“Saints Express Concern for Others during Harsh Winter,” Ensign, Apr. 1977, 90–92
In a winter of cruel opposites, with record snowfalls and low temperatures in the Eastern United States and drought conditions in the West and in Europe, there was an almost universal feeling of concern about world weather conditions.
The members of the Church in the East were concerned for the people in the West and in Europe, who were running short of water. Saints around the world were concerned for the well-being of those in the East who were all but buried under snow. Everywhere, despite their own hardships, the Saints were concerned for others throughout the world who were struggling through a time of extreme climatic conditions.
This concern was brought into sharp focus by the First Presidency, who urged the Saints to hold a special day of fasting and prayer on February 6 “so that the ravages of hunger, illness, cold, and drought may be alleviated now and in the days to come.”
What was it like for the Saints in the Eastern U.S.?
At the height of the deep freeze that struck New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, and Florida, President William P. Cook of the Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Stake said, “Our major concern is the rivers that are a lifeline to the city and the surrounding areas. At the present time they are frozen, and we are having difficulty in getting supply barges through with the fuel oil that we need and with the salt that is needed to spread on the city streets. Because fuel supplies are low, and we’re not sure when more will be coming, there have been layoffs at local factories, and people are trying to conserve energy.”
President Cook said that Church meetings were being held back-to-back in his area; in other areas, weekday meetings were canceled.
Across the border in Canada, President Eldon Olsen of the Hamilton Ontario Stake said that schools were temporarily closed because drifting snow was making driving hazardous. “In one area here,” he said, “some 400 children were kept in a school overnight when a blizzard hit, while some of the pupils had to be kept at the school for a number of days until roads were cleared to their homes.”
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the First Quorum of the Seventy and president of the Canada Toronto Mission reported that the missionaries in the hard-hit Niagara Peninsula area were teaching anyone they could reach on foot, but that the proselyting efforts were being conducted “pretty close to home. That’s what we have instructed them. We don’t want them to take chances in this kind of weather.”
The worst-hit city was Buffalo, New York, where more than thirteen feet of snow fell and the temperature dropped to a wind-chill equivalent of seventy degrees below zero. Dee W. West, Buffalo area public relations coordinator for the Church, provided the Ensign with this special report:
“The Saints in Buffalo were already weary of the long winter when the blizzard hit on 28 January 1977. Since October, more than 160 inches of snow had fallen, and it had snowed for forty-seven consecutive days. With three feet of snow already on the ground, the area was blasted with its worst storm in history. With wind gusts up to sixty-five miles an hour, the wind-chill factor dropped the temperature to minus seventy degrees. The new snow was blown into twenty foot drifts, motorists were stranded, and some froze to death in their cars. Thousands of people were trapped at work. The area was completely paralyzed as businesses, schools, stores, and even churches closed, including those in the Buffalo New York Stake.
“The Saints in the area made out well. Many were stranded and spent nights away from home, but Buffalo New York Stake President Ronald G. Vincent reports that there were no tragedies. Through the home teachers he was able to keep informed on most of the families in the stake.
“Though there were no tragedies, there were many potential disasters, many worries, and many lessons learned on the importance of preparing oneself and one’s family against the unexpected. There were even a few humorous moments.
“Sister Rose Simon of the Amherst Ward, who was at work, describes the sudden onset of the blizzard: ‘At 11:15 A.M. it was cold but calm. Then suddenly the sky darkened and within minutes the visibility outside was zero. The winds howled and the snow swirled. One of my coworkers tried to go home, but she returned minutes later with icicles on her eyelashes.’
“Sister Simon says that her husband was also at work, but their two diabetic children, Mark and Tanya, were at home and would soon be in need of their second insulin shot of the day. Sister Simon could not get home, and Brother Simon made it only halfway before finally spending the night in a racquet club, where shelter was offered.
“‘I was frantic worrying about the children, knowing that they had to have their insulin and knowing that there would be no one at home to give it to them,’ she says. Fortunately her married son was able to make it to the Simon home by snowmobile, and administered the insulin through instructions given by his mother over the telephone.
“Sister Simon says that her coworkers asked her to lead them in prayer, and she used the opportunity to tell them about the food storage program of the Church. ‘I know now why we need a year’s supply, and that these are the latter-days.’
