Shortly before 9 pm, the TV stops working. I think it must be snow accumulation on the dish. When the last blog post went up at 5:30 precipitation had just turned to snow and it was pretty light, it got much heavier after sundown. The lights flicker for a third time as I sit at my computer, but the power loss is much briefer this time. There are blog posts to respond to and FB to stalk, so that’s what I do.
Darkness. The lights go out for the fourth and final time at 10:30 pm, my computer screen stays illuminated thanks to it’s battery and I use the light to get dressed in warm clothes. It’s over 70 in the motel room but I know that by morning it’ll be near freezing. The wind has shifted as expected, it’s now coming out of the NNW, about perfectly aligned to hit Cas from the back instead of the side. That also means it’s not howling through the cracks in my door and window which face more to the east. Instead is sounds like a low roar, intensity varying with the wind.
I scoot to bed as there is nothing else to do, and worry a little about Cas. My heater is electric, and that means like in the motel room it’s no longer working. I dumped the tanks in preparation of the storm but I had no way to blow the lines out, I did run them out as best I could. The low temperature is only 31, so they’ll probably be okay. There’s no point worrying about it now when there is nothing I can do.
As it cools down over night I pull more and more of my blankets over me, when I wake up and notice it’s light outside I’m cozy and warm in my bed, but it’s definitely no longer warm in my room. My phone clock says it’s 7:22 am, and the power is still out. A quick peak outside shows the blizzard is still raging. I hope everyone else staying in the motel is doing alright. Back to my cozy bed.
Just after 10:00 I wake up again, this time I won’t be able to fall back asleep. Still no power, and still storming. A knock arrives at my door just as I’m finishing getting dressed. It’s a coworker, making sure I’m doing okay. The outside walkway that connects all of our rooms has becomes a slushy icy mess, it’s actually above freezing again like it has been for the majority of the storm, but the snow is coming down so fast it’s accumulating anyway.
I take my phone out for some pictures, but the battery is low and I’m unable to charge it once it dies. Turns out a blizzard isn’t that interesting to photograph, it’s just all gray. Getting down the outside stairs so I can go check on Cas is a real challenge, it faces the North side where the wind is strong. I peer around the corner of the Inn and see that Cas is still upright, that’s really all I can do, and get a couple more pictures before going back to my cold, drafty room.
The rangers are coming to rescue us. The Visitor’s center has a backup generator, so they have power and thus heat (and a place to charge my phone). Sadly they’re just on snowmobiles and it’ll be a one at a time thing. The head of human resources at the Lodge has a trailer (the non-moving kind) right behind work and a large 4 wheel drive truck with a snow plow attachment on the front, and she actually makes it down first to help.
She arrives just in time. My co-lead at the gift shop is very petite and her’s is one of the two rooms that faces the North, where the wind is coming from. She broke through the thigh high wall of snow blown up against her door in the morning to seek shelter in a warmer room, but it must have taken a lot out of her. She’s unresponsive now, and has to be carried out to the truck. It’s very scary, there’s no way an ambulance from Wall is going to be able to make it through the blizzard, I90 is shut down.
We’re all in luck though, two of the rangers are certified EMT’s and another one is dating a registered nurse who just happened to be visiting when the storm hit. Once we all get shuttled to the Visitor’s center we wait anxiously outside the door where they are working on warming her up. Fortunately, once out of the cold it’s not long before she starts blinking and responding to voices, but she’s still groggy for the rest of the day.
While we’re waiting the snow finally starts slowing and although the wind is still very strong I step outside and get a few more pictures. The storm has taken a devastating toll on the trees, due to the warmer temps the snow is very heavy and wet and limbs are down on many of them. I hear later that in the Black Hills that is what caused many of the power outages, the leaves had only started turning colors.
The power comes back on in the park in the afternoon, but sadly is still out at the Inn. HR coworker opens up the guest cabins behind the Lodge for us to stay in that night, we hear it’ll be at least 24 hours before the Inn gets power back, so we can’t stay there. While WiFi is still down I manage to get a call to go through the bad reception my phone gets down here at the bottom of the badlands wall to my parents. I have them check the forecast. It warmed up considerably once the sky cleared today, but that clear sky makes for a colder night temperature: 25. Not good news for Cas.
The guest cabins are beautiful. Well, I guess they should be considering they’re brand new and rent out for $137 a night before taxes. Once again I have TV, and the cable is working despite the snow, it feels very surreal to be able to watch it after what happened the past 24 hours.
The Badlands look gorgeous this morning, and it’s warming up rapidly. I go on a walk with a coworker to take pictures. Lots of pictures. White snow, golden grass, the red badlands, blue skies, and green leaves still on the trees, it’s amazing. And because of the shutdown, no one else is around. We spot two different herds of mule deer, the animals have really started coming out now that the crowds are gone.
I feel bad for all of the people who are still without power. People who’s homes have been damaged from the wind and trees, and heck, for all I know my RV might be among them, I have no way to test the plumbing until the power at the Inn comes back, but I do not feel guilty for enjoying the natural splendor left behind. Happiness can be found in the conscious decision to set aside worry, doubt, and fear, at least for a time, and enjoy the beauty that’s before you. It’s going to be alright.
The nurse comes by to check on my co-lead, she’s given the thumbs up. I work on writing for the eguide a little and putter around the cabin. A group of us go up to the Lodge in the afternoon and without the help of any of the cooks manage to cobble together a dinner of chicken and wild rice, we didn’t get to bring much with us from the Inn when we evacuated yesterday. It’s tasty, partly because of the satisfaction of having a hand in making it.
By early evening, the roads have melted so much that I can get my truck out of the parking lot at the Inn and bring another load of stuff down to the cabin, no one knows how long the power will be out at this point. I even drive up to Circle 10 in the evening to get WiFi, there’s a still a waist high drift in front of the registration and lobby building making it impossible to pull too far into the campground, but I get far enough to get online and check in with everyone.
Tomorrow we all go back to work. It’s the end of what turned out to be a pretty wild weekend.
* * *
For more information on this woefully under-reported blizzard that broke snowfall records and killed an estimated 75,000 cattle in western South Dakota, please see http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/10/10/a-record-setting-blizzard-killed-75000-cows-and-you-might-not-have-even-heard-about-it/.
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