Gail Mills with the Durham Rescue Mission put it well last week, when she said, “It’s been a weary February.”
Indeed it had. And Mills was speaking early Wednesday, before the week’s second blast of winter precipitation arrived.
By that time, Durham police and sheriff’s deputies had had more than 120 accidents to deal with since Monday, and city public works director Marvin Williams was expecting that by Thursday his crews would have run through the 4,000 tons of salt and 600 tons of sand the city had stockpiled for treating the streets this winter.
(More, he said, was on order and expected in this week.)
Snow and ice are wearying, particularly for souls who attend the less fortunate such as those at the Rescue Mission and Urban Ministries of Durham. And for those whose responsibilities put them out in the elements such as law enforcement, EMTs and those who drive the trucks spraying brine and plowing snow.
At the same time, it’s wearying on the other mortals contending with delays, cancellations, reschedules and re-reschedules and all the other complications and confusions that require business to go on other than as usual.
We bear up, cope the best we can and carry on as the elements make the winter of 2015 a winter to remember. And those who have some Durham winters to remember are well aware that it could have been worse, because it has been, and it isn’t over yet.
Take 1983, when Durham’s last snow didn’t fall until April 19 – capping one of those winters that hangs on, and on, teasing with a sunny, balmy day now and then before clouds, rain and chill settle back in.
Durham’s record snowfall – two feet, give or take, depending on where you measured – was in January, 2000. Snow came on a Monday, schools were closed the rest of the week and then the next Monday, just as parents were feeling relief, no sooner were the kids on campus than they were sent home again.
The weather was, at least, a boon for some. The Associated Press reported hundreds of customers were flocking to automotive dealerships with four-wheel drives for sale.
Over the years, January has been Durham’s snowiest month, but March, which brings the springtime, has brought some fierce winter as well. Durham enjoyed a pleasant January only to endure an ice blizzard in March of 1989. Fans going to the March 1, 1969, Duke-UNC basketball game at what was then just known as Duke Indoor Stadium had to navigate through a nine-inch accumulation following a Feb. 28 that had felt like a foretaste of springtime.
The most notorious snow of March, though – the ones that long-time Bull Citizens invariably bring up when the conversation turns to snow – came in 1960.
In that history there is an almost eerie parallel with the present day, because a U.S. government climatologist had just announced that the whole world was getting warmer. And January 1960 in Durham had been, on average, unusually mild.
Then came Feb. 12.The 11 p.m. TV news reported nothing unusual to expect, but that night the season’s first snow blew in and by the time the season’s third was over on March 8 Durham was digging out from 25 inches total as daily high temperatures had lingered in the 30s.
That first snow brought a white dusting through the morning of Feb. 13, but around lunchtime the precipitation switched to freezing rain and sleet that carried on into the night, leaving six inches of mush, bringing down power lines and collapsing the roof on the Ice Arena skating rink on Hillsborough Road. Gregson Street reisdent Ray Horne observed Lincoln’s Birthday (albeit a day late) by building a snowman in the Great Emancipator’s form.
Two weeks later, on March 2, nine more inches fell. The forecasters had had this one in their sights and schools were closed. That was fortunate, because the accumulation was too much for the roof at Lakewood School. It caved in and the next Monday its student body had been relocated to E.K. Powe.
When the next snow came, six days later, the roof fell in at then-new Wellons Village Shopping Center along with the Roycroft and Star Brick tobacco warehouses. Schools closed for two days, while public works crews cleared streets and piled the scraped snow into what became known as the Durham Alps at the Durham Athletic Park.
Spring arrived at 9:43 a.m. March 20. The temperature was below freezing, turning the still-running snowmelt into ice. The thermometer eventually reached 46 that day, but it was not for another week, March 27, that highs in the 70s brought a sense that the season had turned at last.
And then, of course, the old-timers scoffed and recalled the great storm of 1927, when they trudged through 18 inches of snow to get to school – and found the custodians of Durham Central High School had come to work early and had the furnace fired up and the walks already cleared.