Many Iowans still know Chuck Offenburger as the Iowa Boy, which was the name of the column he wrote for the Des Moines Register.
Ask any ink-stained wretch in Iowa and he or she would likely tell you Chuck had the state’s best journalism job. He wrote the column four days a week for 21 of the 26 years he worked at the Register, which he left in 1998. For the past 12 years, he has written and edited his own website.
If this is sounding a bit like Chuck’s obituary it’s only because I’m nowhere nearly as good at column writing as he is. Don’t worry. He isn’t dead. But he is a friend of mine on Facebook, where Wednesday he wrote:
With a blizzard apparently bearing down on us in Iowa, I started thinking about great snowstorms of the past, and one of the biggest of my life was in April, 1973, when more than a foot of snow came. Then I realized that is almost 40 years ago. And then I realized how that sounds to young people today. When I was a high school kid, if some old timer was talking about a blizzard 40 years earlier, he was talking about the 1920s!
I remember that April blizzard in 1973, when I was 6 years old. That means my brother, Scott, was 5, and Doug, would have been 3. Our sister, Susan, would have been 7 months old.
According to news accounts from back then, most of Iowa was hit with at least a foot of snow. And my primary memory is of being cooped up in the house for a few days. Mom would not let us go outside. Our front yard was comprised of a big bank than ran downhill to my dad’s machine shed and shop. And the drifts must have been at least 3 feet deep where our yard started to slope down. Had we been allowed outside, it’s likely Scott, Doug or I — or all three of us — would have waded out into that drift and disappeared.
That was my measuring stick for winter blizzards until Thanksgiving in 1993 — the first winter we lived in Bismarck, N.D., which was hit with some 30 inches of snow in that one storm. By the end of that winter, Bismarck had received well over 100 inches of snow, forever changing my perspective about winter. The snow stayed on the ground that year from Thanksgiving until early May — perhaps the longest five months of my life.
There is one other storm that stands out in my memory.
On a Saturday night in late October 1997, 13 inches of wet and heavy snow fell in Lincoln, Neb., where the trees still had all of their foliage. By Sunday morning, Lincoln residents couldn’t drive because snow, power lines and the limbs of thousands of destroyed tree blocked many streets, according to the Lincoln Journal Star. Hundreds of miles of roads — including 180 miles of Interstate 80 — were impassable. More than 55,000 Lincoln Electric System customers lost power, some for up to eight days.
At the time, I was an assistant city editor at the Journal Star and I worked Saturday nights. We lived in a rented townhouse in Eagle, a little town about 10 miles straight east of Lincoln. It often took me as long to drive from Ninth and P streets, where the newspaper was located, to Lincoln’s outer edge at 84th and O streets as it did to make it the rest of the way to Eagle.
But that night I made it to 84th and O and decided it was foolish to go any further. I doubled back to an open supermarket, called home and then called a co-worker who lived nearby. I spent the night at his apartment, listening to the snap, crackle and pop of trees being destroyed by the weight of the snow.
It was a night I’ll never forget.
But Lincoln survived — just like Bismarck did at Thanksgiving in 1993. Heck, most North Dakotans probably don’t even remember what was the most snow I’d ever seen in one place at one time.
And if my mom could survive a few days trapped inside the house with four kids under the age of 6 because of a snowstorm in 1973, we’ll all somehow or other manage to get through whatever happens in the next few days.
The best thing we could all do is to ignore the hysteria on the Weather Channel.