From time to time we can get abnormal weather situations with the potential to disturb our way of life and endangering our health and life. Tornados, hurricanes, ice-storms and huge amounts of snow and cold are weather situations none of us wishes to experience.
But it can happen to everyone and it happened to me from December 28-1978 to January 04-1979 in northern Germany.
I had traveled from Norway to Germany to spend Christmas with my family. Christmas went by and having a few days left I decided to go see a friend and his wife for an afternoon. It was December 27 when I was driving the 40-mile distance to their home a little outside of Flensburg, Schleswig Holstein.
Together, we had spent 2 years in tech-college and I had visited them often while being a student.
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Like always when seeing friends, the hours were flying by and it got dark early. It also started raining - on frozen ground. At around 6pm I checked outside and everything was glazed. FREEZING rain was making a trip home too dangerous. Of course, I was invited to stay overnight which I gratefully accepted. It would be much better to undertake the drive home next morning.
The first light of dawn was a blur. We looked out the windows but all we could see was snow drifting horizontally through the village. Listening to the radio we learned that driving conditions had worsened throughout the night and that people should stay off the roads if possible. I had to make a 2. phone call to my parents and again they agreed it would be best to stay put and wait for any improvement.
To make a long story short, I had to stay put for 6 days. While we were all cooped up the power went out. Heating the entire house was now pretty much impossible. There must have been a wood stove somewhere because we celebrated New Years Eve with a ham, which we hauled by foot from the next village. Snow drifts had reached 20feet and some houses were buried in hard-packed snow up to the chimney. The northern part of Germany hadn't seen much snow since 1963 and authorities were not prepared for snow removal of these dimensions. After it became apparent that the country was in an emergency situation, winter equipment was hauled in from Bavaria, and then we got the German Army coming with massive tanks to open roads to free many of the isolated villages, where farmers were battling to stay afloat without power. 9000metric tons of milk from the cows were running into the snow as no trucks showed for pickup. If a farm didn't have power generators, the sustained losses went into the tens of thousands. Little piglets and chickens froze to death as heating lamps didn't work, even people froze to death as outside temps were -14C. Thousands of Christmas travelers had gotten stuck in their cars on the German Autobahn and 7000 needed to be rescued with helicopters. Babies were born during chopper-flights.
An arctic cold front had collided with tropical air and caused a storm with 80-90mph winds with the blizzard lasting 4 days. 70 villages in the State of Schleswig-Holstein got cut-off from the rest of the country and 12 persons froze to death. Trains and trucks got stuck in snow drifts, all traffic ground to a stop lasting 6 days. Ships got trapped in the ice and the total economic damage went quickly into the hundreds of millions.
Whether it was this extreme winter experience or a general interest to leave Germany I don't know, but the year after my friend took his entire family and moved to Australia. Smart man!
There have been published quite a few videos and books about the catastrophic winter 1978/79. And my own memory stands clear in my mind. What nobody knew in those early days of January 1979 was that barely 2 months later the whole thing repeated itself. On February 13 the next huge winter storm challenged the same geographical area once again.
Despite a lot of dramatic experiences, those extreme conditions did something wonderful as well. It brought neighbours together, forged new friends with total strangers. People worked in the streets and roads, shoveling snow, fighting for their survival.
Truly a winter nobody forgets.