As a lifelong Minnesotan, I’m no stranger to cold, snow and ice. I have driven in bad weather before, but nothing could prepare me for yesterday’s commute from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. to Front Royal, Virginia in the height of the snow storm that hit the Northeast.
CUA closed its campus at 2 p.m. I was deeply disappointed, as I had been so looking forward to an evening lecture on the “Catholic Writer Today” by Catholic poet Dana Gioia. I was hoping to have him sign his book “Can Poetry Matter?” for a friend who teaches poetry. With the threat of bad weather, however, the lecture had been cancelled. I offered up my frustration, knowing that whatever the reasons, this was God’s will.
I left campus just prior to 2:00. Traffic just outside the city was stop and go. What started as rain, turned to sleet, and then eventually into the wettest, heaviest, fastest-falling snow I have ever seen.
For some peculiar reason, my GPS diverted me off of the freeway directly by the Civil War battlefield at Manassas, through Haymarket, and then back onto west bound 66. “Prepare me for the battle ahead,” I thought to myself. During the next two hours, I drove through some of the worst driving conditions I’ve ever witnessed.
For much of the way, you couldn’t make out the separation in the lanes. The snow was falling so fast that there were white-outs, and the snow plows - and my wiper blades - simply couldn’t keep up with the snow. Speeds varied between 25 to 40 mph, with standstills. The driving was so treacherous that I needed to focus my full attention on keeping control of the vehicle. Twice, I nearly lost control of my rental Toyota Rav as the slushy snow and ice threatened to pull me off the road.
There were vehicles stuck on the side of the road, in the medium, in the ditches. I saw one roll-over.
Passing by one area on 66, I read the sign “Dismal Hollow.” It was an appropriate signpost for what I and the other drivers were dealing with. It was then that I began praying the Rosary. Loudly. The loudness of my prayer helped me to concentrate, and I felt that the louder I was, the easier it would be for my Heavenly Father and Our Blessed Mother to hear my cries for help. I asked that the Guardian Angels of all those driving on the roads might keep them safe. I offered up all of my frustrations for the poor souls in purgatory.
At one point on the highway, a driver in the left hand lane had simply abandoned his or her vehicle. There it sat, blocking the left lane of the highway. The driver was nowhere to be seen. Further ahead, traffic came to a complete standstill for a good 15 minutes. Impatient drivers, in their pickup trucks and Suburbans, diverted to the left shoulder and the grass on the right hand side, off the road. The Suburban tried to pass in the grass, but the ditch was too steep, and the Suburban became stuck.
After having sat in the same spot for 15 minutes, a van to my left, found that it could not move forward. Its rear wheels had sunk through the slushy snow and were simply spinning on ice. Eventually, the driver was able to get it moving again.
Recall that I’ve lived in Minnesota all my life, yet, I’ve never seen conditions or driving like this.
More than three hours after I had left D.C. I pulled onto the off-ramp in Front Royal, shook-up but thankful for the Divine assistance that had helped me to arrive at my destination safely. I also realized that, in God’s providence, the cancellation of the Gioia lecture, had allowed me to get on the road much earlier. Stories I’ve heard this morning, about those who left after work, sounded far worse - people who were trapped in their cars eight, 12 hours, or longer. I pray that all of you who found yourself out yesterday, caught in the storm for hours, were able to reach your destination.