Reporting from the road

For days, I had been planning my Thursday escape from the editor’s desk, determined to keep an appointment in Oklahoma City. As any native Texan should, I kept one wary eye on the weather forecast. 
Just four days earlier, I had covered our Fall Foliage Festival wearing shorts and flip-flops. But on Monday morning, the National Weather Service advised that a new weather system might bring light rain and snow to some parts of the Panhandle.
Before daylight the next day, the weather map’s pleasing pastels had shifted to darker hues of blue. Thursday’s snowfall could total as much as 2 inches in the northwestern corner of the Panhandle, but Canadian was on the outer edge, and the road to OKC was clear. 
By Wednesday morning blustery winds, plunging temperatures, and slightly more snow headlined the forecast. As we rushed to meet deadline, the weather service graphics grew more alarming. Canadian was enveloped in a dark azure band of snowfall, called “a disturbance.” Accumulations were still uncertain, but could reach as much as 3 inches. 
Still no hill for a stepper, I thought…until I noticed the fire-red graphic below the map warning of possible impact to travel, with this disclaimer: “Confidence in this snowfall forecast remains low.”
There it was. The kiss of death. Get out your muck boots and snow shovels, folks. Or as our neighbors across the state line were advised, prior to a recent spate of tornados, “Bras on, teeth in tonight, Oklahomans.”
As I arrived at the office Thursday, sleet had already begun pelting our front window. The red flag mounted outside—announcing the anticipated delivery of Thursday’s edition—flapped ominously.
A new advisory suggested deeper snowfall than anticipated, particularly inside that by-now subarctic blue swath with Canadian at dead-center. I dutifully posted TxDOT winter travel advisories, warning of high winds and icy road conditions. A sudden burst of wind swept Main Street, carrying most of our fall foliage with it. 
Still resolute, I headed home to pack more seasonally appropriate clothing, and grabbed a go-bag stocked with laptop, charging cords, pen, and notepad. I was fully equipped to report from the front lines of the winter storm — and still make my escape.
And that’s when I dropped the iPhone. 
The impact instantly turned one-third of its screen into a blinding-white band of light extending from top to bottom. A hard reboot should fix that, I told myself, as my friend and I headed up Highway 83.
Several things happened in very short order. 
A bolt of lightning gouged the sky behind us, igniting a grassfire north of town. Sirens sounded, the scanner squawked, local firefighters were dispatched.
Wind-driven sheets of frozen ice crystals quickly glazed both the windshield and the road. A heavy snow began to fall. The center stripe disappeared.
On the scanner, a dispatcher reported a tractor-trailer hauling hazardous materials had rolled over in the highway intersection we’d just passed. Moments later, it crackled again. A second rollover…just east of the first one.
I relinquished the wheel in order to post reports to our Facebook page. My iPhone reboot revealed the same fragmented screen, on which I heroically struggled to type a series of broken news reports. I prayed autocorrect would save me, though God knows it never had before.
I called my staff and begged them to correct my posts. The newspapers had just been delivered, along with news of more highway accidents, as the “disturbance” moved further north.
In the rearview mirror, 3 inches of snow disappeared under several more — 11 inches altogether, I later learned. I pecked out reports of grassfires and rollovers, weather updates and winter travel advisories. Acutely aware of my hypocrisy and convinced of my newfound wisdom, I warned travelers again to stay off the road.
It wasn’t quite a perfect storm. Not yet. No, not until we crossed into Oklahoma, and we got the call. 
An Xcel Energy booster station back in Canadian had shut down—knocked out by ice-coated tree limbs and power lines. Every home and business in the city had abruptly gone dark—and with them, The Record’s computer network and my badly needed proofreaders.
Now it was a perfect storm.
An awkward text conversation with my friendly Xcel media contact, Wes Reeves, ensued. “There’s a power outage in Canadian?” I think I wrote, trying to keep my question brief. “Yes, there are 2,140 customers affected,” he may have replied, though it could have been 214. “Crews are en route. Should be back up in two hours.”
Six hours later, a friend back home texted me. “Getting cold,” he said. “Could be my last communique.”
We limped into Oklahoma City just in time for rush hour, and headed straight into the bowels of hell: the Apple store at Penn Square. Standing there, in the harsh glaring light of highly-caffeinated 20-somethings wearing earbuds and clutching iPads, I longed simply to be home, in the safe embrace of the cold, cold darkness.
This Thanksgiving I am immensely grateful for my TPA friends — all of whom continue to keep their communities well informed under often trying circumstances. I’m also grateful for the National Weather Service, whose job is surely no picnic in these uncertain climate times, and who work equally hard to keep us safe, whether we heed their warnings or not. Bless you all.