WEATHER: The Big Freeze

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In South Dakota, where two-thirds of the state's stock ponds were dry, there was not enough moisture to freeze the soil and, incredibly, it began to blow away in scenes chillingly reminiscent of the Dust Bowl of the '30s. Soil erosion in the coming windy months is also a threat throughout the farm belt. Grain farmers want more snow, not less, to blanket and insulate the ground —and provide moisture in the spring. Livestock herds are being sold off as feed costs rise. Things are so bad that Roald Lund, a North Dakota agriculture expert, suggested that farmers should simply take a holiday in 1977.


It was cold enough at home to freeze submarines into the ice in Groton, Conn., but New Englanders were somewhat smugly observing the discomfort elsewhere in the land. They had been especially hard-hit during the oil crisis of 1973-74. Since then, they have managed to accumulate some reserves, and Yankee dealers have become adept at scrounging new supplies. Moreover, the area uses little of what is now so scarce: natural gas. Nonetheless, as the sun rose cheerless over hills of gray, snowbound New Englanders felt the cold—in their pocketbooks. Both inflation and the severe winter mean that an average homeowner in the area may well pay $230 more for heating this season than last, according to the Massachusetts energy policy office.

Although cold is a customary way of life during New England winters, many cities in Maine have already exhausted their snow-removal budgets. Highway crews in Connecticut have eaten through a 48,000-ton mountain of road salt near Hartford. "You might get a bucketful if you took a broom and swept the yard," said Edward Archibald, a highway department official. While blizzards battered Boston, the doughty breed of ice fishermen in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts pensively sipped Jack Daniel's, and kept right on angling in their snug lake shacks.

The major worry of some New Englanders seemed to be where to go for a warm vacation. Thomas K. Wiehl III, a flight instructor in Pittsfield, Mass., flew a Connecticut vacationer south in search of sun. They landed in Savannah, Ga., balked at the 50° chill, rejected Key West (65°), figured Bimini ought to do better than its 70°, and eventually wound up 300 miles southeast of Miami in the Exuma Islands' toasty 85°. Then Wiehl flew home into the miseries of ice, sleet and — 5°.


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