It was the end of January ... and for all practical purposes, the end of Iowa.
In actuality, it really didn't come as a surprise. It had been building for decades, even centuries, but this year was just too much for people to handle. The final straw, if you will, or perhaps the final icicle would be a better way of describing it. It actually began shortly after the first of the year, but hardly anyone noticed. They should have.
The first signs of real trouble emerged in December. No one thought anything unusual was going on, but as each day got colder and colder, and the temperatures began to dip well below 0 degrees - and stay there - the natives became restless. And then some.
"When do you think this &%^$# is going to end?" was a common question bandied about.
"This can't last all winter, can it?" was the lament of many who were already showing physical signs of strain and stress.
"This is gonna be one helluva long winter if this keeps up," declared a local resident/pseudo-meteorologist. "It has to get better sooner or later, but I'm beginning to have my doubts. Big time."
By the end of December, some folks were already beginning to crack. "Why in the hell do we live here?" asked even the most die-hard Iowa citizens. "I don't know how much more of this I can take. I've had just about enough. I'm seriously thinking of abandoning this God-forsaken state and moving to Florida or Arizona. Enough is enough. I'd rather be broke and homeless rather than freeze to death. I just want to live where it's warm. I can't take this anymore."
Following Christmas, just about the entire population of Iowa was convinced the worst was over and the rest of the winter of 2013-14 would be one of the mildest on record, and the days of icy, snow-covered roads would quickly become a thing of the past. A distant memory that could be tossed aside with a flippant, "Well that's wintertime in Iowa."
But as the following days turned into weeks, and the weeks evolved into months, things didn't get better ... in fact they got worse. Much worse.
Not only did the sub-zero temperatures remain, record lows (especially with the wind-chill factor) became the ugly, disheartening norm rather than the exception.
The effect it had on everyone was undeniable. Folks who would normally greet you with a pleasant smile and a cheerful hello, just scowled and grunted as they walked by.
Tempers grew short. Patience had worn so thin you could see through it. The people of Iowa ... known for their warmness and pleasant attitude ... became downright mean. Loud, angry arguments ensued everywhere. Best friends for life became mortal enemies. No one trusted anyone else and it was destroying lives and relationships at a rapid pace. It was out of control.
When January finally arrived, all hope seemed lost. Iowans had given up - resigned to the depressing fact the winter would drag on and on until everything in its path was crushed - like a giant avalanche that had consumed the essence of Iowa and the true spirit of its normally easy-going people.
A dark, debilitating malaise descended over the entire state. People began talking to themselves ... muttering an endless chorus of despair. There seemed no relief in sight, and all were uneasy with how it was going to end. Most agreed it wouldn't, or couldn't, end well. How prophetic they were.
It all came to a head on Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 27-28. It's a two-day stretch that will live in Iowa infamy. Just when it seemed things couldn't get any worse ... it did, and then some. When the temperatures fell into the minus 20- to 30-degree range, with wind chills dipping to a deadly minus 50, people finally gave up. And who could blame them.
The rumors of a mass exodus reached the Decorah Newspapers' newsroom shortly thereafter. A journalist at heart, I was naturally curious and had to see for myself. I quickly jumped into my vehicle and sped off in search of the story. It didn't take long.
As I drove west into the heart of the state, the scene I encountered was devastating. Every major thoroughfare from Minnesota to Missouri, from Sioux City to Davenport, was jam-packed with pickup trucks, semis, automobiles pulling trailers, station wagons and just about every other mode of transportation known to man. They were bumper-to-bumper and moving at a snail's pace.
Wanting to interview someone, I stopped at a gas station and talked to a fella who had his entire family and their belongings stuffed into an undersized Chevy. As I approached, I immediately noticed a hollow, blank look in his eyes that rather unnerved me. His body was standing there before me, but his soul was gone.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"It's over. We're all getting the hell out of Iowa. We can't take it anymore. It's just not worth it."
"Where ya headed?" I implored.
"I have no idea," the forlorn man responded. "We're just heading south ... anywhere south has to be better than here. It sure couldn't be any worse."
And with that he turned and walked away. More than a little upset, I returned to my car and drove home. The news reports that followed confirmed what I had witnessed: residents were leaving Iowa en masse, never to return.
Within weeks, the state's population had dwindled to a few thousand. Businesses were closed. Supplies were non-existent. Mother Nature had won. Iowans are a hardy lot, but this winter had just been too much for even the toughest to handle. It was the end.
As for me, I purchased some property in Tahiti and have been soaking up the rays ever since. The wind chill is a balmy 80 degrees. Take that Iowa.