Scary Winter Wonder Land

Those images from the December blizzard engulfing Buffalo in upstate New York were shocking. Hard to grasp the reality. That ghostliness was not only from the icy, white shroud covering everything. There were also the deaths of citizens who ventured outside, or who simply couldn’t get back home.

That calamity was especially unsettling for those of us who live hardly 250 miles from there. By contrast we were covered by a pretty layer of two inches of snow. Whatever cold reached us not far south of Buffalo was discomfitingly bearable. We carried on with our daily affairs, simply taking care to cover up with an extra layer of wool and  ensuring we had a good supply of fuel oil.

Yet, we were aware that, notwithstanding the unpredictability of global climate changes, our winter had hardly begun. We faced another two months of below zero temperatures, frozen pavements, the toil of clearing our driveways, and costly fuel bills.

About this past weekend freeze, we luckily had been forewarned. Media and utility companies sent out bulletins: stock up on needs; keep faucets open; remain indoors. As the temperature began to drop, even the ubiquitous pickup trucks with their sturdy snowplows in front seemed absent.

My vigil began in the assumed safety of indoors. It was hard to relax; while regularly feeding the wood stove, I peered warily into the still night. A layer of snow remaining from last week’s light fall glistened in the moonlight.

Then, from the north west, the wind arrived in a sudden whoosh. It was forecast to last for 24 hours! That’s unusually long, I thought. If it were to rain, we’d be transformed into that spectral Buffalo scene.

The temperature continued to drop, the wind to increase. At times, throughout the evening I heard a loud clap outside. In the sky. If some tree had fallen close to the house, I wasn’t about to check. A long, aching crack of a frozen tree rose in the nearby woods, echoing into the darkness. I waited for a crash, but was distracted by another sound, a restless whistling across the walls of my house. Was the wind finding slivers of space to thrust that cold inside? And then what? I felt the groan of the walls around me as the storm beat at them. I went from room to room inspecting for cracked windows, thinking how I might seal anything found broken. Another clap exploded in the air above the house! Had something fallen on the roof, maybe smashed the car.

Although I knew the forecast warned the temperature would continue dropping for another 24 hours, I repeatedly checked my phone’s weather app– 19 C, -20 C, -21C, -24 C– . It didn’t subside in the morning nor throughout Friday! Such fierce wind combined with these temperatures was new for me, even after a childhood in snowbound, cold Canadian winters.

My main worry was a power cut caused by falling trees. Not unusual in winter, and common in such high winds. I readied three flashlights and charged up my phone.

I would not sleep soundly because of that wind, also because I set my alarm every two hours to replenish the wood stove. (I had calculated that it would need sixteen good-sized logs, one for every hour until I could venture out to the woodpile.)

Morning light finally arrived, but the temperature still stood at minus -24 C. It seemed an act of mercy that the wind hadn’t downed any electric lines. By 10 a.m. the sun offered a bit of warmth through the window and onto the carpets. The wind continued to howl, the road beyond the river was still. But the forecast announced it would ease in another six hours.

I spotted two pickups speed along the road on the other side of the valley. It seemed we had turned a corner.

February 5, 2023.

B. Nimri Aziz is a New York based anthropologist and journalist. Her latest book is “Yogmaya and Durga Devi: Rebel Women of Nepal.” Find her work at