More cars arriving on the scene despite the warnings not to go up, we were sure they had heard the news by then but probably thought it wasn't as bad as the media made out, I'm sure they regretted it once they encountered these blizzards. The occupants of these cars would later join the many stranded here during the night. Some of these hand held shutter speeds were 1/30 sec or more. Impressive drifts blowing across the road at this point.
We turned and came back up again for another look for the 3rd or 4th time. That van was still there, which seemed to mark the point where no one could cross. The area ahead, and to the L, was where I was taking images of the Zodiacal Light earlier in the month, it was incredible to see such a dramatic change during that period, it would be impossible to drive a tractor up that small road now. The headlights caught another good drift playing road runner. Thank goodness for the dipped and full beams, without them I would have got no images at all.
Conor did another tight turn which involved sliding the car to the R to face back E again. The headlights showed a tremendous snowdrift in front of us. You can see the posts from a fence sticking out from the drifts, the posts to the far L and R are almost completely covered, the fence is on a steep bank so these drifts must be many feet high. Below the fence is a lay by buried under snow, if you where parked in there the snow would probably be covering the car over the bonnet.
The challenging turn was completed and we where facing back E again towards more blowing snow. It was a thrill to be driving through this, Conor and I were having a fantastic time, there was just so much to take in. Time seemed to freeze and have no meaning, I couldn't decide if we had been up here a long time or a very short interval. I was constantly taking still images, setting the Canon on my lap, then picking up the Fujifilm to take video in an endless cycle while at the same time trying to absorb the visual scene and take in as much information as possible.
This was a fantastic 'snow-blow', very powerful and fast as it hit the car sounding like hundreds of tiny pebbles on the bodywork. Conor ran out into the blizzard and came back in again just to feel what it was like. I watched him standing near one of the large drifts while wind blew filmy blankets of snow into him and across the road like a white sand storm over the dunes of a desert. We drove back to Maghera buzzing from the experience then Conor told his Mum and Dad about what was happening so they decided to follow us back up again in another car to see for themselves. Their car ended up spinning in the deeper snow so we had to run out into the blizzard again and push the car back onto the road. We began to worry about the conditions and decided to head back home again before we got trapped for good. When I got back home I couldn't wait to tell my family about what we had experienced, they couldn't believe that we had gone up so many times after hearing the news reports. The storm continued all through the night and got considerably worse. During the night the power went out several times and the street lights stayed off all night which is something I haven't seen in years. Just as I was about to fall asleep, around 04.30 BST, I saw a bright blue flash of lightning in the eastern sky among the falling snow, my Aunt reported seeing many more flashes during the night. As I drifted off to sleep I could hear the wind howling and the snow making it's distinctive sound as it hit the pane, I recall thinking that this more like an Autumn Atlantic storm, then I was in sleepsville.
March 31st. Checked out the news the next morning and it was clear a major event had taken place. The storm got even worse during the night with stronger winds and heavier snow which dropped the temps down to -30 deg C in the wind chill. The blizzard, combined with flying ice crystals, produced an ice storm, which combined with the winds brought down power lines and snapped telegraph poles like match sticks. As a result between 30,000 and 50,000 homes went without power, some of which stayed that way for days after the event. Back on Glenshane it was a complete nightmare when people became trapped in the storm with snowdrifts on the road going up to the windows, some cars were almost completely covered in snow, for those inside it was a frightening ordeal. A major rescue operation had taken place during the night by Police, Mountain Rescue, and Coastguard helicopters. People where moved to halls in Maghera and Dungiven where they spent the remainder of the night before returning to their vehicles the following day. Some residents said it was the worst snow storm they had witnessed in over 40 years of driving these roads.
Conor drove up again during the late morning and got some great shots of the huge snowdrifts. I decided to go back up again later in the afternoon for a look and brought my Mum with me as I wanted her to witness this rare scenes. Once again the main road was closed off by the Police as a major clean-up operation was taking place so we went up the back roads to get by them. It was clear that this would be unsuccessful due to the snow on the mountain roads so we pulled over and just enjoyed the amazing view. There where still plenty of snow showers falling over the mountains including some decent convection and mammatus displays.
One of the mountain roads after the ploughs had been through earlier. By the evening time I drove around to Conor and together we went back up again for a final view, almost 24 hours since we where last on the top. This time the road was open and very well cleared so driving wasn't a problem, and much to my delight there was very little traffic on the road due to the media hype which must have scared people away from the area. This was to our advantage as we could now take our time checking out the drifts and get images.
This was a scene which doesn't look great on camera but which looked stunning with the naked eye. The snow on top of the hills and mountains was blowing across the peaks by the strong winds which lifted the snow skyward into large fluffy columns which could be seen against the entire skyline as they raced across the mountains at high speed. You can see these in this image blowing down the hills through the power lines, we were certain there was plenty of snow devils twisting up there and Conor believed he seen two of them through this zoom lens. These were difficult to photograph though in the low light. I would have liked a 400mm fixed lens for these but didn't have one so had to contend with the 55mm zoom for this shot.
The clouds parted in the W while snow showers fell to the E and S. The low Sun appeared turning the clouds pink. We pulled over near the entrance to the Cattle grid to get images, it was impossible to drive over it due to the deep snow so we got out and explored this beautiful Winter wonderland.
The snowdrifts here were huge and deep, it was hard work trying to walk through them. They were so deep that we could literally walk over the wire fences from field to field which Conor was doing here. The winds had created dramatic sculptures in the drifts.
It has probably been 50 or more years since anyone can say they could walk over fences due to the depth of snow. This wasn't even the deepest place either, far from it in fact, I just took this image because I was closer to hit.
These were seriously deep, check out the height of the drifts on the LHS, there's a drop/ditch below that fence, it's not flat ground flush with the rest of the land, so it would probably be > 8ft deep. Conor was having a great time, after spending nearly 2 years in the hot temps of Australia this was just shocking in contrast.
Conor near his waist in snow. I followed his foot steps and noted that his current height in the snow was due to his weight, however he was not standing anywhere near the ground, if you jumped hard on the snow you would go down to your chest. There where drifts on the other side of the road near the hills which would have covered your head!. The cold, combined with the wind chill here, was unbearable and we were only out 5 min's. Blowing snow, like tumbleweed, meandered across the drifts into our faces and stinging our eyes, I had to turn my back to them to get images. Our fingers were killing us due to the cold, after a few min's I was pressing the shutter button and wondered why the AF points in the viewfinder were not turning green, I thought my new camera was damaged until I realized that I had lost the feeling in my fingers to the extent that I couldn't feel the button. After getting images for the record we ran back to the car and warmed up. The heater was agony on our hands as we looked at one another shouting ''aggghhhh'' and asked ourselves, why do we do things like this?.
Afternoon video clip just before rush hour
Dusk/night video clip
Above are two video clips taken at different times of the afternoon and evening throughout our adventure on the 30th. I should state that these clips don't do justice at all to the horrendous conditions we experienced, especially the session during darkness, however it was the best we could do at the time given the extreme conditions. Snow is not unusual in Ireland during March, or even early April, in fact we have a higher chance of getting a white Easter than a white Christmas, however this year we got both (09/10). What is unusual is a snow storm of this caliber in conjunction with strong winds and an ice storm. I would rate this event, along with the frozen lakes, as my two favourite extreme Winter experiences to date. We both shall never forget it and hope that future Winters will produce an increasing frequency of severe conditions like this. Thanks for reading.