COVID-19 Through the Lens of a Blizzard

The Meadows School Campus

While The Meadows School is closed due to the COVID-19 international pandemic, I cannot help thinking back to my own school years. I was born and raised in Buffalo, NY and the surrounding Niagara area. Winter snowstorms were common, but roads needed to be impassable (meaning the giant snowplows could not manage to clear the main thoroughfares) and outdoor conditions had to be downright dangerous before schools would close. I will stop short of claiming we walked uphill in the snow both ways and let my parents’ generation keep that one. In the days before emergency text messaging and websites, and even before telephone trees were commonplace, we relied on the radio to find out if we had school during the winter. On snowy days I remember waking up and tuning in to the ongoing list of school closings for the day being read over the airwaves. These were typically in alphabetical order, and my school started with “N,” so I always knew when to listen carefully. When my school was not closed for the day (or not on a two-hour delay) I knew I had to get ready for school. I can admit that I was disappointed when the list was long and my school was not among the snow day closures.

The year I remember best was what Buffalonians, which IS a word if you are from Western New York, and others in the Great Lakes region refer to as “The Blizzard of ’77.” The final days of January 1977 brought a storm so great it saw newly inaugurated President Jimmy Carter declaring a state of emergency for all of New York and Pennsylvania in its aftermath, particularly the counties of Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, and Niagara in New York State. NY governor Hugh Carey had to act quickly and mobilize emergency help while declaring travel bans and other emergency measures. I will share only a few facts about the blizzard:

  • Lake Erie had frozen over in December 1976.
  • Daily wind gusts were between 50 and 70 mph.
  • Snowfall was measured at 100 inches in some areas with drifts 30-40 feet high.
  • Snowmobile was the only means to travel to many areas.
  • There were about 30 storm-related deaths in New York State.
  • NO SCHOOL FOR ABOUT TWO WEEKS!

Honestly, I do not recall what homework I completed during the blizzard if any. I do not know how much lead time my teachers had to prepare for students to be gone for a period of time when there was no way to email parents or post assignments online. I cannot even remember how many days of school we had to make up in the summer. I suddenly feel a need to call my mother and ask how she kept her sanity during a blizzard with five children in the house for two weeks. What I do remember is spending as much time outdoors as my parents would allow. We built tunnels in the snow when it drifted all the way up to the top of the house. I am sure we kept a fire going in our wood-burning stove. I vaguely recall cabin fever setting in and the desire to return to school and normal life. As one who so carefully anticipated the school closings on the radio, I guess even I had my limits!

Teaching and raising a family in the Las Vegas, NV desert has not given my children the same school closing experience I endured/enjoyed as a child. Until March 2020, the only time school was closed two weeks or more was for a scheduled break. My younger son is a junior in Upper School, so he nearly made it through without any emergency school closures. Now, his social life is curtailed temporarily, but he is not out shoveling snow in freezing conditions. He must practice the self-discipline necessary to complete school assignments on his own, but he has communication with his classmates and teachers readily available. Looking on the bright side, facing these challenges in the 21st century does have its advantages. Four big reasons: the internet, Amazon, curbside grocery pickup, and digital streaming services. That said; lack of person-to-person interaction is always difficult, regardless of the reason or the year on the calendar. Families and friends would prefer to gather in groups. Teachers would rather interact with students in a classroom than exchange electronic messages.  

Overall, I cannot say which one is the better problem. One thing snow has over a virus is that you can see the snow coming and watch where it lands. While you can isolate yourself to some degree when a virus is the emergency, you cannot be certain everyone will choose to do so. One thing you cannot do is isolate yourself from wind and snow and freezing rain unless you get out of town before it starts. With a coronavirus, getting out of town does not help and only serves to exacerbate the problem. My preference today is the blizzard, even knowing Las Vegas is equally unprepared for such an event. That preference may change tomorrow.

As a child, I had no reason to think as a parent or as an educator. Much has changed in the last 43 years. Today, I am mainly remaining at home and sneaking in to my office at a safe social distance every day while I am able. I wonder what tomorrow will bring. Will I be allowed out of the house to work? Will The Meadows need to close the campus to everyone? Will the internet crash and leave online learning in shambles and Netflix at a standstill? Even worse, will I wake up tomorrow with a fever and a cough? If any of those things happen I will have another opportunity to adapt to a new situation and another idea for a blog post.

If you have read this far, thank you for indulging my personal narrative. Obviously, I wrote this to put our current state of emergency into perspective for myself.  Perhaps you can relate in some way. I encourage all to record and share your memories, both past and present. 

Sara Carlson
Beginning School Director

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