A storm to remember

Michael Raffety

Dec. 18, 2009

The storm of Dec. 7, 2009, is certainly one for the record books. One of our reporters who lives on Ridge Street measured 15 inches of snow. Downtown Placerville saw 12 inches. Working in the dark and cold Tuesday, Dec. 8, I used my memory of shoveling snow at our downtown office in the big snowstorm of 1990 to estimate 6-8 inches of snow.

Several people called to say I was wrong in the editorial for the Wednesday, Dec. 9, paper. They didn’t leave their names or numbers. One lady left a number that was totally garbled. I could only get six out of seven numbers after listening to her message five times. That’s 20 minutes of my life I’ll never get back. Her message had been transferred over to me, rather than having been a direct call to me. That’s why my voice mail says, “Before you start your message state your name clearly and your phone number slowly.” It works. It keeps me from repeatedly playing some longwinded message to figure out a rushed phone number tagged at the end of a message.

So, I couldn’t talk to any of the callers to find out if they had actually been in Placerville — not Camino — and measured the snow in 1990. I checked our morgue for a bound copy and found the 1990 snowstorm did indeed leave 12 inches of snow in downtown Placerville, the same as this storm. The 1990 storm started on Feb. 15 and continued through Feb. 16, a Friday and Saturday.

In light of that I’ll have to revise my estimate of the 1890 storm, guesstimated from a postcard photo, to 12 inches. One bit of information that was cut from our Dec. 9 story due to space constraints was the fact that 12 inches of snow fell in 1964.

In the February 1990 snowstorm chain controls on Highway 50 began at Cameron Park. The number of people without power initially was 60,000 in El Dorado County for at least 12 hours.

PG&E had to have improved its system redundancy, because this storm only hit 20,000 by the second day. We reported no figures for the first day, Monday, Dec. 7, however.

The difference with this storm is the snow lingered longer. Snow was still piled in the middle of Cameron Park Drive Wednesday when I drove there to pick up one of our writers who couldn’t drive out because of ice on her driveway and half a block of ice on her street. The snow lingered in Cameron Park until it rained Friday. It was everywhere until the rain came.

It took PG&E as long as it did in 1990 to restore power throughout the county, pretty much a week. The snow all over hampered their work. They did a phenomenal job working through the problems.

Technologically the storm was different for a lot of people this time. Many people had switched their phone service to the cable company. So, along with no power they also had no phone service. Both this storm and during the 1990 storm regular phone service — what we now call land lines — worked for most people even though the power may have been out. Cell phones, not available except in shoe sizes in 1990, worked well this time, but to recharge them one would have to turn on the car and use a car recharger.

This time we had a gas fireplace that kept the place warm at our house, even without the blower fan, and provided some light. Our gas water heater meant we had hot showers. With a gas range top we could still make some stir fry for dinner and cook breakfast.

The 1990 snowstorm wrecked my back. After shoveling off the steep part of my driveway I came into the office and shoveled off the alley so the distribution trucks could get in to the back parking lot and bring the newspapers to the mailroom, also in the back. By the time I drove up to Camino to pick up our production manager I was in pain. Eventually I had to call a chiropractor to help fix my back so I could get out of bed.

The night before this year’s storm I was at my wife’s Christmas office party seated between two people from Pollock Pines who were talking about maybe buying snow blowers. My wife bought me a big Sears snow blower after the 1990 storm and it never snowed again. I never even turned it on. I eventually sold it to a gentleman from Pollock Pines with a heart condition. He needed it more than I did — until Dec. 7. I sure could have used it then. Why do they make snow shovel handles so short?

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