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Recalling the Big Snowstorms of My Pittsburgh Childhood

Winter.1960.pittsburgh.robfrydlewiczAs an adult who is six feet tall I often think that if a foot of snow seems like a lot to me just imagine what it seems to a child who is two or three feet shorter (or to a toddler, like me in the photo during the winter of 1960).  Which brings back memories of some of the big snowstorms of my childhood in the Pittsburgh suburb of McKees Rocks, four of which were around 14 inches and are recounted below.

 

JANUARY 12-13, 1964 (First Grade)

This storm moved in on Sunday night and continued through the next evening.  I remember excitedly turning on the porch light throughout the evening to look out as the snow accumulated on the porch steps.  For the entirety of the storm temperatures never got out of the teens. 

Nearly 16 inches fell and there was no school on Monday.  Then on Tuesday we woke up to a morning low of six below zero.  Despite these frigid conditions I was looking forward to going to school because it meant spending a good amount of time to walk through the mountains of snow along the way.  (My school, Fenton Elementary, was within walking distance.) 

 

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Me (right) with my big brother on our way to school the day after the big snowstorm of Jan. 12-13, 1964

  

JANUARY 22-23, 1966 (Third Grade)

It was Saturday and me, my brother, sister and mother had our check-up with the dentist that morning.  Afterwards we did some grocery shopping at  Kroger just as the first flakes of snow began falling at a little past 12:00 noon.  When we got home we watched American Bandstand; the Mamas & the Papas were on and they sang Monday Monday and California Dreamin'.  Snow fell heaviest between mid-afternoon and midnight and ended shortly after daybreak on Sunday.  My brother, Darrell, was allowed to go out and help mom and dad shovel but I had to stay inside because it was too much trouble getting me put together.  In total nearly 15 inches fell. 

Although it was a Saturday event and didn't impact school, we didn't go to church or Sunday school (a consolation prize).  On Sunday morning I got to go out and help shovel out the driveway and I remember how high the snow was and what an effort it was to throw the snow up to the side.

 

MARCH 6-7, 1967 (Fourth Grade)

It was a Monday and rain in the morning changed to heavy, wet snow in the afternoon (the temperature hovered around freezing).  After dark the snow really came down heavily and high winds kicked in - there was even some thunder/lightning.  Amazingly, my parents went out shopping and my brother went to his evening trumpet lesson.  My older sister and I stayed home and watched I Dream of Jeannie and The Monkees.  14 inches piled up and school was cancelled on Tuesday.

 

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DECEMBER 1-2, 1974 (Senior Year)

Snow fell off and on in heavy bursts during late afternoon on Sunday through the evening and into the overnight hours.  The temperature hovered around 33 degrees throughout so it was a heavy, wet snow.  I had a morning paper route at the time and it was a challenge walking up some of the driveways that were on an incline because of a coating of freezing rain/sleet that had fallen on top of the snow. 

School had a delayed opening but there were no buses operating so most of my classmates didn't come in.  (And as he did during the other storms, my dedicated dad drove to his job as a foreman at Pittsburgh-Des Monies Steel Company on Neville Island).  Power outages were widespread because so many tree branches, weighed down by 14 inches of wet snow, snapped and brought down power lines.

 

The next bit snowstorms came in the winter of 1978 when two big ones came within a few days of each other in mid-January and dumped a total of 27 inches.  At the time I was in my junior year at Penn State in State College.  I've experienced my biggest snowfalls while living in New York City.  Between 1983 and 2011 there were seven storms that dumped 18 inches or more, the biggest being 26.9" in February 2006.

 

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The great blizzard of Jan. 7-8, 1996 buried New York under more than 20" of snow.

 


Memories of Superstorm Sandy: A First-Person Account

Sandy_cloudsAs the monster storm named Sandy approached New York my chief concern, as it was with Hurricane Irene the year before, was my living room window.  Measuring 8 X 8 feet, this large panel of glass shakes whenever strong winds come from out of the east.  With the forecast warning of winds gusting between 60 and 85 miles per hour, I lined the window with cardboard from discarded boxes collected from the supermarket.  I did this the evening before the storm hit while watching the final innings of Game 4 of the World Series (which would be the final game as the Giants swept the Tigers). 

