Adventures in Weather: The Blizzard of 2006

When I helped organize an Internet marketing event in San Antonio in mid-December (the very well received Elite Retreat) I had no idea what an adventure it’d become…

While we were sitting in a cozy room sharing our inside marketing secrets with attendees, a big storm was wreaking havoc on the Pacific Northwest and barreling down on Colorado. By the time I was ready to leave San Antonio I knew we’d be flying into some hairy weather as the storm arrived, but certainly didn’t expect that the Denver airport would be closed down just a few hours before my flight was scheduled to leave. Closed down for three days.

But I didn’t want to just sit in San Antonio as it slowly moved closer and closer to Christmas, so I rented a car and started driving…

When I left San Antonio, I knew that the main north/south artery in Colorado, Interstate 25 (I-25 to us locals), had already been closed, but I figured that with a 950 mile drive ahead of me, it’d take two days, and by then it’d be open again, right?

driving route, san antonio texas to boulder, colorado

Day one ended with me in Amarillo, Texas, a good day’s drive from San Antonio through some beautiful country (in particular, I was quite taken with Fredricksburg, Texas, a place I’d love to go back and explore with Linda some time, actually). Of course, the map from the rental company didn’t have any Amarillo details so somehow, instead of jumping onto Interstate 40, I ended up on “Business 40” and was miles out of town before I figured out what was happening, en route to Oklahoma City.

Fortunately, a few lucky guesses got me to the Interstate and ten minutes later I was safely ensconced in the La Quinta, checking my email and the driving conditions for the next day, which were not good.

Day two started out with me deciding that it was better to be cautious than end up in a ditch, so I decided to drive just a few hours, to Raton, New Mexico, right on the New Mexico / Colorado border. Calling a few hotels there, however, revealed that the town was jammed and that there weren’t any hotel rooms available. Next best choice was Las Vegas, New Mexico, about 100 miles south of the border.

The drive out of Amarillo west was interesting, with crashed big rigs, abandoned cars and even a boat that had flipped out of its trailer and ended upside-down on the side of the road. Clearly the smooth sailing and moisture-free road surface I was enjoying was not what they had suffered through just a day prior when all the accidents occurred.

When I got to Las Vegas, however, I could see that the driving conditions were still just fine so I checked in with the hotel there that I’d booked ahead, and he was quite cool about letting me cancel and also informed me that the Interstate was open all the way up to Colorado Springs.

I pushed on, and once I passed into Colorful Colorado (that’s really our state slogan) I started to hit patches of bad driving, stretches of a few miles or longer that were a few inches of ice across the roadbed, covered with a light coating of snow. Extremely dangerous driving, actually, and I was unsurprised to see trucks in the ditches and even see a car spin out and down a ditch just a few vehicles in front of me. No-one was hurt, fortunately.

Nonetheless, by the time I got to Pueblo, Colorado, I was ready to call it a day and wait for the Colorado Department of Transportation to open up the Interstate all the way to Denver the next morning. In fact, by the time I finished my dinner at Cracker Barrel and wrote this blog entry, there were no more road closures in the state, quite a testament to the road cleaning abilities of the CDOT team!

cracker barrel, pueblo co
Image courtesy of Trip Advisor.com

Pueblo’s about 100 miles south of Denver, and my goal tomorrow is to drive straight to the airport (which is scheduled to open at noon, after about 60 hours of closure with about 5000 poor people stranded therein), drop off the rental car, then grab the bus home into Boulder. Hopefully that’ll all work out well.

Should I have just stayed in San Antonio and wait for the weather to clear? I really don’t think so: when the airport opens, a DIA official was quoted as saying that “people with scheduled departures are the first priority, then the people who were stranded would be added to flights as standby”. My expectation: it’ll take another 2-3 days for everyone to finally get to their destination.

San Antonio’s Riverwalk was beautifully decorated for the holidays, but at the end of the day, I prefer being home for Christmas.

Oh, and here’s a picture Linda took of our front driveway. Those are cars under those humps:

cars under a blizzard of snow, colorado
There’s no way around it, that’s a lot of snow.

Meanwhile, I’m very ready to be home and see it for myself.

Update, 22 December, evening: I’m home! It was a tougher drive than I expected, actually, but it wasn’t road conditions that made things difficult, it was the windshield wipers on the rental car.

Yes, it’s not until you’re driving in dirty snow that you realize how important it is to not just have good wiper blades but to also have a windshield wiper fluid spray that works too. Yep, that was the problem: the wiper spray didn’t work and there were moments when it was genuinely frightening, driving along and suddenly being unable to clear the windshield!

