Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hyperbole

January 27, 2015
(Note: I don't consider myself a weather(wo)man basher. I know that forecasting is an inexact science. This link (http://thevane.gawker.com/why-nycs-historic-blizzard-didnt-live-up-to-the-hype-1681962448) offers a good explanation of the difficulty in making precise predictions. This sentence stands out howeverMeteorologists and weather outlets need to do a better job communicating all possibilities and not just the worst case scenario. My main complaint here is that the hype fosters the "oh my God!" aspects of our behavior.)


It's not the Blizzard of the Century here in southwestern Massachusetts but snow is falling in a curtain as I type, casting a gauzy veil between my cottage and the house next door. The trees look as though they've been penciled in against the horizon. Only the wee birds at the feeder just outside the window - the gray and white juncoes, the finches with their purple breasts or cranberry head caps or mustard yellow feathers, the black and white chickadees, the brilliant ruby red cardinal, the needle-beaked nuthatch - are clearly defined. A much stronger band of the storm batters the east coast. Already it's dumped snow in some towns that is measured in feet rather than mere inches and the entire island of Nantucket went off grid about 8 a.m. 

Because of predicted snowfall amounts and wind velocity, the entire state of Massachusetts was put under a state of emergency while the storm was still hours away. As it turned out, the storm made a "wobble," and the western third of the state was spared. But not before store shelves were emptied, schools and businesses were closed, and a statewide travel ban was imposed.

Snowstorms here in New England are a common occurrence. When I was growing up, the weatherman on the one TV station we got would warn us of impending snow and remind us to bundle up. Now terms like massive, historic, and unparalleled are bandied about. There are few maybes in the forecast and frightening scenarios accompany many weather reports. What used to be considered common sense precautions are reiterated a thousand times over. I can't recall a snowstorm where my parents panicked and fled to the supermarket to stock up. We often lost power in bad storms, winter and summer, so our flashlights always had charged batteries, we had a good supply of candles and matches, we were never short of bread or milk or toilet paper. If the heat went off we had a fireplace with a ready supply of wood, and there were plenty of extra blankets on the beds. We wore sweaters and two pairs of socks if we were cold. We had a gas stove that we had to light with a match so we were always able to make a hot meal. If we knew a storm was coming, my mother would fill the canning pot with water for washing and several glass milk bottles for drinking. 

For a number of years in the 70s and 80s, I homesteaded in Northern Vermont with my now ex-husband and our four young children. For the first couple of years we had no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing. Winters in northern VT are predictably cold and snowy. With no radio or TV, we relied on our windows, our bones (and sometimes our neighbors), to let us know what the weather was doing. Though there were a number of snowstorms that left over two feet of snow at once and the temperature could plunge to -40, we weren't paralyzed as people seem to be now. School was seldom called off. If the bus driver couldn't navigate the roads, he called the superintendent who called the firehouse and 3 blasts of the siren let us know school was cancelled for the day. Now schools are closed before a single flake falls.

I never thought I'd feel old fashioned, but I do. Perhaps it's common at this age to look back at what one's life was like 50, 30, even 10 years ago and make comparisons. And the weather will always remain relatively unpredictable. What I object to is the rhetoric. That, and the assumption that people don't know how to take care of themselves. All the drama of the weathercasters' language makes me squirm. Something isn't historic until it takes place. Why don't they just warn us that heavy snow is possible, remind us to look out the window before we head out the door, tell us to take common sense precautions and always be ready for an emergency?






13 comments:

Tabor said...

Many people do not have common sense and then get themselves in a situation that endangers others who have to rescue them and so we must enforce restrictions to make them stay at home. I think more people did their own canning and growing of food and meat and were better prepared than those who live in tiny apartments with little storage. Also, weather people do use data to determine if the weather is of historic proportions and with global climate change we are getting more dramatic weather changes. Unfortunately when the weather wobbles and people do not get the terrible weather they were expecting they blame it on weather people who are making the best guess that they can.

Stella Jones said...

I know how you feel Pauline. Things were different in my day too and you can't help but compare, can you. When I was a lot younger we had coal fires and provided you had enough coal in the bunker, you could be warm and fed. I think the difference on our roads is most marked and here in 'olde England' we also suffer from over enthusiastic weather reports. As Tabor says, people in small apartments cannot stock up and if the electric goes off, they are helpless. My heart goes out to them. My family is lucky enough to live in a cottage like you.
My school never closed and the buses always ran and nobody made a fuss. We just got on with it.
I hope it doesn't get too bad over there. Perhaps it will be less devastating than predicted.
Meanwhile enjoy the pretty landscape.

Pauline said...

Tabor, I understand and agree with what you're saying; on the other hand, news and weathercasters hype the storms so. I know there are people who find themselves in difficult circumstances when bad weather threatens. My gripe is more with the seeming loss of common sense of the folks that could cope if only they would, and with the media who employ megawords when ordinary ones would do.

Pauline said...

Stella - thanks for your comment. There have been people living in strenuous circumstances everywhere and in every era - I just find today's 24/7 insistence on the drama a bit much.

Brian Miller said...

it gets ridiculous around here when snow is predicted...stores empty...i have to wonder what happens to all that food when we get a little dusting...and the news..it is as much entertainment as anything these days...even the storms...since when do we name snow storms....and everything is storm of the century...and then...nothing...i agree with the common sense...it is lost on many

The Furry Gnome said...

Completely agree with your words today. The storm missed us entirely of course, and our forecasters got it right. But it's still too cold for me!

Out on the prairie said...

To make matters worse, we are going to make a record today possibly. Here in SE IA it may get 60, very little snow around. I guess we will have to wait for our historic storm, I am sure we still have 3 months to get pounded.I have only been sledding twice.

Pauline said...

Brian - I love words, but hyperbole 24/7 makes me grit my teeth and shake my head.

Furry Gnome - it is quite cold here, too and bound to get colder. Bundle up!

OOTP - we've had a mixed bag of weather this year, too. Your storms will come!

Marc Leavitt said...

Pauline:

The real problem is that weather has become theatre. To the media which disseminates forecasts, we are the tragic heroes who tempt the might of the storm at our peril.

On a more mundane level, it's good for business, when people stock up on supplies and cold weather apparel.

Here in Central Jersey, we had one of two inches of snow; frankly, I was disappointed. I no longer need to drive much,. and I like the winrter view from my balcony.

As far as winter weather is concerned, I look out my window. If it's grey, I figure snow is always a possibility; then I forget about it.

A Cuban In London said...

I've heard of the snow in the States and it's crazy. Great post. Thanks. We just had a little bit of sleet here today and they're talking of closing schools tomorrow! :-)

Greetings from London.

Friko said...

Litigation, litigation, litigation.
If they get it wrong they’ll never live it down.

Also, we have become soft and nothing must ever go wrong. We are ready to blame someone, anyone, if things stop functioning perfectly.

Actually, I don’t like us all that much. Whatever happened to common sense and self sufficiency, as you describe here?

Pauline said...

Marc, I agree, weather has become TV drama. It's so unnecessary. A big storm is drama in and of itself.

Hi Cuban - we've about a foot on the ground and more falling. It's lovely to look at though I know my son who lives near Boston is tired of shoveling the nearly 4 feet that's accumulated there.

Friko - common sense? I think it went out with responsibility :(


Barbara Shallue said...

I agree with you. There's way too much drama infused into absolutely everything! However, I can't even imagine spending a winter in Vermont with no indoor plumbing. No matter what you think, you are a tough cookie!