 

Since Manhattan has no overhead power lines I wasn't overly concerned about losing power; therefore, I was thrown for a loop on Monday afternoon (Oct. 29) when Con Ed sent out a robo-call alerting its customers that power might be turned off as a precautionary measure because of the prospect of flooding where its generators were situated.  I wasn't prepared for this so I scrambled to find a flashlight and the few candles I had in the apartment.

 

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I stayed indoors all day keeping my fingers crossed as gale force winds shook my building and rattled the windows.  Then, early in the evening, perhaps because of cabin fever, I ventured outside with my friend Tom, who lives in the apartment building next door.  Perhaps foolishly, we braved the high winds and walked over to the Hudson River to see what conditions were like, dodging the occasional tree branch or trash can rolling down the sidewalk.  When we got to the Christopher St. pier the river was just beginning to splash and spray over its banks from the storm surge (which meant the water level of the river had risen six or seven feet).  This was at around 6:00.  A few hours later the water had risen high enough to cover the West Side Highway and flood shops adjacent to the highway.

 

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Back in my apartment, the lights flickered a few times as I ate dinner.  Then, shortly after I had finished eating and washed the dishes, the power went out at 8:15 - and stayed off until Saturday morning (a period of four-and-a-half days).  I went on Facebook where I saw status updates from friends reporting on the flooding that had begun in Manhattan.  A bit later I heard police announcements from speakers ordering people to stay indoors.

 

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Because three grocery stores are within walking distance of my apartment I rarely stock up on food.  However, with the impending storm creating panic shopping, on the Sunday before the storm I decided to buy provisions for a few days while there was still food on the store's shelves.  Now with the power off I regretted this decision as I now had a well-stocked fridge.  Luckily, the weather was on the cool side (40s at night, 50s during the day) so I didn't lose anything in my freezer and I ate the perishables I had over the next few days.  (I drank a pint of vanilla ice cream like it was a milkshake.)

 

 

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I awoke on Tuesday morning and not only was there still no power, but my cell phone and laptop needed recharging.  In my laptop's waning moments I read that most of Manhattan above 38th Street had power, so I called my friends Bob and Audre on E. 43rd St. in Tudor City to ask if I might stop by to recharge my devices.  Before I ventured up to their place I stopped by Tom's apartment to see if he had any interest in walking there with me to do the same.  He was very happy to see me because he had no cell phone service through AT&T and wanted to phone his boss.  Luckily for him, my cell provider was Verizon.  When he called he learned that the hospital he worked at on the East Side was closed because of serious flooding. 

 

As we walked to Tudor City from the West Village (40 blocks away, the walk took about an hour) we passed by Washington Square Park and surveyed the extensive tree damage there.  Tudor City, too, had large trees blown down. 

 

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Once at my friend's place I heard for the first time the extent of the damage suffered throughout the area.  Walking back home later that evening was a creepy experience because there were no lights south of 38th St., and the streets were eerily quiet.

 

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The next day, Wednesday, was Halloween but Greenwich Village's famous Halloween parade had been cancelled.  However, the gay bar down the street from my apartment, the Monster, was open.  It had a generator along with a plentiful supply of candles and stayed open as long as its supply of ice held out.  The darkness outside made for an appropriately spooky atmosphere.  I went there with my friends Andy, Maury and Tom and we stayed for about half an hour.  Because public transportation was still largely shut down the gathering of patrons was limited to people from the neighborhood, which was nice.

 

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Venturing back out into the pitch black night, we were curious if any restaurants might be open.  We lucked out on Christopher St. where a Peruvian place, Lima's Taste, was open - with a very limited menu.  To provide light the wait staff wore headbands that had small flashlights attached to them!  And although the streets were dark it wasn't too unnerving because very few ghouls or goblins were out - and there was a police presence.

 

After roughing it on Tuesday and Wednesday, once subway service was partially restored on Thursday, I decided to stay with my friend David who lived in Astoria in Queens.  It was wonderful having power, heat, hot water, and TV once again.  I stayed there until Saturday afternoon when I got a text from Tom telling me the power had been restored to our neighborhood.  Once home, the first thing I did was go to the gym - which I hadn't been to in a week.

