It Happened to Me: I Got Stuck in a Blizzard for 15 Hours

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Hello, yes, it’s that time of year again. Everybody’s making the trek home, whether that involves putting your trust in an elaborate bureaucratic system hellbent on putting you in a metal tube that slingshots you through the air, or taking matters into our own hands and driving home. I live on Long Island, a fact that for some reason upsets every single person I know. This means, among other things, that it’s a nine-hour drive from here to home, and with City traffic and Long Island traffic, it’s more like a twelve hour drive home. So I usually fly, but I have notoriously horrible luck traveling. If I fly, there’s about a fifty percent chance my flight will get cancelled. I’ve been laid over and stranded in Charlotte, Seattle, LaGuardia, Columbus, and Washington D.C., and one time I booked a flight that didn’t exist.

[Editor’s note: I was on the same flight as Chris for Thanksgiving break and we did have to deplane and wait for a new one because our first plane’s door hatch was broken, causing a 2 hour delay. Bad travel luck confirmed]

So last spring break I thought, why don’t I drive home. I didn’t have a car, but my friend Lily did, and she lived just outside New York City. Eight hour drive home, take the train into the city, and from the city to the island. What could go wrong?

I got stuck in a blizzard for fifteen hours.

We had checked the weather. Oh, did we check it. There was a blizzard coming to New York but we should have been able to outrun it. It wouldn’t come for some time. Lily and I, who before this trip had hardly spent more than a few minutes with each other one on one, made the first five hours of the trip without a problem. Snow started to flurry, earlier than expected, but it was too light to be a serious problem. We switched, and I prepared to take a long-awaited nap in the passenger seat until I felt the car slip on the snow beneath me. Everything fine I was assured. Then, forty-five minutes waiting on a whited-out road, impossible to see anything but silent flashing police lights. Lily assures me that we’ll be fine once we got onto I-80.

We do, and I wonder if I’ll have to book a later train now that I’ve been about an hour delayed. The traffic in the falling snow is pretty bad, so it may have to be even later. The snow is steady over the hour we spend on the road. We’re only a half hour from the New York state border but we’re moving so slow it’s impossible now. Lily was telling me to shut up because I was talking about something inane while she was trying to listen to the traffic report, and I looked to schedule an even later train. Miraculously, I shut up long enough for us both to hear, “I-80 has been closed due to the pending storm.”

“Lily,” I asked, “aren’t we on I-80?”

The road narrowed from three, to two, to one lane until the looming truck ahead of us came to a dead stop. Now it was dark, and impossible to see anything but the headlights in front, the headlights behind, and the wind-whipped snow.

It took probably about a half hour of stalling there before realizing that we were not moving for a long time. We turned off the car to save gas and the battery, vowing to turn it on for five minutes every hour.

I aimed to call my parents to check in after Lily did. Over the phone Lily asked her parents how the storm was looking. Vague static mumbles, all variations on “not good.” Lily then asks her parents a question that admittedly crossed my mind, if only for a moment.

“Hey, um, are we gonna die out here?”

A pause. Then, over the phone, “Uh. Um…no honey, everything will be just fine” in the same tone you give a dog being put to sleep. Oh my God, I think, There’s something they’re not telling us. We’re gonna die out here.

News that the governor of Pennsylvania has sent the National Guard to clear out the highway is also not promising. Though to be honest, I’m not even sure if this is true. Three hours in a stalled car, following nine hours in that same car driving through on-and-off traffic, and reality starts to lapse. Was the National Guard out there somewhere beyond the white? How long will we be here? Is this my last night on Earth? Lily and I have resigned ourselves to our new Car Life. “This is my room,” Lily said, hands on the backseat, then pointing to the passenger seat, “and this is your room. Could you get me something from the kitchen?”

“Sure thing,” I said, pulling up a box of Frosted Flakes from underneath my seat. After this, things get personal. Fears, dreams, stories from the past, personal philosophies. We peed in separate bottles. I tried Klonopin. It got weird. I called my parents to inform them of the situation, and asked them  if I was going to die. They laughed, and I took this as “It could go either way.” After three and a half hours in this parked car, we both accepted that help wouldn’t come til the morning. Lily prepared to sleep, and I moved to the driver’s seat (the guest room), trying to read Giovanni’s Room by the headlights behind us. She’s not asleep for more than three minutes when I shout “Fuck! Fuck, oh fucking hell! We’re GOING.” Lily screams, but my adrenaline is rushing. The truck ahead has gone on, and we’re free. We’re finally free.

Two more hours through a freshly plowed highway, past seven or eight dead dark cars, planted in the snow like boulders or fossils, some tipped over. When we get to Lily’s house, it turns out this storm was totally different from the one we thought would come. Just came down the mountains. No one saw it coming. 

I don’t always see my friend Lily around, but when I do, we both look at each other a certain way, and we know the two of us have seen some shit.

Here’s some footage from that fateful day:

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