Friday, January 14, 2005

Indiana wash blog.

As trips go, my recent 30-hour visit to Indianapolis was a wash. I got my business done, but that was about all. I covered very little new territory, unless you count a pleasant chain restaurant that I’d never eaten at before, or a hotel I’d never stayed at before. Nice, but I don’t really count such things as new sites, unless there’s something unusual about them.

It was also literally a wash for large areas of Indiana that I passed through, especially Thursday around the Wabash River, which had been swollen by constant rain on top of melting snow. But that was still in the future when I drove down on Wednesday, leaving in the early afternoon in a rented Chevy Blazer, under partly cloudy skies and temps in the 50s in metro Chicago. By the time I reached Indianapolis, just after dark, it was about 65 F. (!) I enjoyed that. A rare gift in January. It was like leaving the Ft. Lauderdale airport a year ago (see Jan. 19, 2004), when I couldn’t quite believe the warmth of the air upon arrival.

But the radio was a killjoy, all the way down I-65. A mass of arctic air was behind my back, ready, so the weather reporters said, to slap Illinois and Indiana and Ohio the next morning, bringing a lot of rain, then snow, then an arctic blow vicious enough to freeze your kippers off. (No one on the radio actually said that, but they should have.)

Wonderful. I should have continued onward to downtown Indy, to walk around while the walking was good, but I was too tired for it, and ate dinner at a place near the hotel, which was on the north side of the city.

The next morning, my job complete, I started back a little before noon, earlier than strictly necessary, because I wanted to be ahead of any ice storm on the way home. It was a real possibility. In February 1990, an ice storm caught me on the road from St. Louis to Chicago, forcing me to overnight in Normal, Illinois. Not a bad thing, really, but you can’t count on being near Normal in abnormal weather.

It had been raining on Thursday since before I woke, and a steady pour continued as I drove north toward Chicago. Most of the land alongside I-65 is flat farmland, and in nearly every stretch of land were puddles, some enormous. Little creeks were big, and big creeks had been promoted to river by the snowmelt and rainfall. The radio carried reports of flooding, especially in Howard County, whose seat is Kokomo, along the Wildcat River 30 miles or so (50 km) east of I-65. At one point, the National Weather Service’s computer-generated voice of warning, which sounds like it has a slight East Indian accent to me, announced floods along the Wabash River too, the highest in some places, it said, since the flood of 1985. The last time I heard that voice was on a highway near Atlanta in late 1999, when tornadoes were striking the county just north of that city.

I-65 crosses the Wabash near Lafayette, Indiana. At that point in the trip, I came to a greater appreciation for the engineering work that went into the Interstate system. The Wabash was clearly out of its banks. Acres and acres of land on both sides of the road were submerged, with countless trees sticking only halfway out of the water. But the road was clear. The water would have to have been a lot higher to submerge the Interstate.

Around Rensselaer, Indiana, the rain turned to snow, but even what was gone by Gary. Traffic was molasses thick through metro Chicago, but it always is, regardless of the weather. By Friday morning, temps were just above zero F. I was lucky, there was no ice storm. Still, it’s supposed to be this cold for several days. The pit of winter is here.


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