 

Prior to this nearly five-day blackout the longest I'd gone without electricity was 20 hours during the blackout of Aug. 14, 2003.  However, that experience was more trying because it happened on a 90-degree day.  As with that blackout I considered myself fortunate.  Despite the inconveniences Sandy caused, at least I had running water (those living in high-rises weren't so lucky because of water pressure issues), and I only had to walk up five flights of stairs.  And, of course, I was so much more fortunate than those residents who lived near the ocean and had to contend with the loss of more than just their power.

 

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"Storm of the Century" Immobilizes Eastern U.S. (March 12-13, 1993)

 

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On Feb. 26, 1993 New York, and the nation, was shaken by a terrorist bombing in a parking garage under the World Trade Center.  Two weeks later Mother Nature was preparing her own assault as a monster storm swept up the East Coast.  I didn't pay much attention to news of the impending storm until the night before it hit, a Friday.  After work I had gone out with friends to Splash, a sprawling new gay bar in Chelsea.  Once home I turned on the Weather Channel to learn more about the approaching "white hurricane".  (And the first day of Spring was just one week away).

 

The storm's full fury hit New York Saturday morning (March 13) and continued thru mid-afternoon.  (This photo, near my apartment in Greenwich Village, was taken at around noontime.)  However, after ten inches of snow had fallen, a changeover to sleet and rain began in late afternoon, keeping the accumulation down.  I was outside when the changeover began and the sleet pellets really stung because they were being propelled horizontally by winds gusting between 40-60 mph.  The noise the sleet created as it lashed against the windows in my apartment was deafening.  I was concerned that my floor to ceiling living room window might blow in so I pulled down the blind.  

 

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Sheridan Square, Greenwich Village

 

 

Happily, I suffered no window damage, but after the storm subsided (at around midnight) that's when my problems started.  Hearing a dripping sound, I looked up and saw that the ceiling in one corner of my living room was cracking and buckling.  It turned out that the snow on the roof (I lived on the top floor) had piled up high enough to cover a drain pipe, so melting snow had nowhere to go and collected in one spot.  I was thankful to be home so I could move my sofa and TV out of harm's way.  However, I couldn't get in touch with my building super so I had to make due with a collection of pots and pans to collect the dripping water.  However, the steady "ping" of the dripping made sleep nearly impossible. 

 

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The next morning I got up early and found the super shoveling snow.  He was unable to go up on the roof and clear the blockage because snow was drifted against the door so he brought up two large trash bins to my apartment to collect the water which poured out when he poked a few holes in the ceiling.

 

Compared to other parts of the Eastern US, New York was spared paralyzing amounts of snow (a nearby street in my neighborhood is pictured below).  Elsewhere, however, there were record accumulations not only in the Northeast (Pittsburgh had 26", Syracuse 36") but in the South as well, e.g., Atlanta had 9"; Birmingham 13"; Chattanooga 23".  Even Mobile, Alabama, on the Gulf Coast, reported three inches of snow!  The Weather Channel would later rank the storm, which affected nearly half of the US population and left more than 250 dead, as one of the top five weather events of the entire 20th century. 

 

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Waverly Place (March 14, 1993)

 

If you'd like to read about other New York City snowstorms I've written a post on my weather blog, New York City Weather Archive, that recaps the snowstorms we've experienced since 1970.  To go to it please double click here.  And on this blog I've written posts on four other famous NYC snowstorms:  

The Lindsay Snowstorm (Feb. 1969)

Blizzard of '96 Brings New York & Mid-Atlantic to a Halt (Jan. 1996)

New York's Biggest Snowfall of All Time (Feb. 2006)

April Blizzard Stops New York, Puts Spring on Hold (April 1982)

 

Finally, snowstorm lovers may find the book Northeast Snowstorms by The Weather Channel's winter storm expert Paul Kocin of great interest.

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New York's Biggest Snowfall of All Time (February 11-12, 2006)

Please note that since writing this post back in 2013, this storm has been supplanted as New York's biggest snowstorm by the blizzard of Jan. 23, 2016.

Despite a cold start, the winter of 2005-06 had turned into a relatively mild one.  In fact, during a seven-week period beginning just after Christmas temperatures averaged nearly ten degrees above average - and January was the third mildest on record.  So it was somewhat of a shock when a major snowstorm came calling. 

