I live in the forgotten country — the lost land of the Blackstone Valley — where no one tells you nothing. When weather people stand in the studio and do their predicting, they always position themselves so you can see the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts except where we live because that is where they always stand. If they give a passing mention to the valley, that’s a lot. I have learned to read weather maps because I’m not going to get any information any other way.
Dinosaurs could be roaming the Valley and no one would notice unless one of them ate a tourist.
We’re turning the corner into summer, usually a relatively quiet weather period. Except for the massive tornado in Oklahoma and the violent storms here today, part of the same huge weather system that’s affecting almost the entire country from the west to New England. Last year we had Sandy the super-storm, a weather system so extensive the entire east coast and many places inland were sucked into the vortex.
The coming of Sandy the monster storm was announced with the usual hysteria. In the end, it missed us, though not by much. It devastated areas all around us, but we slipped through a little bubble between pieces of storm. I saw it on the weather map, but it was such a little bubble, if the storm’s path had altered even the tiniest bit, we would have been engulfed. Sandy was a huge, evil storm. The thing is, with all the over-the-top hype, I paid very little attention to it because I’m so used to the weather folks making everything sound like the end of the world is coming. So I didn’t make even the smallest preparations until the last possible moment, by which time no even had bottled water to buy. I’d been so numbed by all the hyperbole about previous storms that never materialized, it became meaningless noise.
That’s what’s wrong with the all-frenzy-all-the-time approach to weather forecasting. It’s become the standard all over the place.
In this neck of the woods, we got a lot of weather. A local running joke is “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” We tend to be glum and resigned about snow because most winters, we get a lot of it. Sometimes so much we wonder if the roof will cave in under the weight. Roofs actually do collapse, so it isn’t entirely unrealistic to worry about it.
Blizzards, tropical rains and hurricanes, hail, sleet, ice storms, powerful thunder squalls (we’re having one right now) that down trees and power lines and occasionally become tornadoes … we get it all. Not the gigantic twisters, but pretty much everything else. Everything is normal here. That’s just the way it is in New England and always has been, far as I know.
This is a river valley and a watershed. Rivers overflow. When they do, you can row, row, row your boat down the Main Street of any town in the valley, all of which are built along the banks of the Blackstone or one of its many tributaries. Some lucky villages, like Uxbridge, have both the Blackstone and a major tributary (the Mumford) running through the middle of town.
It produces beautiful autumn foliage pictures, but autumn can also be pretty sodden. When hurricanes are active, we may not get most of the wind, but we get shockingly heavy rains. To put things in perspective, the Blackstone isn’t the Mississippi. Our towns don’t wash away. It may take a few days for flood water to recede, but that’s as far as it goes. Basements get flooded, trees come down, but it isn’t the end of the world, just a pain in the butt. And sometimes expensive.
We are hardly the only area with rapidly changing, unpredictable, and sometimes bizarre weather, but we do get more hysterical about it than they do in many other places. Our TV meteorologists become crazed as weather systems approach. You’d think they’d never seen a snowstorm before as they predict blizzards to rival or exceed the big one in 1978. The blizzard of ’78 was in fact a monumental storm and has become The Storm against which all others are measured. It was a killer and only a handful of meteorologists predicted it correctly. Sometimes, the weather actually exceeds the hype. Many of our worst storms are under predicted. The bigger the hoopla, the more likely it is to fizzle.
Wherein lies the problem.
Why get upset about the frenzy? It’s harmless, isn’t it? Weather sells. When big weather systems, like hurricanes or blizzards threaten, people who normally don’t watch the news tune in. Higher ratings, lots of teasers (“Seven feet of snow on the way!! Will you be buried tomorrow? Story at 11!”), and excited meteorologists. It’s money in the bank. Doom is a perennial best-seller.
I understand why TV station love to whip everyone into a frenzy. For them, it’s just business. Weather prediction doesn’t carry with it the usual issues of journalistic responsibility. No one can call you to task for being wrong because, after all, it’s the weather.
I don’t get why people who live here get so lathered up. My neighbors know it’s going to snow in the winter. They know it’s going to rain in the spring. We all know it’s likely to flood at some point. You hope it won’t be your basement. Almost everyone has a sump, a pump, drains and ditches to deal with spring flooding. It’s messy and inconvenient, but hardly unexpected. So why do they buy into the frenzy? They ought — logically — to know better, wouldn’t you think?
The frenzy is not harmless.
Because the media treats every weather event like the end of the world, it makes it impossible to figure out if this next thing is serious or just more of the same. Should we lay in supplies? Ignore it? Plan to evacuate? Fill all the water containers? Cancel travel plans? Make travel plans? Head for the shelters?
