It’s 11:15 on a Tuesday morning. Usually I would be sitting at my desk at work, proofreading articles. But instead, I’m sitting at my kitchen counter writing a blog post on (what I like to call) an authorized day off.
Yesterday, as the threat of a major snowstorm rocked the northeast, both my office and my university decided that safety is more important than productivity, a decision that I fully agree with. At work, we moved production up a day and got the bulk of the newspaper done yesterday so we could take today off and still get the paper to press on Wednesday morning. My classes were held virtually through GoToMeeting so that students did not have to risk driving to campus.
Most of the areas under the blizzard watch/warning saw business closures, driving bans, and intense snow preparation in the wake of a prediction of up to two feet. And what did we wake up to? Almost nothing.
The areas that were hit the hardest really did get quite a lot of snow, as well as high winds. My sister is up in Boston and things were, and still are, fairly intense up there. I’ve also heard that Long Island got it bad. But here in north central New Jersey, a mere 30 miles from New York City, the prediction of 18-24″ turned out to be almost nothing (I would say that my town got maybe 5″ total).
I’ve been seeing a lot of backlash in regards to this storm — comments about the competency of the weather forecasters and public officials abound. But here’s the thing, folks: weather is, at its core, unpredictable. Was a major storm coming our way? From what I understand, it absolutely was. But storms of any multitude are subject to change. If I’ve learned anything living in the northeastern United States for 24 winters, it’s that snowfall often falls short of what’s predicted.
But what about when it doesn’t? What about the 7 feet of snow that rocked an unprepared Buffalo, NY just a few short months ago?
I absolutely understand that the affected areas were overprepared for this storm. We even had Geofilters on SnapChat that coincided with the expected blizzard.
But what if we weren’t overprepared and we ended up with 2-3 feet of snow?
This storm actually came at an interesting time for me. One of my classes this semester is a crisis communications class, which, coincidentally, met last night via GoToMeeting. We began discussing media sensationalism, a trend that has been affecting story coverage of everything from weather to medical crises. While often rooted in fact, media sensationalism is problematic because of the way it uses fear mongering tactics to incite public outrage. In a way, though, I don’t blame the media as a whole. I blame the publics who blow things way out of proportion.
Take this storm, for example. As prediction after prediction came from weather forecasters yesterday, I saw so many people right in line with the media to call this the “storm of the century.” I watched the ShopRite next to my office fill with a constant flow of people throughout the day — presumably the same people who, today, are calling out the weather forecasters and public officials for “bullsh*t” storm predictions. It’s amazing how fast mentalities can switch when things don’t go exactly as planned.
The way I see it, the public officials who make the calls on closures (whether it be for schools, businesses, roads, or whatever) are in a bit of a catch 22. If they don’t do enough — if they don’t call off school fast enough, or don’t prepare enough DPW trucks to handle the impending storm — the publics are outraged. If not enough is done to prepare for a storm, and the storm ends up being really bad, lives are on the line (again, thinking back to all the people stranded on the roads in Buffalo). People can get hurt. But if those same officials overprepare — call for closures a day early, line up DPW trucks, and instate travel bans — and then we get almost no snow, publics are again outraged because of all the inconveniences.
There is no perfect way to prepare for a storm. I’ve read a few articles this morning on why the predictions for this storm ended up being so off base (this one is one of the best explanations I’ve seen today), and to be fair, the officials did everything right. Because what if it had been the storm of the century? What if, instead of waking up to five inches of snow, our area woke up to the 2-3 feet that was predicted? We would have been ready. Our towns would have been easily prepared to handle that amount of snow.
I’m disheartened by all the griping I’ve seen about this storm being a “bust.” Don’t fault the weather forecasters — they did their best with the information they had. Don’t fault the officials who called closures — they were simply doing their best to make the area as safe as possible for everyone. We were ready, and the storm didn’t come. Think of how much worse it could have been if we weren’t ready.
And you know what? The snow is actually really pretty. And for a while, there was a peace and quiet outside that only ever comes with a snowstorm. It was lovely.
Enjoy the day off (if you’ve got one). I know I’m enjoying the head start on my schoolwork.