I don’t live on the prairie. I do live in Kansas, but not the part where Laura lived. My area of Kansas is very much like South Dakota, though … flat and treeless and yellow.
When I first moved here I’d hear my husband mention things I heard in the Little House books and my ears would perk up. “Really? You had blizzards where people couldn’t see enough to walk across the street? Blizzards like THAT?”
It was a twisted kind of fascination. I’d grown up in an area where “blizzard” meant Blizzard of ’78 — or snowbanks higher than cars and a week off from school. But it was days and days of falling snow, not bursts of swirling whiteness.
Granted, with the climate shifting as it has, those kinds of blizzards don’t happen like they used to. I’ve lived here for almost eight years and I’ve seen only one that’s come sort of close.
But you know what’s very much like a blizzard? Dust. Combine a dry season with furious winds and you can kick up quite a dust storm. Visually, it’s just as dangerous as a blizzard. A couple of Fridays ago, the wind was kicking up something fierce. I had to drive home from town (yep, that’s how we say it here) and my mother-in-law, who had just left herself, called my cell phone a couple of times to warn me of the situation on the roads. It took her five minutes to cross the intersection on the highway, she said; she couldn’t see. The second time she called, she recommended an alternate route. So I headed home with trepidation, gripping the wheel, my kids strapped in their carseats and quiet for once at my “This is dangerous and I need you to be quiet” warning.
I had only one close call, after I turned off the highway onto the gravel road about five miles from my house. A huge dust cloud swirled up in front of me and I drove into it. I was going forward, but for a moment it didn’t feel like that. All I could see was dust. If an 18-wheeler had come upon me going in the opposite direction at that very moment, I wouldn’t see it before my car was flattened. But within two or three seconds — brief, but a long time to be unable to see — I was on the other side of it.
A friend of mine was not so lucky. Almost home, he finally decided he couldn’t risk driving any further in the massive dust clouds and pulled over onto the side of the road not a half-mile from his house. Good thinking, except that others had the same idea. Including the truck that hit him from behind. And the car he was pushed into.
Luckily my friend, a father of four, walked away from the wreck, although his F-150 was totaled. But never again will any of us underestimate the power of that whirling wind.