Hysteria is exhausting and worse, it is numbing. Some of us actually worry when confronted with the possibility of weeks without electricity, wondering where we could go with our family and dogs — only to realize we have nowhere to go. Telling us our world is ending is upsetting if you believe it, dangerous if it’s serious and we don’t believe it.
And who believes those guys any more? They really shouldn’t say that stuff unless it’s true. Or at least might be true. And they actually believe it’s true.
I’m assuming in areas like Oklahoma weather forecasters hold themselves to a higher standard so people won’t die because they have no faith in their meteorologists. I sure hope so.
As for me, if I can’t see the danger on a weather map, I don’t believe it. None of it.
It’s rude to scare us to death, then say “Sorry folks, forget I said that.” We don’t forget. It’s like telling the jury to ignore the testimony. You can’t unring the bell. Meteorologists are becoming bad boys who cry wolf. When the real deal occurs — and periodically, it does — will we believe them? I probably won’t and maybe that will be a dangerous mistake.
They may not be legally required to adhere to any journalistic standards, but maintaining some credibility might be a good idea.
I’m just saying, you know?
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- Heavy thunderstorms and strong winds possible through Wednesday (pennlive.com)
- Weather on the outer planets only goes so deep (scooprocket.com)
- Extreme Protection for Extreme Weather (allstate.com)
Today is my birthday. It’s also the anniversary of the biggest, baddest blizzard to ever hit the east coast of the United States. This year, it snowed just the other day. There’s talk of more snow next week. The early part of March is frequently stormy. Blizzards are relatively common, though usually when the sun is this high in the sky, the snow melts pretty quickly. But not always.
I appear to have been karmically destined for snowy climes. This is not only the story of a storm, but a cautionary tale to never forget winter isn’t over until the daffodils are in bloom. You can never overestimate how dangerous weather in this region can be, especially this time of year when wind patterns become unstable with the upcoming change of seasons.
I was born in Brooklyn, New York on March 11. There had been a blizzard a few days before, but apparently it wasn’t a problem because I was safely born in Brooklyn Women’s Hospital. Nonetheless, throughout my childhood, no one in my family ever neglected to mention the blizzard that had hit the area just before I was born.
Early March is a fine time for big snowstorms in the northeast. March 11, 1888 brought the biggest winter storm to ever hit the region. Known locally as the Brooklyn Blizzard of 1888 and up and down the east coast as the Great White Hurricane, it is my birthday blizzard, a foretaste of Marilyn to come. Or something like that.
It was the worst blizzard to ever hit New York city and broke records from Virginia to Maine. It remains one of the worst — and most famous — storms in United States history. Accumulations of 40 to 50 inches were recorded. It’s hard to picture how much snow that is unless you’ve been through a few really big snowstorms. The deepest snow from one storm in my life so far was 28 inches. That’s only a bit more than half the amount of the 1888 blizzard. Despite all the changes and improvements to technology and infrastructure, that volume of snow would still paralyze us today. It’s more snow than any infrastructure can handle.
Did I mention snow is heavy? 50 inches on a standard roof will cause it to cave in. It would crush us.
It wasn’t merely a snow storm. The super storm included sub-zero temperatures and gale force winds. It was one of those occasions when people get put in their place, forcibly reminded of how strong Mother Nature is.
The storm blanketed areas of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. It carried with it sustained winds of more than 45 miles per hour. It produced drifts in excess of 50 feet. My house, at its peak, is about 40 feet, so so we are talking about drifts as high as a three-story building.
All forms of transportation were stopped. Roads and railroads were unusable. People were trapped in their houses for up to a week.
The Great White Hurricane paralyzed the U.S. East Coast from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine. The storm extended all the way up into the Atlantic provinces of Canada. The telegraph went down, leaving major cities including Montreal, New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Boston without communication for days to weeks. Because of the storm, New York began putting its telegraph and telephone wiring underground to protect it from future disasters.
The seas and coastlines were not spared. In total, from the Virginia coast to New England, more than 200 ships were grounded or wrecked and more than 100 seamen died.
125 years later, no winter storm has topped the big one of 1888.
- The Great White Hurricane Of 1888 (stevengoddard.wordpress.com)
- U.S. blizzards to begin getting names (kshb.com)
- Hurricane Sandy’s big size presents huge problems (earthsky.org)
- Major Blizzards in U.S. History (history.com)
- Nemo’s Got Nothing On 1888 (newhavenindependent.org)
- Worst Blizzards in History (katenews2day.wordpress.com)
- NOAA : Five Worst Snowstorms In US History All Occurred Before 1960 (stevengoddard.wordpress.com)
- Ye Blizzard Men and Ladies (city-journal.org)
It seemed appropriate — what with getting all these awards during the last few days — that this is the week I hit another landmark. On November 9th, I passed 20,000 hits and today, exactly 3 weeks later, I hit
From February 2012, through the end of September, I gathered 10,000 hits. It took me a slightly more than a month to get the next 10,000. On November 9, I was at 20, 783.
