Be prepared is the Boy Scout motto. But it’s hard to be prepared for winter in central North Carolina. The weather can be unpredictable and when snow is in the forecast, people flock to the grocery stores for milk and bread as if bread will never be made again and every cow on the planted is going to keel over and die. Usually, we get little more than a pretty dusting.
Of course, there was that big blizzard in 2000. We got at least two feet of snow. At the time, I worked at a Developmental Hospital as an x-ray technologists. Since I was the department manager, I had to go in to work later that day. So, I packed my emergency weather kit: flashlight, blanket, water, snacks, and a shovel and I headed out. The first exit off the interstate had been shut down due to stranded cars but I made it to the second exit, got off, and drove the three extra miles to the hospital. The state shut Interstate 85 down twenty minutes later and I was stuck at the hospital for three days. That first night, I couldn’t get my car out of the parking lot and I ended up sleeping on an x-ray table. The second two days, I was able to make it to a friend’s house at night. She and her husband lived less than two miles from the hospital so it was a much safer drive. Coincidentally, they moved that same summer and we bought their old house. Strange how things work out.
Fast forward to February 12, 2014 and the big Arctic blast that has been dumping snow on practically everyone this year. The forecast was for 4-6 inches of snow and possibly another .25- 1.5 inches of ice. It wasn’t supposed to start snowing until 4:00. As I now work as a mammographer/x-ray technologist in a county hospital about 20-25 minutes north east of my home I had to report to work. I knew it would start snowing before I headed back home, so I packed my emergency weather kit: cellphone with flashlight app, snacks, water, and a blanket. I also packed a 2 pound jug of kitty litter rather than a shovel as I’ve learned it works just as well in NC with a lot less effort. I was prepared. North Carolina was NOT.
The snow started 2 or 3 hours earlier than predicted. It came in hard and fast and the hospital went to Code Black. All employees not designated to stay overnight were sent home. Apparently, this happened all over NC as there was a mass exodus on the interstates and major thoroughfares all over the state around 2:00 that afternoon. I headed home around 2:15 and encountered my first accident less than a mile from the hospital.
I took a detour and drove around it, heading for the interstate. I contemplated taking the back roads home, but figured they’d plow and throw down sand on the interstate first. Plus, some sections of those back roads are somewhat deserted. I didn’t want to be stuck out in the boondocks in a possible cellular dead-zone if I happened to slide into a ditch my kitty litter couldn’t get me out of.
So, I took the interstate, which turned out to be a lot more congested than I expected. After about 10 minutes and 3 miles, everything came to an abrupt halt at the rest area. My co-worker and friend was stranded just a half-mile ahead of me. So, we kept one another updated with pictures and texts.
Apparently, two tractor trailer trucks had jack-knifed and several other cars had run into ditches and into trees a mile or so up the road and traffic was shut down completely in the south-bound lanes with only a trickle of cars headed north. Normally, I don’t blame drivers who turn around and drive across the median to get to the other side so they can go back the way they had come to reach another exit. But at this particular point on the interstate, there is a double line of guard rails blocking the median for at least two miles before there is another exit and/or place to turn around to head north. And from what I heard on the news, the north bound lanes were blocked too. Soon, the other side of the road was completely deserted as traffic was blocked in the north bound lanes about 20 miles south of the rest area. So, no cars could get through heading north.
Occasionally,cars would pass by me on the right hand shoulder to drive up the exit ramp to the rest stop and get off the highway. I was tempted to do that too the first time I felt the urge….if you know what I mean. But that’s a sketchy rest area and I wasn’t about to leave the warmth of my car. So I sat. Then the idiots started driving in the wrong direction on the right hand shoulder, headed north in the southbound lanes. I don’t know where they think they were going as it was two miles to the last exit. The fire truck coming up on my right hand side on the shoulder had to wait for cars driving the wrong way on the shoulder to get out of the way so it could get to the accident.
Then, people started driving down the left hand shoulder heading in the wrong direction. I could understand people driving up or down on the shoulder to get to the rest area, but I was sitting right next to the off ramp and I could also see the entrance ramp in my rear view mirror. And these people weren’t turning in from either direction. Apparently, they intended to get off that interstate anyway they could, even at the expense of those who may or may not be injured up ahead.
Don’t people realize that in an accident, arrival time of EMS can often mean the difference between life and death?
It seemed as if stupidity became contagious that day and cars started driving down both sides of the interstate, heading in the wrong direction for an exit ramp or access point to the north bound lanes, heedless of the stopped cars they were approaching or the EMS workers trying to get to the accident.
Some even zigzagged between stopped cars in their impatient quests.
If that wasn’t bad enough, a transfer truck did the same thing. Somehow, the driver managed to turn that big mother around so he could head north in the south bound lanes. And when he met another car trying to drive south on the south-bound shoulder, he just turned between the stopped cars and aimed his rig for the opposite shoulder. The jerk nearly took off my front bumper with his rear tire!
As night began to fall, people got out of their cars. Some wandered up to the rest area on foot. Others just wandered around on the interstate, looking like zombies from The Walking Dead.
Yes, I thought I had come prepared but I had never considered the possibility of being stranded on the interstate for 5 hours. What should have been a 20 minute drive took me 6 hours and 10 minutes.
In the end, I learned one valuable lesson from the 5 hours spent sitting on the interstate. A girl needs more than just water, warm clothes, her smartphone, a shovel or kitty litter and some snacks in her emergency weather kit. She needs to be a bit limber and she needs tissues, hand sanitizer and some sort of—container. Um, let’s just say that is not Mountain Dew you see on the rim of my favorite travel mug and leave it at that.