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Weather: It could be worse



Article Published: Jan. 13, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Weather: It could be worse

Loye Greer clears the Toyota of Boone lot.



lauren@mountaintimes.com

It could be worse.

That's what locals say about an annoying run of wintry weather.

The white on everyone's mind? The March blizzard of 1993, the snowfall that prompted a headline from The Mountain Times' sister publication, the Watauga Democrat, that read "Watauga digs out."

Helicopters delivering supplies landed in the K-Mart parking lot and, further out in the county, they dropped feed to pastured cattle. Cars were buried. A curfew was enacted. Bread and milk were the least of Wataugans' worries.

Where were you when Watauga was buried?

"It was spring break when the blizzard happened, so a lot of people were gone," area IT director Robert Louis said. He was a college student when the storm hit. "They hadn't called for very much.

They'd called for like 6 inches or something like that, and we were like, 'Whatever, 6 inches, it's Boone.' Then it started, and it just never stopped."

He was stuck in a house with eight people and little food.

"We were eating things we didn't really want to eat," he said.

"I do remember the blizzard of '93," Appalachian State University communication professor Nina-Jo Moore laughed.

All those years ago, however, it was anything but a laughing matter to Moore, who used lived at Bavarian Village when the "Snow-pocalypse" hit.

"We were completely snowed in and couldn't move," she said. "It was up to my chest, and I'm a tall woman ... The only thing you could do was you could walk to the store."

In those days, the A and P was her locale of choice.

"It was so quiet," she said. "There were just people walking down the middle of Meadowview Drive ... You weren't allowed to drive. It was a state of emergency."

And if you were on the road? You were out of luck. That's what happened to about 60 people on Old U.S. 421, including Howard and Mary Jo Grubbs.

"Of course, none of us expected a storm," Mary Jo Grubbs said. "It was funny because it was our 10th wedding anniversary, and we thought, 'Let's go up to the new house.' We had just built the house."

With their 18-month-old baby (now Elon College freshmen Meg Grubbs), the Grubbs family trekked from Winston-Salem, only to be caught on Old 421 where it passes in front of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

"The snow drifts were up to 4 feet in some places, and there were, I guess, about 30 or 40 cars ... we just couldn't get through," she said.

After sitting in their car for four hours, the Grubbses were greeted by off-duty EMTs who had broken into Parkway School, literally, through a window.

"We zipped up our jackets," she said. "We had little boots on. We were not prepared. We crawled through snow drifts."

And into the school, where they would spend three days, sleeping in the hallway and showering in the locker rooms. Luckily, the couple had brought a few boxes of food.

"Everybody either got a scoop of pasta or chili and crackers and that was dinner," Grubbs said. "Then somebody got a key to all the freezers, and we started cooking."

Her husband still remembers how the National Guard saved the day, bringing diapers to the group of 60.

"They saved the day," he said.

But Howard Grubbs' most vivid blizzard memory?

"Bathing my daughter in those big pots in the Parkway Elementary School cafeteria," he said.

The power stayed on, and the group played basketball. In the 17 years since that time of refuge, the Grubbses haven't seen any of their fellow captives, but it's something they think about often.

"I grew up in northern Pennsylvania, so I've seen deep snow, but that's the worst I've ever seen," Howard Grubbs said. "That was probably 10-, 11-foot snow drifts."

Parkway School was the scene of another memorable refugee experience during the blizzard of 1996. Then principal Gary Childers can tell you exactly what day it was: Jan. 26, 1996.

"I've got a T-shirt with that date on it," he said. "It says 'I survived the longest day.'"

And it was a long day. Watauga County Schools were called off, but not in time.

"A system came in, and it came in on us and the eastern end of the county a little quickly," he said. "It was back when we were still dealing with Old 421, a two-lane road and, if anything happened on that road ... it blocked very easily."

And multiple accidents meant not even the school buses could get through.

"We turned the buses around and brought them back into the parking lot and let the kids come back into the building," he said.

Despite having their own families, teachers and staff stayed to watch the nearly 600 students stranded at the school.

"Not only was it our longest day, but I think it was our finest day," Childers said. "Everybody went way, way, way beyond the call of duty."

Two cafeteria professionals happened to be nearby and made the trek back to the school so the students could eat dinner. Teachers helped with cafeteria duty.

"We heated up pizza," he said. "Everybody pitched in ... No one ever came to me and said anything but, 'What can we do to help?'"

Gym teachers let classes rotate in for 30-minute recess sessions. Teachers played movies. Kids who were able to walk home often returned.

"They wanted to be there," Childers laughed. "It was a big party."

A party that ended past everyone's bedtimes.

"We took the last one home finally about 11 o'clock that night," he said.

So, as you're shoveling your driveway this week and skidding along the roadway, remember, "It could be worse."

It could be 1993. Or worse.

It could be 1960, when snowfalls blasted Watauga with a total of 70 inches in a month.

Let us in on your snow experiences! Comment on facebook.com/mountaintimes.

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