BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — December marks nine months since I’ve been a member of the KX newsroom. It’s been a delight, and I’ve greatly enjoyed the ability to explore a new state and everything Bismarck has to offer. Yet, in spite of all the good things I find myself growing fond of in North Dakota, there’s one that I become more and more frustrated with as the months pass: the snow.
I’ve mentioned it before on KX’s website, but I’m primarily from the deep South — specifically, Florida, where I was not only born but spent a large portion of my life (speaking as a former resident, yes, literally every “Florida Man” story and stereotype you have ever heard is entirely true). So, when I tell you I was completely unprepared for what to expect when I heard word of a winter storm in April, (not even a month after I arrived,) I mean it.
Full disclosure: this wasn’t my first-time encountering snow, or even blizzard conditions — I spent a few years in Colorado in my childhood and dealt with a fair share of snow days. Of course, the difference there is in the age that I experienced those. It’s one thing to sit at home, blissfully unaware of what’s going on because you get to skip school for the day (which usually trumps all other thoughts of the bad situations that would cause one to miss class), but it’s another animal entirely when you’re an adult juggling work, transportation, and supplies. In a sense, this made the April storms the first real grapple I faced with snow. And considering the sunny climate of my previous establishment, it goes without saying that it took A LOT of getting used to.
KX has generously allowed me to share my experience of coming from Florida up to North Dakota and being blindsided by a gigantic snowstorm almost immediately. Here’s a general list of the trials and tribulations a southerner, like myself, faces while experiencing their first solo snowfall.
I’d like to say that time in quarantine and staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic were where I first gained my experience away from the outdoors, but that would be a lie. The truth is, I spend most of my time inside anyways. The only change that this sparked was preventing a weekly shopping trip or restaurant outing, and at the most, causing me to work from my building instead of the office. All things considered, it could have been worse, if not for my serious tendency to avoid doing anything useful when I’m home. A computer hosting a variety of games and a surprisingly high-quality television lineup does not help matters.
The extra time inside and lack of an ability to drive caused me to get more familiar with the different features and settings of my new building at the time. The biggest of these was the bizarre realization that for a significant period of time, in a stunning display of a lack of awareness, I had never actually removed the cover from the heating and AC unit. Until then, most of my warmth was gained through the use of what I refer to as ‘blanket migration’: moving every blanket from one’s bed to their computer chair during work hours, and immediately back at bedtime. While effective, it had the unexpected side effect of causing me to fall asleep at my computer on multiple occasions. Personally, I blame the weighted blanket above all the rest. Those blankets are death traps for someone’s work ethic.
Even if one removes blankets and temperature from the equation, the biggest issue of completing assignments from home — not only now, but during any time out of the office — is a tendency to procrastinate. This is something visible even in the creation of this very column (which is being written at 3:30 a.m. on the day it’s meant to air), but even more so during periods of entirely remote work. This leads to ‘on-and-off’ periods that range from hours of extremely dedicated work to half-day periods of doing absolutely nothing save for binge-watching the latest shows or engaging in 6-hour rounds of Civilization Six (otherwise known as ‘half a game’). Thankfully, I am a firm believer that it’s fine to take as much time as you need on a project and put things off if you need time to think, as long as it’s in before the due date.
Among the other less important things I learned about while stranded at home, was the shocking true purpose of balconies. Before coming to the state, I believed they were places that allowed people on high floors of buildings to still enjoy time outdoors from the comfort of their homes, usually decorated with chairs or the occasional small grill. Now that I’ve spent a few snowstorms here in North Dakota, I know better. They were clearly meant to serve as places to hold excess snow buildup and allow you to take pictures of just how bad the conditions are without actually stepping outside to do so. I have to admit, I think I like this use better than the other.
Arguably the most difficult thing to get used to when it comes to my new life in North Dakota was navigating the icy roads. I was never able to drive during the icy periods in Colorado, but now, I completely understand why it was so important to focus on the path. One sharp turn or acceleration too far, and you’ll be sent sliding across the road, unable to stop. That is, if you don’t have a vehicle with all-wheel drive. As you can probably imagine, I did not.
The thing is it isn’t IMPOSSIBLE to drive in snowy conditions without All-Wheel Drive. It’s just incredibly nerve-wracking and highly dangerous. You’re always one overshot curve or heavy push on the gas pedal away from a wreck. When you add this to the fact that I am already a notoriously bad driver (don’t worry, I don’t drive our station vehicles), you can understand why this is a recipe for disaster. The image of a news reporter in his old, beat-up car with fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror streaking across a somewhat busy street while screaming at the top of his lungs certainly must have been a sight to those who passed me on my first trip to work. It was probably even more entertaining for commuters when it happened multiple times over the span of a month.
Eventually, I picked up a vehicle with all-wheel drive. Combined with some snow tires, I’ve had much more success with navigating the roads. This has its ups and downs. True, the snow and ice don’t do as much to slow down my vehicle anymore, but I also lose the ability to blame it on my usual lack of driving skills. You win some, you lose some, I suppose.
As I’ve said multiple times across my articles, no storm is enough to stop people from reporting the news — and even in my earlier days here at KX, the stories needed to be told. Unfortunately, one can only report on so many things when they’re incapable of reaching their car or spending more than five minutes outside without freezing. And after coming to the unfortunate realization that “Newly-arrived journalist uses blizzard to catch up on laundry” would make a less-than-stellar headline, I borrowed heavily from the ‘remote work’ strategy, using Zoom and email correspondence to conduct interviews related to the blizzard situation. While Zoom interviews are always beneficial, especially to get quotes directly from a source without lugging a camera in freezing weather, you also run the risk of exposing the interviewee to the horrors of whatever your webcam picks up in the background. Here’s an insider tip from the industry: If you’re going to turn on your webcam for a digital meeting, clean your room first or use a set backdrop, lest your guest be subjected to the horrors on the shelves of your computer room.
The one problem with this process was that every story needs footage to go with it — footage I could only get by venturing out into the cold. Thankfully, standing on the balcony led to a good number of pictures and wide shots of the area, and when the snowplows did come to my section, filming them was a matter as easy as stepping out of the building and trying to dodge the dirty looks of plow drivers who couldn’t hear me explain my credentials, (that or they just wanted me to move and avoid being flattened). If you don’t count the repeated fleeing inside my building to warm up, the whole process took less than twenty minutes. The results, at least according to my superiors, were stunning, and even made it to CBS stations in New York. From a reach perspective, that’s essentially the highest point in my career. I can’t tell if it’s a good or a bad thing that it happened so early.
If I could give any advice to someone who wants to enter the field of journalism during a blizzard, it’s this: invest in a good phone camera. And also some heavy boots, if you want to avoid vastly underestimating the amount of snow on the ground and immediately ruining your entire pant leg as I did.
My first blizzard was a doozy, but it was a great learning experience, especially for the ones that have struck the state in recent months. To be frank, I can’t say I’m a fan of them, (although I highly doubt anyone is). Call me cynical or jaded all you like, but it’s honestly amazing how something I was once fascinated by and dreamed of seeing has become one of the most irritating features of my life in the short span of less than a year. I suppose like anyone who moves here for work, I’ll get used to it at some point — hopefully from the comfort of home, away from the freezing temperatures.
When these winter storms are over, it will be great to get back out in the community and continue doing what I love — showcasing the biggest events in and around North Dakota. Until the blizzards pass, it looks like the skills I learned during that first shut-in period will serve me well in the coming months. Until that transfer to the Caribbean goes through, at least…