 

The first flakes began falling Saturday evening just as I was leaving a movie on the Lower East Side (Steven Soderbergh's indie film Bubble).  By midnight about three inches had fallen.  The snow continued until mid-afternoon Sunday, but the bulk of it fell in a 6-hour period between 5-11AM when an incredible 18 inches fell (a ski resort-like snowfall rate of three inches/hour).  The storm's total was 26.9", breaking the old record from Dec. 26-27, 1947 by one-half inch.  In a rarity, New York was in the "bulls-eye" of the storm's heaviest accumulation, so no other locality received nearly this much.  At around noon on Sunday I ventured out with my camera and spent an hour or so in Washington Square Park snapping photos.

 

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Interestingly, although the blizzards of January 1996 and the post-Christmas blizzard of 2010 dumped seven inches less than this 2006 storm, the City seemed more crippled by them.  And to me this record snow seemed no deeper than those storms.  It could very well be that the accumulation in my Greenwich Village neighborhood, about three miles south of Central Park, was less.   This record-breaking accumulation would be the only snowfall of February.  It ended up accounting for two-thirds of the winter's total snowfall. 

 

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If you'd like to read about other New York City snowstorms, I've written a post on my weather blog, New York City Weather Archive, that recaps the snowstorms we've experienced since 1970.  To go to it, double click here.  And below are links for other posts from this blog about specific snowstorms in New York:

 

Blizzard of '96 Brings New York & Mid-Atlantic to a Halt (Jan. 1996)

1993 "Storm of the Century" Immobilizes Eastern U.S.

April Blizzard Stops New York, Puts Spring on Hold (April 1982)

The Lindsay Snowstorm (Feb. 1969)

 

 

 

 

 

 


The "Lindsay Snowstorm" (February 9-10, 1969)

Feb_10_1969_snowstorm I was 11 years old at the time and living in Pittsburgh - and greatly annoyed that we got hardly a snowflake from this snowstorm.  Meteorology was a new interest of mine and I didn't yet understand the dynamics of weather systems, e.g., East Coast storms often don't affect Western Pennsylvania because the Appalachian Mountains act as a barrier.  (As was the case with the post-Christmas blizzard in 2010.)  The 15.3" that fell on New York beginning Sunday, Feb. 9, 1969 brought the city to a virtual standstill for a number of days.  It was front page news in the Pittsburgh papers, and I eyed the photos enviously.  (Like the one to the right showing mostly foot traffic on 2nd Ave. near 45th St.)

 

This became known as the "Lindsay snowstorm" because New York's mayor John Lindsay (below) was blamed for not getting streets plowed quickly enough, especially in the borough of Queens.  It nearly cost him re-election later that year, but he won, running as an independent.  (10 years later a series of crippling snowstorms in Chicago was largely responsible for the defeat of its mayor.)  At the time it was the City's tenth biggest snowstorm - since then ten subsequent storms have had larger accumulations (through the winter of 2021). 

 

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This snowstorm was the inspiration for two episodes of the sitcom That Girl (starring Marlo Thomas).  In a two-part storyline Ann and boyfriend Donald were stranded at JFK by the snowstorm after accompanying her parents to the airport.  This threatened a Broadway audition Ann had later that day - which she eventually did over the phone.  Later, Donald, a writer for the fictional Newsview Magazine, wrote a story about Ann's experience.  These episodes aired on ABC on October 30 and Nov. 6, 1969. (They are from the show's fourth season which is available on Amazon.)

 

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To read about other New York snowstorms, please double click here for a recap I've written on my blog New York City Weather Archive.   And below are links to posts from this blog about other New York snowstorms:

April Blizzard Stops New York, Puts Spring on Hold (April 1982)

March 1993 "Storm of the Century" Immobilizes Eastern US

Blizzard of '96 Brings New York & Mid-Atlantic to a Halt (Jan. 1996)

New York's Biggest Snowstorm of All Time (Feb. 2006)

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The Highest Rated Super Bowl of All Time (January 24, 1982)

Superbowl_XVI Perhaps helped by a weekend snowstorm and cold wave over the Midwest and Northeast, Super Bowl XVI between the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals (played on Jan. 24, 1982) has the distinction of being the highest rated Super Bowl of them all.  The game, which the 49ers won by a score of 26-21, posted a 49.1 household rating/73 share.  It still ranks as the 4th highest rated telecast of all time (behind the final episode of M*A*S*H in 1983; the "Who Shot J.R?" episode of Dallas in 1980; and the final episode of Roots in 1977).  There have been Super Bowls with larger audiences (due to population increase) but no game since has pulled a higher rating. 

