Life in Omaha (in Scottsdale)

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Snow Baby Strikes Again

Last year, when a vicious snow storm struck southern Illinois and Indiana in late December, we spent two days stranded in a small Illinois town and then a terrifying 9 hour trip across an icy, sparsely travelled highway. At the time, we joked that Ciela was the Snow Baby, capable of wreaking havoc with industrial-strength weather systems that cripple interstates and break century-old records for snowfall.

All in good fun.

How clever we thought ourselves.

But no one truly believes a baby to be that malevolent and that powerful. Certainly not one as cute as Ciela.

Just in case, we elected to spend The Winter Solstice Festival That Was Cynically Co-opted by Christians in Their Brutal War Against Pagans (take that John Gibson) in Scottsdale were we could be assured that there would be no snowstorms. Instead, we travelled in early December to Chicago to see family and friends.

The Snow Baby was not fooled.

Just outside of Kansas, the pilot informed us that it was starting to snow in Chicago. As we neared Midway, we were told to go into a holding pattern. Visibility was down to a half-mile and we needed a mile to land. I've landed in bad weather at Midway. It's not fun. The runways are so short that any tricky landing that involves the pilot doing something other than just floating in requires a dramatic descent and then hair-raising breaking patterns.

We circled for 20 minutes and then were sent to Cleveland for fuel and lots of paper shuffling. The Snow Baby laughed and pooped in her pants. (The changing of which earned her father a vicious scolding from the bitchy flight attendant who from my observations is not the sort of man interested in reproducing.)

In Cleveland we jettisoned one lady who fortuitously was actually going to Cleveland--the Snow Baby blesses the less fortunate of us who have to live in Cleveland--and a woman going to NYC who negotiated a connecting flight out of Cleveland rather than return to Chicago. We headed back to Chicago, apparently in the belief that the Snow Baby had been placated.

Ciela fell asleep on the return trip, and the snow seemed to have lessened. The bitchy FA announced that seatbacks were to be set aright and tray tables locked. The announcement startled Ciela awake, and the snow instantly showered outside the windows. Mere minutes later, the pilot announced that we had been exiled back to a holding pattern. The Snow Baby smiled with thinly disguised contempt.

There is an eerie quiet that pervades in the holding pattern. Conversation is whispered. Flight attendents are silent and unable to dispense beverages or pick up trash. There is a gentle anticipation that extends to a very near point into the future, but a point maddenly obscured by a misty fog. The whole plane hovers in limbo.

Perhaps fifteen minutes later engines reved. With no announcement from pilot or crew, we started to dive. We were, apparently, going to land. As we headed earthward, the snow outside the windows was thick. How, we wondered, could this weather be better than our first aborted attempt? The Snow Baby merely cooed. Judy had the window seat, and when we finally broke through the cloud layer we were nearly at the runway. "Hold on to Ciela," she said and exclaimed at all the snow on the runway.

We hit hard, ran for what to me felt like an extended time, and then the reverse thrusters hit and threw up a huge cloud of snow. I swear we skidded around the last turn off the runway, but we were safe on the ground. The Snow Baby never relented, however, as 10 inches fell in 10 hours with the epicenter of the storm landing right on top of Midway Airport.

40 minutes after we landed, a Southwest jet slid off the runway and onto the intersection of 55th and Central. The NTSB has said that the reverse thrusters of the airplane did not fire properly, but the Snow Baby knows the cause lies elsewhere.


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