Weather Story 8 – The Foggy, Foggy Night

The land lays low for a couple of miles in any direction surrounding our house in Flushing Township and there is also Armstrong Creek, a very long, snake of a creek that wanders in loops all around us and Genesee County. So those two situations mean our area is very prone to dense fogs several times a year.

Sometimes the fogs would slowly roll in and you can literally see waves of foggy mists and foggy ribbons moving and swirling in the air, like silent ocean waves coming in to shore. But then sometimes a fog will just suddenly surround you and you feel like you are going to suffocate under the dense moisture-filled air because it’s like a pillow over your face. All around you is this thick, white, shapeless substance that distorts your vision and distorts all sounds. It can be quite a creepy experience.

One weekend evening in early fall when my daughter, Tara, was about 13, we decided to go to Big John’s Steak and Onion on Pierson Rd., about 7 miles away.

It was a little bit foggy out when I pulled out from our driveway and the street lamp and flashing red light 1/4 mile down at the corner of Coldwater and Elms Roads were shining hazily at us. I had just crossed Elms Rd. when suddenly the fog surrounded our car with a thick blanket and I could no longer see any lights at all in my rear-view mirror from the intersection that was right behind us. There were a couple of houses on both sides of the road that had lights on that I had noticed before I had crossed Elms, but I could no longer see those houses or their lights either. We were completely surrounded by a white nothingness.

Tara had heard that story of how bad the fog was that night Jan drove me home and she nervously asked me if this fog was as bad and I said it might be as bad as that one had been. So she then asked me, “Mom, do you think we should just turn around and go home?” I kind of laughed and said, “I can’t even see a driveway to turn around in!” We were still too near the Armstrong creek that was somewhere quite close to us near that intersection to take the chance of inadvertently driving into it.

So I told Tara to do as I had done for Jan that night, which was to roll down the passenger window and keep track of where the shoulder was for me. I did that primarily to keep her from getting too scared because there were now painted white lines that separated the shoulder from the road to help guide people in foggy or snowy conditions.

But the fog was growing even thicker and it was getting very difficult for me to even see that white line or the center line. So I crept forward at 5 miles an hour, hoping that the fog would soon lift and thin out.

The fog then grew so much more dense and thick that I told Tara, “Yup, this one is much worse than the one in high school.” I then began to accidentally play bumper pool with the mailboxes on both sides of the road. The center lines and the shoulder lines may as well have been painted with invisible ink for all the good they did me in that fog.

Several times Tara would suddenly yell out, “Mom, there’s a mailbox on my side!” So I would gently turn the car to the left as I tried to keep the car going straight in my lane. But soon I would spy a mailbox on my side of the road so I would have to jerk the steering wheel back into my lane again. It was so hard trying to drive straight in that thick fog.

This went on for what seemed like forever. Tara and I were trying to figure out exactly how far we had driven but we could identify no landmarks and no familiar houses, just us alone in that thick, white blanket of fog. So then I asked her to see if she could find the outline of any driveway and I would try to do the same on my side of the road.

Soon she yelled out that she was pretty sure we were near a driveway. So I slowed down to practically nothing at all and then crawled the car forward to find the far edge of the driveway. Then I slowly backed the car up, hoping to go back far enough to find the beginning edge of the driveway so that I could creep forward again, then turn and aim for the middle of the driveway.

I crawled the car forward along what I hoped was a driveway until I almost ran into the back of a white Ford pick-up truck. Okay good, I really am in a driveway. Now what? There’s no turn-around and I was even more afraid of trying to back my car straight down the driveway in that pea-soup of a fog while trying to miss the ditches and culverts on either side of it.

Tara asked me, “Mom what were we going to do?” I replied, “I’m going to stay right here for a little bit to see if the fog thins out.” We sat there listening to the strange deeply muffled silence that you can only experience in such a dense foggy blanket. We were both spooked by our feelings of being trapped, not knowing where we were or what to do now or even how long it would take until things became normal again.

So to take our minds off of our predicament, we tried guessing how far down on Coldwater Rd. we had driven. I thought we were pretty close to Linden Road, which is about 2 1/2 miles from our house, while Tara thought we were between Linden and Webster Roads, about 1 1/2 miles away. But when she said that she was scared and just wanted to be at home, I decided to try to brave the driveway and get back out on the road.

So I inched my car forward onto the lawn a bit and then backward a bit, attempting to get the car turned around so that I could drive forward down the driveway towards the road. With Tara guiding me on her side for trees or anything else I could bang into, I eventually managed to get my car turned around. So towards the road I crept the car forward until Tara and I could see the white lines of the road’s shoulder on both our sides. Then I turned left onto the road towards home.

The same things happened going back as before: I played bumper pool with the mailboxes on both sides of the road. It was amazing how hard it was to drive a straight line, even going as slow as possible in that pea-soup fog, when your vision and your senses are so distorted by that dense white blanket that was all around.

I knew we had reached the intersection of Coldwater and Elms when the white shoulder lines opened out into the turn lanes on each side of the road. I could barely see the white street lamp and the blinking red stop light up above me. They looked so dim and far away. I told Tara to keep her fingers crossed as we drove through the intersection as quickly as possible because I was worried that some goof ball would not be able to see the 4-way stop on Elms Rd. and would then barrel into us in the fog.

We slowly made that last quarter-mile back to our own driveway and we both let loose with huge sighs of relief after I got us and the car safe and sound back into the garage.

Before we got out of the car, Tara asked me again if tonight’s fog was worse than my high school one. I hugged her as I told her I was very proud of her for helping me get us safely back home because yes, it was MUCH MUCH worse than that one!

The next day we were still craving a steak and onion sandwich from Big John’s and as we were on our way, chatting about how the night before had been so scary, I suddenly slammed on my brakes and pulled over onto the shoulder.

I told Tara to look at the house we were parked in front of, or more specifically, to look at what was in the driveway. The white Ford pick-up truck that I had almost hit was there. I started laughing so hard when I realized that it had taken us over an hour to only drive a half mile from our house! Tara was amazed as well that we had somehow managed to miss several large bushes and lawn ornaments that were in the yard and along the side of that driveway.

Tara said she wasn’t sure if she ever wanted to get her driver’s license if she had to try and drive through a fog like last night’s or like the one I had gone through when I was younger. I reassured her that because she had remained calm and had helped me navigate so well, that she would learn from this and that she would be just fine if the same thing ever happened to her. But if she was ever in a situation that she felt she couldn’t handle, all she had to do was to pull over, park, and put her emergency lights on and then wait until the fog lifted. They always do, eventually.

And those were the only two spooky, creepy, scary foggy drives that I have ever had and that I hope I never have again, whew!

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