It Also Snowed in Blair

Posted in: Featured, Moore Thoughts | By: | February 11, 2013

The weather wailers this past week got me to thinking about a blizzard that didn’t happen one day in Nebraska. I think of it as the “Great Non-Blizzard of 1980.” There, obviously, was no Internet or Weather Channel or wireless phone with which to spread the approaching news of doom. But we did a pretty prolific job with just a little TV tower set upon a hill above the Missouri River.

The National Weather Service, and our TV station’s meteorologist, all began using ominous words to describe an approaching low-pressure center coming across the High Plains out of Wyoming. They were certain the people of Lincoln and Omaha and Council Bluffs, Iowa were about to be homebound for endless days because of the approaching snow dump.

Our newsroom prepared. Reporters were dispatched to do stories on items needed to outlast the blizzard. What to do if stranded in your vehicle. How to handle power outages. And then we had to do historical pieces on previous blizzards and explain how civilization had managed to survive in spite of journalistic prognostications of a weather apocalypse. Pretty good fun for a young TV reporter.

When the forecast first began clacking over the AP wire, our editors and producers read it and then the executive producer got on the station intercom and announced, “Paging Dr. News. Paging Dr. news.” As the new kid in town, I was uninitiated to this secret mantra. The executive team had decided that in order to prevent panic when a big story happened and all hands were needed, they would page “Dr. News,” and the staff would assemble. I never figured out who was in the building that might be scared of a forecast or a news story but I understood later that this was a derivation of a hospital intercom call for “Paging Dr. Blue,” which is a code for a life-threatening emergency situation. News has to be kept a secret before it can be news, I reckon.

Our newscasts that night, however, were intended, if not to startle, at least to scare people into paying attention to the fact that an historic blizzard was about to set upon the Cornhusker state. Our cameras captured traffic jams and our anchors speculated on how still the streets might be in 24 hours, and we predicted areas that would suffer the most from the snow while also offering free advice on how to check on the homebound and elderly. Gee, it was all swell and useful stuff.

But it damned sure didn’t snow much.

It turned out that the epic storm didn’t have that much precipitation, and, in any case, it had veered to the north as it crossed the cornstalk strewn west. Poor Omaha was barely inconvenienced with hardly six inches of snow, which is less than Nebraskans carry around on the bill of their gimme caps in the dead of January. Unfortunately, at least for me, word had come in that the trailing edge of the storm left an accumulation of maybe 8-10 inches about 30 miles north of Omaha in a small college town called Blair.

“I need you to head up there and get the story,” our assignments editor said. Ann was a lovely woman with a genetically improbable amount of patience and tolerance, whose parameters I daily tested.

“What story?” I asked.

“The snow in Blair.”

“Why? Did they get a lot?”

“More than us.”

“A lot more?”

“Enough to make it a story.”

“Why’s it a story?”

“Right now because I decided it was and we need stories for the six o’clock. Meet the helicopter out at the airport.”

“I have to take the helicopter?”

“Yes, aerials of the snow.”

“I hate helicopters.”

“Sorry. Hurry up or you won’t make deadline.”

The TV station had contracted with a local company to fly a helicopter, when needed, to cover the news. The ship was a Hughes 269C, which, to me, was nothing more than a plastic bubble powered by a four cylinder VW engine strapped to a bench seat. The maximum payload did not appear to be greater than a few days’ groceries and a couple of books but we managed to get on board with a pilot, a photographer, camera gear, and a cranky young correspondent. I had never flown in a helicopter prior to this assignment and I knew I would not be able to avoid them my entire career but flying over snow-covered snowfields hardly seemed a worthy risk.

Blair: A Tragedy Narrowly Averted

Blair: A Tragedy Narrowly Averted

The assignments desk had called ahead to set up an interview with the mayor and the head of the little street crew that had removed the traces of the “blizzard” from their roadways so that “amble hour” in Blair might proceed without delay. As we flew in, Uncle Pierre taped brown and brittle cornstalks protruding from a snowfall of maybe six inches. I think most of it was melted by the time we met the mayor at the hangar and I pulled out the microphone.

“Did you all have much of a problem with the storm yesterday?”

“No, not really. We managed,” he said.

“What’d you do to prepare?”

“Not much. Some folks left work from the college early, but it wasn’t too bad, other ‘n that.”

“No trouble with your roads?”

“No, sir, we’ve got a couple of graders kept what little snow we got off the surface and we threw down a bit of salt.”

“Any problems you can think of at all?”

“Not really.”

The helicopter pulled pitch back into the sky and we circled around poor weather-plagued Blair to get some more pictures of the town recovering from an epic snowstorm. I looked at Uncle Pierre and he just shrugged and when I got back to the newsroom and was asked by Ann if I had gotten the story I responded positively and even a bit enthusiastically. Stories in journalism, of course, are nothing more than a narrative telling of facts, and I had the facts. I’m not sure how I ever got it past the editors but it ended up on the six o’clock news, I think, as the lead story.

“It also snowed in Blair yesterday. They, too, plowed their streets, although there were no difficulties created by the almost six inch snowfall recorded by the national weather service. A few people left work early but local officials say there was no record of accidents or any emergencies. From the Action News Six Chopper Cam, you can see the snow accumulation did not reach to the tops of the harvested cornstalks. Life in Blair goes on.”

TV was exciting because it offered the prospects of being annoying on a more widespread basis. I no longer had to settle for one on one conversations. But he newsroom went silent. Everyone turned away from the monitors to stare at me. And then most of them left for home without speaking to me. Nobody even bothered to laugh. I didn’t get my additional journalistic training until the big boss came in the next morning. I did keep my job, but just barely.

I hear the lovely community of Blair has also recovered.

1 Comment for this entry:

Leave a Reply