“There were those who felt confident because they did have a year’s supply of food. But some, like Skip and Judy Berg, had not considered growth within the family. Since they began to store their bulk food needs, the Bergs had a baby. Because of allergies, the baby requires a special formula and paper diapers. Says Sister Berg, ‘I never thought about the baby’s needs in terms of storage. I never bought diapers or formula very far ahead. If the storm had lasted longer, the baby is the one who would have suffered.’
“Brother and Sister Berg tell of how their back door was frozen shut and their front door was blocked by a ten-foot snowdrift. For three days they climbed in and out of their home through a window to shovel snow away from the bulging picture window of their home. They had to clear away the snow every three hours. When the city’s snow removal equipment finally got through to their street, it took ten dump trucks to haul away the snow that they had cleared.
“On the lighter side, President and Sister James Pace of the Medina Branch, Buffalo New York Stake, used their family’s Saint Bernard to pull a sleigh to a neighboring farm for milk. Basil and Eve Yurcisin of the Amherst Ward were stranded while babysitting for a member, and they had to telephone a neighbor to feed their two cats, two doves, and pet tarantula. Bishop Howard Larsen of the Niagara Falls Ward, a bulk processing manager for a pharmaceutical firm, had access to a key for his company’s cafeteria food locker. While he and other company employees were stranded by the snow for three days, he became the chief cook and bottle-washer.
“The storm also provided the opportunity for families to spend more time together. The James Pace family enjoyed their confinement, and thirteen-year-old Stuart used the occasion to copy names into his own genealogical record.
“The Saints report spiritual experiences arising from their predicament. Sister Delores Silsby of the Locksport Ward got stuck in a snowdrift while visiting the school of one of her children. In response to her question as to what they should do, her four-year-old son Seth bowed his head and asked Heavenly Father to help them to get out, and to be able to pick up his daddy.
“Bishop Delos Ballard of the Orchard Park Ward opened his food storage to his neighbors, as did many families. Many neighbors were amazed that Church members were so well prepared. However, not all of the Saints were prepared, and some of those who thought they were found gaps in their supplies.
“Many members expressed gratitude for a Church that teaches preparedness. They also expressed appreciation for the concern the Church had for its members and for the effectiveness of home teachers. ‘It is comforting to know,’ said one member, ‘that you are not alone when a disaster strikes.’”
While the Saints in the East had more snow than they could handle, the Saints in the West who rely on snow for their year’s water supply experienced warm, sunny days. Millions of dollars were lost by the ski trade when the regular, heavy snowfall failed to appear, and water supplies, already depleted from low rainfall in 1975, showed signs of running out altogether.
Water restrictions are already in force in southern Utah and in northern California.
President Lorenzo N. Hoopes of the Oakland California Stake said, “We are still in a little bit of shock over the restrictions that have been imposed on water usage. Depending on the area, these restrictions range from 180 gallons a day for a household plus 100 gallons for outside use to 45 gallons per person per day with no outside water usage. The frightening thing is that unless we get some rain we are looking at a water supply sufficient only for 90 to 100 days even with the stringent controls we now have. If we don’t get rain for the rest of the year, next year the situation will be even more critical.
“However, this could be a very wholesome experience. For the first time people are becoming conscious of the importance of water, and there is a ground swell movement to determine what steps could be taken to conserve water in the future.
“The restrictions that we now face also allow for careful monitoring of water usage. For instance, should a homeowner exceed his allotment, a restricting device will be installed that will permit only a trickle of water to come out of the tap. There will be sufficient water for drinking but there will not be the force necessary to use a shower or run any kind of equipment. The homeowner will also have to bear the cost of installing the restrictor, which is about $75.
“The really disastrous result of this water shortage will be the effect on the farms. We have a Church farm in this area, and half of our water needs are met by a well on the property. The other half comes from an irrigation district, and I can see that being cut considerably.
“Many of the farm areas will have to divert their water to the tree crops, leaving nothing for the field crops. The estimates of the effect of this on the farm economy is being estimated at the $2 and $3 billion mark.
“There are other ramifications, too. For instance, public buildings such as hospitals, stores, schools, and churches have been requested to cut their water usage by 25 percent. For us that means that we won’t be having baptisms every week, but twice a month or even once a month. If there is no relief in sight we will have to consider other methods to handle the situation.”
These two reports from the Eastern and Western parts of the United States are only indicative of what could be said about a number of other areas around the world. Suddenly members of the Church are looking at personal and family preparedness with new understanding.