Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Notes on the blizzard that wasn't -- at least not right where we are


"We'd love to come, but the weather
mongers have paralyzed us with fear."
Well, I stayed up a good part of the night waiting for the blizzard that didn’t come. And then, at about 3 A.M., the forecast was downgraded to overcast with a chance of flurries. The kid in me was disappointed, but the part that passes for an adult was really happy that I didn’t have to shovel my driveway.

I don’t fault de Blasio, Cuomo, or Christie for their abundance of caution, but enough already with the exuberant weathernoia of the television forecasters.

Also, memo to the forecasters in their hermetically sealed TV studios: Next to one of those humongous touch-screen displays, install a window.
-- New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff,
in a blogpost this afternoon,

by Ken

Before proceeding, let me look up to that phrase I added after the dash in the post title: "at least not right where we are." As we all know (don't we?), every when the weather folks correctly predict the general path of a storm, they still can't ever predict its exact path, and differences in distance that don't amount to much on the cosmic scale can count for a great deal on the ground. Here in NYC we got something like eight inches of snow -- not nothing, but a heap less than the two feet or more that was bandied about yesterday. However, to the east of us, on the eastern part of Long Island and on into New England, there was nothing "disappointing" about the storm that materialized. This morning, as the weather guy on the NY1 cable-news channel reviewed the situation, he said it wasn't quite true that the brunt of the storm "missed by a mile," that it was more like 23 miles. But they were an enormously significant 23 miles.

That said, you may recall that in my storm post last night, as we here in the Big Apple stood watch for a nor'easter threatening us with two feet of snow, if not more, I included Noah's prognostications, among which the first was:
1. The "Blaming of de Blasio" will begin by 7:00am on Tuesday.
Right on target, as it turned out. The wrinkle here is that what Big Bill stands charged with is overpromising stormwise, or should I say for overpreparing for a storm that just didn't measure up to the conjurings of the "weather mongers" featured in the Bob Mankoff cartoon pictured at the top of this post.

And, strangely (or maybe not so strangely), it seemed to be Big Bill rather than Boy Andrew, the governor of our empirical state, who stood accused of "overreacting," even though the decision to shut down the transit system by 11pm was the governor's and not the mayor's.

All of this, mind you, despite the fact that a regular feature of last night's all-storm coverage was the very near-impossibility of matching the level of storm preparedness to the level of eventual actual storm. How many times did we have the talking heads on the TV droning on about the dilemma of, on the one hand, doing too much to prepare for a storm that delivers too little as against, on the other hand, doing too little to prepare for a storm that delivers too much?

Of course, this was also a prominent feature of our last pre-storm talkathon, the run-up to Superstorm Sandy. And post-storm recriminations were pretty sharp then too, even though the level of damage could hardly have been more impressive or widespread. The storm itself, though, hadn't been the monster we were expecting; why, it hadn't even maintained its hurricane force -- hence, the rechristening from Hurricane to Superstorm Sandy. The damage was mostly caused by the rains in combination with tides.

Last night, as was widely noted, there was no precedent for a transit shutdown in anticipation of a snowstorm -- in part because the only precedent we had for a deliberate shutdown was the one for Sandy, when the shutdown may hardly have prevented damage to the system but assuredly protected an awful lot of transit resources that would surely have been lost otherwise, and also made the restart of the system, as slow as it was, a whole lot faster than it would have been otherwise. (Of course the biggest obstacled to the restart were the electrical-power outages and the devastation of the subway and under-the-river tunnels, in a city that sits almost entirely on islands.)

As NY1 showed us, rush hour on 14th Street wasn't terribly rushy this morning. Drivers who violated the traffic ban in force through this morning were threatened with summonses, but reportedly none were issued.

In addition to the transit shutdown, last night there was an equally unprecedented 13-county ban on non-emergency road traffic. So one thing we didn't see in NY1's endless on-location reports from reporters who were stationed at various points around the metropolitan area was traffic struggling along clogged roads. For that you need traffic and clogged roads. Instead we had pictures of locations around the metropolitan area that were traffic-free to an extent that probably nobody as seen since the invention of the automobile. Well, no, even farther back. Before there were motor vehicles, there were horse-drawn carriages and the like to clog those roads.

Times Square with no New Year's Eve revelers and also no traffic, anyone?


You just about can't win. Get people prepared for a level of mayhem that doesn't materialize and it's all your fault. Contrarily, fail to prepare for the actual level of mayhem and it's also all your fault.

What's more, as Noah was intimating last night, if you're Mayor Big Bill, you walk the city with a target on your big back. The odds are pretty good that whatever happens, it's going to be all your fault.

By morning we had known for hours that here in Gotham we weren't getting "historic storm" quantities of snow. By 9am word was that the subways were gradually being restarted, and by noon they should be running on a "Sunday schedule," meaning markedly lower levels of service than a normal "weekday" or even a "Saturday" schedule. I didn't know this yet, though, because about 7am I ended my overnight vigil in order to get some sleep, having no idea that this time the subways could be restarted so quickly, relatively speaking. (The NYC Transit people had planned this, apparently running trains all night to make sure the tracks were clear and the equipment was ready to roll when called upon.) Once I was up to speed, a couple of hours later, I decided I would give it a shot -- getting to work, that is -- still not really knowing what conditions I might encounter, not knowing even whether my office building would be up and running. I was all set to go, more or less, when my resolve failed me. Yeah, there's stuff I should have been doing at the office. We have publication schedules we're answerable to, and forcibly yanking a day out of the schedule isn't consequence-free. Oh well. It'll all be there for us tomorrow.


He thanks everyone for all their good wishes, and of course hopes to be back in harness soon. The doctors don't seem able to tell him much, though, and don't seem to much of a grasp of, or interest in, the concept of a "blogging chair."

SCHEDULE NOTE: Next post tomorrow at 7am PT/10am ET

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