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Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published February 02 2014

Halgrimson: Polar vortex adds to trove of weather memories

If those of us who live here remembered what the weather was like the previous winter, we might consider living in a more southerly climate. Some do go south during our cold months, but I think the majority stay home.

And you get used to it. In years gone by, we even went to school when the weather was bad.

I remember my mother telling me that during my first winter – I was born in October 1940 – she wheeled me out in a buggy almost every day. That makes 74 winters I’ve had in my beloved North Dakota. Perhaps those buggy-rides inured me to our winter weather.

When I think of bad weather, I don’t think of temperatures below zero or even blizzards, of which I’ve seen many, including those in 1966, 1975 and 1984.

During the storms in 1975 and 1984, I was working at The Forum, and we were expected to be at our jobs. Someone picked me up in a four-wheel drive vehicle to haul me to the office.

I do not recall the March 15, 1941, blizzard in which 79 people died, but I remember hearing about it.

So with all of the weather talk this winter, I am reminded of other weathers I have known.

I think of the tidal wave that surrounded our rented house in Florida when I was 7 years old and a student at Horace Mann. My teacher, Miss Ellefson, had given my mother work for me to do while we were away.

I was having my lessons one morning when Mom and I heard water swooshing and when we looked out of the window, there was a stream gushing by the side of the house.

Our house was a long way from the beach and a tall concrete sea wall intervened, plus a yard at the front, so we were surprised. We went to the back door to look out, and the water went by through the backyard, across the road and into a slough.

When the water receded, a lot of prickly debris from the sea was left behind, and our neighbors had raked it into a pile and burned it.

Underneath the gray ash, the coals were red hot, and my little brother Blair walked into the burning pile thinking it looked a lot softer than what was underfoot on his bare feet.

He sat down and started screaming, and I walked into the fire, also barefooted, picked him up and walked out. The result was third-degree burns on my feet. And I was screaming as my father held me and Mom drove to a nearby emergency room. Blair was not burned. His bathing suit saved him.

I well remember the Fargo tornado in 1957, but I also have vivid memories of being on a ship at sea in the tail end of a hurricane off of the coast of Nova Scotia in 1961.

My parents, my brother Craig and I were returning from a trip to Europe in October on a small – fewer than 40 passengers – Holland America line ship, the Noordam. It was a nine-day crossing and somewhere off the coast of Nova Scotia, we encountered the tail end of a hurricane.

The sea had been rough up to that time. And then it got worst. The ship seemed to roll from port to starboard, and then the bow would rise up and the stern crashed down. I had just turned 21 and felt indestructible walking around the deck, but Craig succumbed to sea sickness.

The night of the Captain’s Dinner, Craig came to the dining room, but when the ship’s doctor with whom we were seated ordered raw eel as an appetizer, Craig returned to the bunk in our cabin.

It was calm by the time we reached New York City and when getting off the ship the term “sea legs” came to mind. It was an exciting journey.

Although North Dakota has experienced earthquakes, they are usually in the western part of the state, and I do not recall ever feeling one. My parents were in one in Guatemala in the late 1940s and my grandmother, Lina Halbeisen Hunter, was in the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. So we have family representation in that event.

After this winter, I can add polar vortex to my collection of weather experiences.

Readers can reach Forum columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com