roads were pretty much dry, but for an occasional icy patch to keep me on my toes. At one point, I peeked out of the side window and was surprised by a cloudless sky, bright stars scattered to the horizon. I was struck by the fact that only a few miles north from where I was a serious weather event was playing out! I felt like I had just driven out of a violently shaken snow globe.

Other than the wind to contend with, the rest of the trip went well. It took longer than normal to get to the train station. The outside temperature had dropped a few more degrees to -4. The station was open when I got there, and for about a minute-and-a-half I was alone. Then the kid came in…. But that’s another story for another time.

All in all, I’m glad to have made the effort. After all, I have special people waiting for me at my destination. That will be later-today’s gift. Right now and last night’s gifts were safe travel and a starry night (and a kid who was helped. But that’s for another day.) And, working ahead, next Monday’s gift will be an ordinary rainy day for my drive home.

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