Here in mid-January, the return to routine after the holidays was disrupted by the arrival of snow and ice across Louisiana.
Last month, many residents welcomed the rare presence of snow as a yuletide treat. But the unusual weather this week proved more sinister, as ice closed roads, caused traffic deaths, and claimed at least one life from hypothermia.
In West Feliciana, a deputy fire chief, Russell Achord, died when a car crashed into a disabled 18-wheeler that Achord had stopped to assist. Slippery road conditions prompted the tragedy.
In Metairie, an 8-month-old infant, Kollage Le-Silva, died when the car his mother was driving slid from a slippery bridge. Earlier, a 57-year-old man was killed in a New Orleans accident also blamed on icy conditions.
And in New Roads, 84-year-old Paul Maker died and his wife was hospitalized because they were unable to heat their home as the temperatures plummeted.
A state tested by floods and hurricanes knows what horrors nature can bring, but we’re not so familiar with the terrors of cold. This week’s weather, which included many other car accidents, brought a powerful reminder that snow, ice and frigid temps are far from benign.
The eerily empty highways and streets this week also brought to mind the old adage that providence tests us by granting us what we wish for. How often, stuck in traffic, have we fantasized about roadways devoid of cars? Yet the sight of ghost roads — vacant interstates blanketed in white — seemed surreal and unsettling, like some post-nuclear landscape.
And that wistful desire for a little frost and chill, a common longing among Louisiana residents who sometimes find themselves in shorts and flip-flops on warm winter days, was fulfilled with a vengeance this week, as the mercury dropped into the teens.
It’s hard to know what’s more extreme these days — our politics or our weather. After the floods and hurricanes of 2017, this year is off to an equally dramatic start, with heart-breaking mudslides in California and now, this bitter battle with cold that’s extended into the Deep South.
Once again, nature has brought the news that we’re not as powerful as we think we are, that tragedy can touch those from every walk of life, and that we’re all bound by the common promise and predicament of an unpredictable planet.
Maybe if we took that lesson to heart, our civic life right now wouldn’t be as unforgiving as the winter.