In fact, at one point, visibility was so reduced that I was forced to slow down to about 20mph and pull off the highway. Unfortunately, I pulled off into about 12″ of snow and promptly got stuck. My timing couldn’t have been better, though, as just a few seconds later a good samaritan drove by and pulled me out of the snowdrift. Much, much appreciated.

I grabbed a handful of snow, cleaned the windshield with it and pulled into the gas station one stop further up the highway. I should have expected it, they didn’t have any windshield wiper fluid. So I didn’t panic, I improvised, pouring a combination of 1/3 boiling water, 2/3 tap water into the fluid reserve tank. Not optimal, but I figured that the engine was already hot and it was already about 34F outside, so…

And to my relief it worked just fine, keeping the windshield clean for the remainder of the drive, even when I had to use the spray every 20-30 seconds as the trucks flying past kicked up all sorts of dirt and dust.

I pulled up to Denver International’s rental return with a tank only 3/4 full, but figured that I’d just pay the difference and keep moving. The rental checkin guy was cool, though, and marked me as “full tank”, saving me about $50. Thanks, Advantage Car Rental.

The shuttle drove me to the terminal and I walked through, not too surprised but still impressed that there were hundreds and hundreds of people just standing around, bored, ready to get on their planes already after two days grounded. I stopped by a food spot hoping to grab a sandwich then realized that of course there was no food left anywhere in the airport: all those thousands of stranded travelers had to eat.

Then I waited two hours for the RTD bus to Boulder, which finally, finally arrived. The ride to the park-and-ride was fairly uneventful, though extremely slow, and I was surprised and pleased to see that the car was barely covered in snow at all, and was easily driven out of the uncovered lot. I had feared it would be buried until a few feet of snow.

I drove home and finally let out my breath. Three days, 800+ miles, at least fifty cars abandoned on the side of the roads, but I had made it.

Sheesh. A crazy end to a trip, I’d say. But I’m still glad I did it, as if I had stayed in San Antonio, I’m sure it’d be at least another day before I could get home.

10 comments on “Adventures in Weather: The Blizzard of 2006

  1. What fun Dave.
    I had a similar experience many years ago, while living in NY. But a flight I was taking was diverted. Instead of going to Atlanta for a one day meeting, I went to Cincinnati.
    By the time I got off the plane and called back to the office to let them know I wasn’t going to make the meeting, the NY area airports were closed and it was a similar situation. The snow wasn’t going to let up for several days.
    So I decided to take Amtrak back. What a mistake.
    Someday I’ll relay the entire story, but suffice to say it was one mishap after another including getting stuck sitting with some nut case who was going to Washington to tell the government about UFOs and he was going to tell me all about it on the way there….
    Good luck getting home…..

  2. Wow! We used to live in the Boulder/Longmont area and I can just imagine what it looks like now.
    I’ll say one thing–the snow was a lot prettier in Colorado than it is here in the Chicago area. It melts quicker, so you don’t get those lingering snow piles that turn a nice shade of Car Exhaust Black. Yuck.
    Glad you made it home in one piece.

  3. Hi, Dave,
    We’ve been thinking about you, Linda, and all our other Colorado friends during this big storm.
    And, um, though I’m from a state that can also get a bit of snow from time to time, thanks for explaining that those humps were cars! 🙂
    Be careful out there and happy holidays to you, Linda, and the kids. – Send us some more “snow shots”! 🙂
    Vincent

  4. I’m sure that I sound like somebody’s mother right now, but please be safe out there, Dave. I’m sure your family wants you home for Christmas, but they want you safe and sound more than anything else.
    Enough mothering though, Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  5. Hi Dave, I’d love to send you an invite to take an early look at a website I’m working on on infertility and get your feedback. Shoot me an email at lauren dot jacob at revolution.com
    Thanks!

  6. Glad you made it home, you must be a careful driver.
    I’m in the NYC area and all I can say is, you guys stole our snow! My kids are dying for some snow to play in.

  7. Can I ask you a question related to another post? I don’t allow video games in my house (I do allow TV, but I try to limit it and I monitor it.)
    How can I deal with the fact that my 9-year-old son is OBSESSED with gaming? All of his friends have systems and talk about it and bring them to school (my son has stolen countless systems from friends.) I don’t know what to do. I’ve explained my reasons to him but the poison has seeped in.

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