 

This game also had the distinction of being the first Super Bowl played in a northern city - Detroit.  Luckily for fans and players it was played in a domed stadium (the Silverdome) since the outside temperature was 20 degrees.  (44 years later the first Super Bowl to be played in an uncovered stadium in the northern US took place in northern New Jersey.)  To read about other fun facts about other Super Bowls, double click here.

 

Joe_montana_superbowl I didn't see the big game.  That weekend found me in Connecticut visiting my boyfriend Rick who lived in Middletown (the following year he'd move into Manhattan with me).  That Sunday afternoon we drove up to the hamlet of Norfolk in snowy Litchfield County (in the northwestern corner of the state) to visit his friends Debbie and Mort (a burly forest ranger).  We had a brief delay on the drive there when our car was hit by a pile of snow and ice that crashed down upon us from a snowplow working on a highway overpass.  And later that evening my trip back to Manhattan would be delayed because Rick's car became stuck in the driveway, frozen in place.   

 

(Although no books/DVDs for this particular game are available the newly published book The Ultimate Super Bowl Book offers stats & stories about all 43 match-ups while the DVD NFL Films Super Bowl Collection XI-XX recaps highlights of the games played between 1977-1986.)

 


Air Florida Flight 90 Crashes Into Potomac River During Snowstorm (January 13, 1982)

 

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January 1982 was particularly cold and snowy in the Eastern half of the US.  On Jan. 13 a snowstorm paralyzed the Southeast and then moved into the mid-Atlantic states.  The storm proved deadly for passengers on board a Ft. Lauderdale-bound Air Florida jet flying out of Washington, DC in the middle of the afternoon.  Not properly de-iced, Flight 90 was unable to gain sufficient altitude and crashed into the Potomac River after taking off from National Airport, its tail wing clipping a nearby bridge just a few miles from the White House

 

Dramatic TV footage showed rescuers desperately trying to reach some passengers in the icy waters.  Unfortunately, unlike US Air Flight 1549's "Miracle on the Hudson" 27 years later, very few passengers survived since this was a crash and not a water landing.  Only five passengers survived - 78 others (and four motorists on the bridge) were killed. 

 

Although my office (ad agency Young & Rubicam) had closed early because of the snow (which began during lunchtime in New York) I was still in my office when I heard the radio bulletin reporting on the crash late that afternoon.  Because I briefly worked on the Eastern Airlines account at Y&R I knew the repercussions a plane crash had for media planners working on any airline account.  All media outlets carrying airline advertising had to be contacted to make sure all ads were pulled.  (Although most outlets knew to do this without being contacted, the calls still had be made).  However, this time no one at Y&R had to scramble because the agency had lost the Eastern account four months earlier (after 17 years).   

 

  
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Blizzard of '96 Brings New York & Mid-Atlantic to a Halt (January 7-8, 1996)

93990003 I first heard word of the impending blizzard on Saturday evening while I was out in New Jersey visiting my brother and his family for a late holiday get-together.  I was enthralled by the blizzard warning scrolling down the screen of The Weather Channel because I'd never before experienced a full-fledged blizzard.  On Sunday, Jan. 7 the snow started falling at around noon and by late afternoon it was coming down fast and furious.  That night I walked around my Greenwich Village neighborhood in the teeth of the storm (with howling winds gusting to 40-50 mph) snapping photos that were enhanced by the visual effect the flash had on the snowflakes. 

 

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Not surprisingly, my office was closed on Monday (some co-workers from New Jersey were out for two to three days).  The snow stopped falling early in the afternoon and again I went out with my camera.  The texture and deepness of the snow brought to mind walks on the beach.  At one point I trudged over to the West Side Highway and found no rush hour traffic whatsoever.  Instead, a phalanx of garbage trucks put into service as snowplows was the only activity there and on most city streets. 