At 11:38 pm — right now — I am at 30,044, which is just about 10,000 hits in three crammed weeks.
When there’s a lot of stuff going on, people come looking for more than information. We all want explanations, validation, confirmation that what we believe is right or what we disbelieve is wrong. Those of us who put ourselves out there gain a certain amount of popularity, maybe notoriety or at least a degree of attention in return for fending off a lot of flak for having expressed opinions with which others do not agree. I try to back my opinion with facts, at least as far as I am can establish whatever facts exist. In the end though, facts are slippery as eels, subject to innumerable interpretations. Statistics are easily twisted to support virtually any position. Numbers are neutral, but what we do with them is not.
November 2012 was a newscaster and blogger’s dream. The richness of the available subject matter for a writer was unlimited. It gave me a lot of room to stretch my writer’s wings, to try writing about things that would normally not fall in my purview.
The dreams of writers and reporters inevitably are built on events that are someone else’s nightmare. Sometime since the advent of electronic media has come to dominate the news industry, news no longer means information about current events … what’s happening. It used to be that news might be good or bad. News was merely “new.” It was the newness that counted, not any predetermined content.
It’s different now. Today, all news is bad news. “If it bleeds, it leads” is the unofficial motto of newsrooms around the nation and probably the globe. Violence and death draws an audience. If a story has a happy ending, it’s likely relegated to feature status or considered “not newsworthy” and thus completely ignored.
Lacking fresh disasters, the next hot ticket in the news biz are scandals, financial crises, sports, weather, and anything happening to a celebrity. These days, we have celebrities who are famous for being famous. They’ve never done anything noteworthy. They don’t act, sing, play an instrument or invent things. They aren’t politicians or scientists. They are nobodies. I hope I am never desperate enough to write about any of them. Since I have pretty much no idea of who is currently famous, I’m unlikely to write about them. Most of the time, guests on talk shows are strangers to me. I can’t tell one from another. Neither can my husband. If you are looking for the latest gossip, I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere. I have neither information nor opinions on the subject.
I plead guilty to enjoying lively discussion and controversy, though I require civility however much we disagree. I figure we should be able maintain the same level of manners in public disputation that we would demand of a 5-year-old. That has turned out to be an unreasonably high expectation when issues of national importance were under discussion. No kindergarten teacher would allow such appalling behavior from her charges, but we not only tolerate, but actually encourage worse behavior from public figures.
As angry as I have been about policies and issues, I have been far more upset by the bad behavior of public figures, many with advanced degrees slinging mud, calling names, and clearly trying to incite violence. There ought to be limits, there ought to be a level below which we will not sink. Watching “Lincoln” yesterday reminded me how uncivil our public behavior has been over the years. The difference between then and now is the presence of electronic media that allows everyone to immediately see — in real-time — how ill-mannered we really are. It used to be a dirty little secret; now it’s an international embarrassment.
The sheer energy generated by so many major events occurring at the same time helped me gain an audience at a faster rate than I could have done had there not been so many important events occurring. There was Sandy, the giant storm. A storms is inherently uncivil. Storms have an excuse. They have no brain cells, just mighty wind, rain or snow … so a storm has an excuse for mindlessness, but what excuse can there be for people like Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck? Perhaps they too lack brain cells. But more likely, they simply like a conscience and the level of manners required of a pre-schooler.
I get a reasonable number of regular visitors these days. I’m not exactly viral but I have an acceptable following. The number of visitors rises and falls according to some invisible tide over which I have nominal control . When Serendipity’s visitor count first popped up from 70 or 80 on a good day to over a thousand, I figured it was a fluke and would fizzle. As I expected, the visitor count has leveled off, but apparently people who initially dropped by for a particular post continued to return for other things. I am more inclined to trust the new, steadier numbers I get now than the wild up and downs surges of early and mid November.
It’s harder to find relevant, exciting content when there are no super exciting events in progress, but I try to stay relevant, try to find interesting subjects. Maybe make a few people laugh or at least smile. I like offering historical background for whatever is going on, the rest of the story we didn’t get in elementary school. Understanding the world is easier if you have the perspective of history. Context counts.
Thanks for reading, thanks for being my friends and making me feel that I’m still a real live part of the living world. Let’s all hope that this year is going to be a better one than last year. Maybe less full of news, but more full of joy!