Home > Uncategorized > Winter comes to the Illinois prairie

Winter comes to the Illinois prairie

January 2, 2012

From I-74 between Champaign-Urbana and Bloomington, IL. Hard to hold the camera still in a 30mph wind at 20 degrees f. (Click to embiggen)

I drove down to Champaign today for a great meeting with @RelUnrelated, and then back to BloNo in the face of advancing Winter. The turbulent wind and blowing snow made every mile a new visual feast, a joy of sheer, unendurable beauty. Clouds and snow do amazing things with sunlight. And on the prairie you can see clouds and storms far enough away to get a sense of how they move and fill space.

The wind was gusting across blacktop slicker than boiled flaxseed, with white-out visibility sometimes dropping to 100 feet.  I lost count of the cars in the ditch; there were miles of emergency vehicles and tow trucks. One pickup had rolled over and landed on its wheels again. When I got back to Bloomington, I saw a minivan come down an on-ramp, frantically blowing its horn and trying to brake. Cars were able to move out of the way; it shot through the intersection and hit a traffic light pole, snapping it off at the base. It didn’t look as if anyone was hurt, which is a testament to modern car design.

Folks, let me just say this about adverse driving conditions. Please set your Celebrity Voice Imaginator to “Samuel L. Jackson” for the following Public Service Announcement:

“Hey, when snow crashes in and you suddenly can’t see where you’re going, turn on your G*D* flashers and slow the f* down! And that speed-limit sign don’t mean s* when the road is slick! This ain’t no race!”


  • It is a little odd/worrisome that real Winter did not arrive until January 2. Cold Winters are important – they keep crop pests and invasive species down.
  • I stopped at an off-ramp and shot this picture a short distance from the car. It was cold but the howling wind gave it teeth; unprotected in shirt sleeves you’d die in a half-hour. But yes, I did have full Winter gear in the car in case I needed it.
  • I once knew a guy who died shooting a photograph. There are worse ends; lots of people die in office cubicles.
  • My old Honda is only fair in the snow but it has good aerodynamics, which is a plus with high winds. And the tires are past their prime. But I notice something: when you turn on your flashers and slow down, people actually follow your example.  You still get the odd vehicle – usually a big SUV or pickup, blasting by at the speed limit, only to decorate the ditch further down the road.
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  1. Matt Mangels (formerly “The Bo$$”)
    January 3, 2012 at 01:38 | #1

    Thank you for this DOF. It is so wonderful (in the most literal possible sense of the word; it fills me with wonder) to see pictures like this on the prairie, where there is nary a hill in sight. It’s just so different than San Francisco, where I’ve lived my whole life, or even California as a whole. Sure the Central Valley’s plenty flat but you have mountain ranges to the east and west, and the valley’s not real wide so you can never see far-approaching storms like the way you can in this photo. They usually come from North-Northwest, where the Coast and Cascade Ranges are. Not to rub it in or anything but it’s been usually mild over here so far this “winter” too; SF just had its 3rd driest December on record. But that’s meant lots of sunny days with highs in the low 60s, though there has been a lot of dry air in the region too due to offshore flow, so it gets (for our area) fairly cold at night (40s, some 30s in the inland valleys). Anyway, cool picture and thanks again for braving the cold to take it.

  2. decrepadmin
    January 3, 2012 at 06:15 | #2

    Thanks Matt! So glad to hear from you How have you been?

    I was born in San Francisco, but moved (correction, was moved) away at a young age. It is such a beautiful city. I’m about to get on my bike and ride to breakfast so I could appreciate someplace warmer right about now.

    The thing that amazes me about the prairie is the thought of an ancient sea there, and then a mile of ice over our heads. I’m standing under an ocean, or under a glacier, only those things are both gone now and this is the landscape they made. We occupy such a tiny particle of time in the life of a planet.

  3. January 3, 2012 at 11:23 | #3

    A very impressive picture George. You come up with many visuals that push the mind to think deeper. Thank you.

  4. WeeDram
    January 7, 2012 at 08:58 | #4

    Winter tires should be required in many jurisdictions; they are in Quebec, they should be in all of Canada except the Vancouver, Western NY, hell, all states north of some parallel yet-to-be-determined. The big reasons people believe in the illusion that they don’t need them are:

    * “All season” radials really are ALL season. Wrong. There are precious few all season tires that are winter rated. Nokian makes one, there may be others, but I doubt more than a handful.

    * “We don’t get enough snow.” Wrong again. If you don’t get a lot of snow but have cold temps and precipitation, you will have slick roads, including congealed oils and grease that, combined with almost-frozen water, can produce slicks that can cause hydroplaning when you have a false sense of security.

    * “We don’t get enough snow, besides I have 4-wheel drive.” Aside form the fact that your non-all-season radials really aren’t all season, the point of winter tires is not just to get through snow safely, it’s about STOPPING. The softer rubber and specialised tread design of a good winter tire are about STOPPING quicker. Even a few inches, much less a few meters, mean the difference between an accident and safety.

    * “I can’t afford them.” For every mile you drive on winter tires, you are saving tread on summer tires. My Nokian Haakapelittas are on their fourth season with plenty of tread left. They cost me $400 (14″) in 2004. So far that’s less than $15/tire/year. I’m on my second set of summer tires, again at about $400 for the replacement set from the factory originals. So for just short of 7 years of driving, that’s about $30/tire. Many cars have larger wheel sizes, so yes, a lot of folks would experience somewhat higher costs, though not really significantly. BUT … if you save just ONE accident due to shorter stopping distance of winter tires, you will save your deductible (or worse,) which will more than make up for the expense of NOT having winter tires.

  5. Chris
    January 8, 2012 at 09:55 | #5

    Hi what a great photo,as I live in Spain(Europe)I do not tend to see this sort of weather and although the winters here are great I do miss the real snowy winters we used to get in the UK.

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