Common Ground: Winter blast taught us a few lessons

Last week’s record-breaking freezing temperatures and icy roads made us all take a second look at the power of wintry weather and its effects on the Baton Rouge area.

We’ve all “hunkered down” in hurricane weather. But this season’s extreme winter forced us to pay even closer attention to the cold weather warnings and roadway traffic advisories.

The weather kept schools closed for days and us stuck in our homes.

Despite some of the inconveniences, many of us used the extra time to catch up on housework, computer work or take in a few movies.

Overall, however, we were fortunate.

My cousin in Atlanta wasn’t so lucky. He was among the hundreds of motorists stranded on an icy highway for hours and then forced to abandon his car and find shelter in a hotel for days. Fortunately, he was able to make it home.

The Baton Rouge area got a much less severe, yet memorable taste of winter’s effect when schools closed and icy roads crippled travel. There were dozens of accidents and two traffic fatalities.

Even with the warnings of possible closures, my husband and hundreds more crossed the new Interstate 10 bridge to reach Baton Rouge. He had to take care of a business transaction and thought that he could make it back before the bridge iced up. A few hours later, he was stuck in a sea of traffic and later learned that the Mississippi bridges, new and old, were closed. But we learned from it.

The next week, when another blast of winter hit, there were fewer than a handful of accidents. Many of us had realized that winter warnings are serious, sometimes lifesaving and worth listening to.

I’ve lived in Baton Rouge most of my life, and I can count maybe a handful plus a few more snow events in our area. My first experience was when I was about 3 or 4 years old, and then again in late 1987 or early 1988, during my first year in college.

My children haven’t seen snow since 2008 and 2009. They can barely remember it since they were still in training diapers or either just learning their ABCs.

Last month’s brief flurries brought them just enough bliss to pull off a few snowball fights with the neighbor’s children.

The frigid nighttime temps also encouraged me to cook a pot of seafood gumbo, warm peach cobbler and hot chocolate. Later in the evening, we gathered around the fireplace, watched movies and tuned in to the Weather Channel.

One thing is certain, in these times of extreme weather, don’t blow off the weather forecasts. The costs are too great.

We now know that when forecasters say a winter warning is in effect, it’s time to hunker down.

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at