Newton native Laurie Odem has seen her fair share of blizzards, but few can probably compare to what she experienced over the weekend. If anything, she’d really like it if Nemo — Winter Storm Nemo, that is — got lost.
“As I drive around town, many sections are without power, trees are down, plows are everywhere,” the Cranston, R.I., resident said Sunday evening. “I’m thankful that I have not lost power and am able to help my friends.”
More than two feet of snow eventually fell Friday afternoon through Saturday afternoon, all but shutting down the entire state. But before the storm came, Odem said she listened skeptically to news reports.
“As with any storm, the news stations started predicting how much snow was heading our way and telling everyone to get prepared days in advance,” she said. “Wednesday was the anniversary of the Blizzard of 1978, so the comparison between the two was a hot topic. Thursday was spent by many speculating if work would be closed on Friday and if the kids would have school, followed quickly by: ‘Are you ready; have you stocked up?’ My response? ‘Nope, not yet.’”
Odem has lived in Rhode Island for nearly three years, during which time she said she has come to learn the local news stations tend to greatly exaggerate the severity of pending weather. Only two weeks earlier, schools and some businesses closed on word of a forecast calling for 8 inches of snow and icy road conditions, only to see snow accumulation of barely 2 inches and no ice.
Growing up in Central Iowa taught her to be prepared, though. So, sensing it would be better to be safe than sorry if things really did get bad, she ventured out to the stores Thursday evening.
“Of course, it was packed and many essentials were in short supply, leading to lots of grumbling from customers about long lines and stores not being prepared,” she said. “My next stop was the gas station, with more long lines and grumbling.”
By Friday morning, a long list of closures were already being reported, and Odem said snowplows were preparing the streets for the coming storm. As the day progressed, however, and the snowfall became heavier, a statewide travel ban went into effect.
“I was home that night, watching movies with the family,” she said. “The lights start flickering around 6:30, and the wind could be heard howling and the snow was falling faster. Later, the texts and Facebook statuses started up about who had power and who didn’t.”
Throughout the night, snowplows could be heard, as well as fire trucks. Odem noticed the power line outside her home was hanging lower and lower — and a line was lying across the street a few houses down — but she was thankful to have power throughout the storm.
“By morning, the winds died down and the snow lightened up,” she said. “We are among the lucky ones who did not lose power, but a quick glance at the news showed thousands of others were not so lucky. A look out the window showed there is a lot of work to be done.”
Donning their winter clothes and grabbing a shovel, Odem and her daughter, Jasmine, ventured outside. Odem planned to clear a path of some sort, while her daughter intended to play in the new-fallen snow.
“[Jasmine] steps into the yard and immediately sinks to her waist,” she said. “The top layers of snow were easy to shovel, but as time goes on, it gets heavier, and soon the issue became a matter of to put it as the snow piles grew taller and taller.”
Growing up in the Midwest, Odem grew up with a mindset that one should help others in need without thinking about what was in it for her. But as she looked around, she said she noticed kids with shovels and adults with snow blowers, looking for someone to help — for the right price.
“I continued to shovel with the help of the older gentleman who lives in the apartment below us,” she said. “Seven hours later, we managed to clear a path to the driveway and the driveway itself. A plow had made it down our street and the driving ban ended at 4 p.m.”
She said she ventured out to check on friends who lost power. She noticed the roads weren’t difficult to traverse, but she could see many people were having difficulty shoveling.
“I assisted a friend shovel her drive and walkway before offering to drive another friend and her family somewhere warmer as they, too, lost power,” she said.
Later that evening, Odem remembered she hadn’t returned the movies she rented to ride out the storm, and she decided to take them back. Rather than stay on the main streets, she decided to take a shortcut through a nearby neighborhood, which turned out to be a bad decision.
“I started down the street and realized it had not been plowed yet, and as the car in front of me stops, I became stuck in the snow,” she said. “I shoveled the snow in front, behind and around my car, and tried unsuccessfully to move. A nearby homeowner came out and offered to help. He informed me I was the sixth person who had come down the street thinking it had been plowed and gotten stuck. Unfortunately, they all needed a tow truck to get out.”
Odem wasn’t the exception, either. Calling upon her roadside assistance plan, she found out she would have to wait 90 minutes for a tow truck, so she stayed in her car and waited. After the allotted time — 20 minutes of which was spent with an off-duty police officer who attempted to help to no avail — and no tow truck, she called in again.
“The tow truck got stuck, and another had to be sent, and I was told it would take 45 minutes,” she said. “By then, I was thankful for growing up in the Midwest and having it drilled into my head to always be prepared. I had a blanket and water in addition to a full tank of gas. I also was thankful for modern technology that allowed me to Facebook and play games on my phone as I sat and waited.”
After another hour without a tow truck, she called again and was told it would be another 20-minute wait. Frustration began to set in.
“As I waited, several trucks drove up in front of my car in the middle of the street with flashers blinking away; their drivers informing me I needed to move my car,” she said. “I would have loved to! Once I tell them I’m stuck, they jump back in their truck, turn around and are gone. Many of them had blades on their trucks and appear to be struggling coming up the road as evidenced by their bouncing headlights and sliding from side to side, yet none are willing to be nice and attempt to clear the street.”
Odem said she again began thinking back to her childhood, when neighbors helped each other and were willing to help someone in need. She wondered if times had changed, of if there was a significant difference between the Midwest and New England.
“I have noticed that people in New England are harder to get to know and don’t reach out to others,” she said. “This is a big change as I’m used to neighbors that jump to help or strangers that are willing to lend a hand, especially when it’s cold out.”
After being stuck for more than three and a half hours, Odem received a phone call stating the tow truck had gotten stuck behind a snowplow that had itself gotten stuck. No other tow truck companies were taking calls for the night.
Thirty minutes after calling the local police department, an officer arrived. He took her information and said he would call one of the contracted companies. Another 30 minutes later, a tow truck finally arrived, struggling to reach her car.
“He walked to my car and began to tell me he doesn’t think he can do it,” she said. “We talk about my night and how he has been working for 24 hours straight. He said he could attempt it and how much it would cost, and at that point I have to tell him I left without my purse and have no money with me.”
The tow truck driver took pity on Odem and, after a few tries, freed her car, moving it to the end of the unplowed street. Taking the movies back to the video store was suddenly forgotten. The next morning – Sunday – the clean-up continued.
She said cars were still slipping and sliding on the snow-covered roads while attempting to avoid pedestrians who were walking in the street because the sidewalks were still buried. Electric crews were out, attempting to restore power to businesses and homes, but thousands remained without power, and businesses were reopening with limited supplies.
“I glance at the news report recaps that Rhode Island has received more than two feet of snow with this storm, schools are canceled for Monday, and it’s reported that an inch of rain is being forecast for Monday, so the snow will become ice once everything freezes,” she said. “It appears that while Nemo may have moved on, we still have a lot of work ahead.”