A Southern Snowfall-Part 2

Much of the rest of the trip was through mountains—the Great Smokies and the Blue Ridge. The weather grew worse as the bus gained elevation. I got up from my seat and sat down on the floor next to the driver with my feet in the stair well to the door,  to chat.

Normally as a passenger I’d be required to remain in my seat but that trip had an urgent quality to it—a sense of ominous potential—this was not a normal run. A few hours into that last leg I could see the driver regretted his decision to go forward and was worried if not scared. We had passed a point where it was closer to Asheville than the last town behind us and back then there was no way to know what the weather behind or ahead was like—we had to go forward. He was a man in late middle age and probably his vision was not as good as it once was. He asked me to watch the road ahead and point out anything that might be a problem—given the conditions—two sets of eyes on the road were a good idea.

At times it was difficult to see the guard rails—the drifting and plastering effect of driven snow was so intense. The road surface had not been plowed and we could feel the wheels of the bus bump over drifts, skid and spin at times—several times we lost traction and the bus slid sideways. As darkness fell the road became completely deserted. We were both thinking the same thing—he glanced at me and said in a low voice:

“It’s closed—the state police have closed this road.”

The headlights shone brightly through a solid white wall of oncoming snow—at times it was impossible to see the road. We had to gage where the pavement was by watching the trees which in most cases grew to within 6 or 8 feet of where the guard rail was—if we had been able to see it. Time and time again we left the pavement and were traveling on the shoulder. The driver directed me to where a powerful flashlight was stored and asked me to shine it to the right of the bus to try to better estimate where we were in relation to the guard rail. By this time the guard rails were completely drifted over. At times I could see a long hump in the snow where the rail was and I would direct him to the left or right.

As the bus rolled on through the falling wall of snow we began to encounter trees—huge pines that had buckled under the weight of the snow and had fallen onto the highway. Most we could drive around—a few we had to drive over but fortunately were small enough that we could. Each time we drove over a tree I would get out and shine the light up under the bus to make sure no branches were stuck in the chassis or suspension. Both of us were praying we wouldn’t encounter one so big it would stop us—stranding us for who knows how long—hours, days?

Visibility was so bad we couldn’t tell for sure when we reached the height of land in the mountain pass but suddenly we noticed we were descending. The more elevation we lost the lighter the snowfall. Eventually we came upon highway barricades the state police had set up across both lanes when the road was closed. I got out and moved the barricades, the bus passed through and I put them back.

Conditions continued to improve—finally a road-grader roared past us pushing a huge rolling cylinder of snow off the road. We moved over and traveled in the clear lane for several miles until we got to where both lanes had been cleared. From there it was an easy roll the last 8 or 10 miles into Asheville—it looked like we were out of the woods (no pun intended). It was shortly after midnight when we rolled into town which being at a lower elevation the temperature was noticeable warmer. As we drove down the lighted streets the snow was now mixed with rain. The streets were clear but ice was beginning to accumulate on trees, phone wires, road surfaces. The snow had turned into an ice storm.

End Part two

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