 

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The storm was especially paralyzing in Philadelphia and NJ where two to three feet of snow fell.  It was such an expansive storm that 1-foot accumulations extended all the way westward into Kentucky and Ohio.  Here in New York 20.2" fell, with three and four-foot drifts topping cars and taxis parked on the streets.  There was no mail delivery for two days and no trash pick-up for eight.  Staten Island reported 29", Newark had 28" and La Guardia Airport picked up 24".  Manhattan's normally congested sidewalks were made even more crowded by walls of plowed and shoveled snow (in addition to bags of uncollected trash and discarded Christmas trees) that confined pedestrians to narrow pathways.  Persistent cold weather kept the snow around for a number of weeks.

 

   

 

At the time this was the deepest snowfall in my lifetime, topping the 17.6" that fell in a big February 1983 snowstorm.  (However, some of the snows of my childhood back in Pittsburgh, especially the 15" that fell in January 1966 and 14" in January 1964, seemed deeper because I was a few feet shorter than my adult height of 6'1".)  This blizzard contributed mightily to the winter of 1995-96 becoming New York City's snowiest winter ever.  75.6"was measured in Central Park, close to fifty inches more than a typical winter.

 

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If you'd like to read about other New York City snowstorms I've written a post on my weather blog, NYC Weather Archive, that recaps the snowstorms we've experienced since 1970.  To go to it, double click here.  And to read about other New York snowstorms I've written about on this blog please see the links below:

 

March 1993 "Storm of the Century" Immobilizes Eastern US

New York's Biggest Snowstorm of All Time (Feb. 2006)

The Lindsay Snowstorm (Feb. 1969)

April Blizzard Stops New York, Puts Spring on Hold (April 1982)


The Hijacker Vanishes: The Legend of DB Cooper (November 24, 1971)

Pittsburgh_penguins The day before Thanksgiving 1971 was a snowy one in the hills of Western Pennsylvania (about 4" fell).  I was in the 9th grade at the time and my dad had gotten four tickets at work to tonight's Penguins hockey game at Pittsburgh's Civic Arena.  I went with my older sister Linda, older brother Darrell (home for the holiday during his freshman year at Indiana University of PA) and a neighbor from down the street.  The Penguins lost to Toronto 2-1 but it was an enjoyable outing nonetheless. 

 

 

Snow_covered_street Walking home after getting off the bus we were playing around in the snow and throwing an occasional snowball.  At one point I jerked my head to avoid one being thrown and my glasses flew off.  After looking for them for some time with no luck I ran home to get a flashlight (Mom joined us).  Finally, in the midst of our search a neighbor approached in his car and stopped when he saw our search party in the middle of the street.  He stayed so we could look in the light cast by his high beams and shortly thereafter we found my glasses.  We had been out in the cold for close to an hour.

 

Db_cooper Meanwhile, while we conducted our search another was about to unfold in the Pacific Northwest.  A passenger named DB Cooper had hijacked a plane, demanded parachutes and $200,000 (about $1 million in today's $) and then jumped from the plane during a rainstorm into the wilderness north of Portland, Oregon.  Although hijackings had become a hazard of air travel since the late 60's, the way this one was carried out made it unique.  And although a bundle of deteriorated twenty-dollar bills was discovered in 1980, and traced back to those given him, Cooper himself was never found. 

 

 

(The book D.B. Cooper: Dead or Alive? provides the full story of this mysterious man and his curious caper.)  The following clip goes into greater detail about Cooper.

 

 

 

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President Bush Forces Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Step Down (November 8, 2006)

Donald_rumsfeld The morning of November 8, 2006 was dreary and rainy but I was in good spirits for two reasons.  First, the results from yesterday's mid-term elections were very positive as both houses of Congress returned to Democratic control.  Second, I was getting paid for a research project I had recently completed about the U.S. Hispanic market.  I went up to Chelsea at around noon to pick up my check from the research company I did the project for.  From there I walked over to my bank to deposit it and while standing in line at HSBC I heard the surprising news on CNN that irascible Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was stepping down. 

 

Singin_in_the_rain This news bulletin was like a beam of sunshine breaking through that day's clouds.  Even better was the fact that for some reason the president decided to wait until after the election to make this announcement.  Therefore, it was of no benefit to Republican candidates.  This news made the day's pouring rain (the most of any day this year, a record-setting 3.60") more than bearable.  In fact, as I walked home I felt lighthearted, just like Gene Kelly in his famous rain-splashing scene in the the movie Singin' in the Rain.  At long last there appeared to be light at the end of the tunnel - and in two more years we would be delivered from evil.