Panicking because of “Juno”

The Thinker by Rodin

That’s what the marketers at The Weather Channel are calling the snowstorm now hitting the northeast coast: Winter Storm Juno. They do this I think because they can, even though the National Weather Service won’t deign to name these winter storms. Juno, or whatever you call it, has our attention as we are in a hotel in Western Massachusetts and are not particularly prepared for a blizzard.

What I was prepared for was 5-6 inches of snow to fall here on Tuesday, because that was the forecast when we left. By the time we had arrived last night the anticipated storm had turned into another Snowmageddon, with New York City’s mayor warning residents that the snow storm could be of epic proportions. This of course had me turning our hotel room’s television to the Weather Channel so I could join in all the anxiety. Last night 18 – 24 inches were expected to fall out here in Northampton. Later in the evening it had turned into two feet or more. Meanwhile, we are at a hotel here in Hadley, Massachusetts with a problematic tire, me with no snow boots and no snow shovel to dig out our car with. It was not hard for me to imagine how the situation could get worse, dangerously worse even. Our hotel loses power, no one arrives to make us breakfast and with all the grocers and restaurants closed down we were left to survive by breaking the glass on the hotel’s vending machine for calories. Actually, it would be worse than that. When we asked the hotel clerk, he said if the hotel loses power for eight hours, all guests have to leave. I guess we find shelter from a shrieking blizzard inside our car, or perhaps by tunneling our way into a snowbank. I understand snow is pretty good insulation.

Traveling in New England in the winter is always chancy, but I figured we could dodge this bullet too. As regular readers know, we are trying to get a house built up here, and that meant we needed to meet with the builder and architect, something best done in person. The sooner we can start construction, the sooner that we can move in. And so we came up again, although we were last here just five weeks ago. This time, because she is on vacation, our adult daughter Rose came with us. I guess she was curious to see why the heck we wanted to move 500 miles from her.

Fortunately, “Juno” deferred arrival until after our planned Monday meeting. Temperatures were in the teens, winds were brisk and the snowbanks were already high around here from a foot of snow dumped just a few days ago. We met with the builder and designer in a brisk and business-like meeting around noon, with still some open questions when it was over. Our sales agreement is not yet complete. Even if we can nail it down, no earth will start moving until we cough up five percent of the sales price and the city of Northampton agrees to allow the builder to at least dig a basement and put in a foundation. Even in the best case, after they move potentially two feet of snow off our property to be, it will take at least a week for some earth to literally move.

So for right now, our house is a longer-term problem, and “Juno” gives me something to fret over. My wife, a former Michigander that is used to large snowstorms, is literally blowing this off. “We’ll be fine,” she says and she condescendingly agreed to go buy some food and a snow shovel to assuage my sense of panic. Yeah, but she wasn’t a Boy Scout. I have to “be prepared”. Unfortunately, I wasn’t enough of a Boy Scout to be fully prepared before we left.

And so we are scrambling. Can we spend another day at the hotel if needed? Yes. Is there a backup generator at our hotel? No. Will there be a breakfast on Tuesday and Wednesday morning provided by the hotel? Probably, if someone can get here to prepare it. Will local restaurants be open? It depends on the amount of snow and wind, of course, but most if not all probably will shut down. We might be able to get a pizza delivered and most convenience stores (if you can get to them) should be open. In short, it’s unlikely, if we are eating at all, that we’ll be eating healthy.

So before “Juno” arrives, you scrounge instead. Hatfield is basically a huge strip, so scrounging is easy. I found some snow boots at a Famous Footware across the street. Target had a snow shovel in case I have to dig out the car. They also have some food we can heat if microwave in our room still has electricity. The Big Y around here passes for the Giant Food we have back home, and we bought more provisions there. Now we wait for “Juno”.

The forecast for our area is now 12 to 18 inches with high winds, which means blowing snow. Our realtor thinks the interstates will be clear and open on Wednesday when we plan to go home. I’ll try to turn on the Weather Channel less and slip into the hot tub adjacent to the hotel’s pool more.

At least until the power goes out.

Snow rules for Washington D.C.

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s snowing outside at my home here in Northern Virginia. It’s hard to measure the current amount of snow given the drifts, but I am guessing it is about a foot of snow and more is still falling. This makes it a major snow event for our area. This will likely the biggest such event since Snowpocalypse and Snowmageddon back in late 2009 and early 2010. With our power lines underground, we’re good.

Thanks to the polar vortex, snow has not been unknown this season, although it had not arrived in substantial quantities until last night. Mostly what we’ve known are well below freezing temperatures instead. I used to wear my parka a couple of times a year. For weeks I’ve worn nothing outside but my parka, and an insulated hat, and my warmest and thickest gloves and sometimes a scarf as well. In short, it’s been a real winter, of the sort I remember from my childhood in upstate New York. It shows no sign of leaving anytime soon. The polar vortex is quite happy where it is, thank you very much.

If these events and cold weather go on long enough, it may actually change the snow culture of the Washington area. It hasn’t happened yet. There are rules and a protocol for dealing with snow that are generally unique to our area. If you are thinking of relocating to the Washington D.C. area, here is what to expect:

  • If there is a rumor of snow in the forecast, even if it is a week away, it will be Topic A around the office water cooler. It will send the local meteorologist wannabee in your office to find the most crazy and outlandish forecast, which will spread like wildfire. A chance of snow next Friday will morph into a killer supercell snowstorm because of some odd European forecast model, which professional meteorologists scorn. Guess which forecast your office-mates will believe?
  • Because of the above (or sometimes just the rumor that there might be snow in the next month) you are required to immediately rush to the store to buy milk and toilet paper. Everyone will get the same bright idea at once, which will mean that parking lots will be jammed, store shelves will empty and toilet paper and milk won’t be able to be found which will also be true of the snow. A true Washingtonian knows that even if you have a couple of months supply of toilet paper, and an extra refrigerator stashed with gallons of milk, you are still required to go buy more milk and toilet paper. It’s the rule! You can never possibly have enough, because it could be weeks before a snowplow gets to your street.
  • The federal government is required to dither about whether it will close its offices or not, leaving great uncertainty and confusion because most local governments, institutions and businesses will follow whatever the government does. The poor director of the Office of Personnel Management will get squeezed from both sides trying to call it. Taxpayers don’t like federal employees getting a paid day off and federal employees don’t like getting stuck in snowdrifts going to and from the office or for that matter, working. So the OPM chief is bound to make someone unhappy and upset. Congress will conveniently gavel their sessions to an early close so they can get out of town, while conducting hurried interviews on their way to the airport about the outrage of giving federal workers another day off with pay. In any event, there is a 50% chance the OPM director will call it wrong and a 100% chance that someone will be mortally offended and call for his removal.
  • Some Republican congressman will say that the snowstorm is proof positive that global warming is not happening. Actually, a half dozen or more of them will, but only one will make the papers.
  • The plowing rules are straightforward: when you don’t particularly need your street to be plowed it will be plowed. When you really need it, it won’t be. Our last three-incher brought the plow down our street twice during the night. Getting out of my driveway in the morning was not a problem and my street was nicely sanded with mostly bare pavement. This snowstorm likely means a couple of days before a plow arrives. They are too busy plowing the main roads that no one can get to than to bother with places where actual people live. In general, particularly in Virginia, the snow removal budget will always be underfunded assuming the most optimistic forecast for the winter and there will be great consternation when lots of snow arrives and there isn’t the money to remove the snow quickly. It’s the price of limited government and keeping taxes low.
  • Your local school district works just the opposite of the director of OPM. They want schools to close and actively look for reasons to shut the school down. No one complains except those whiny parents who probably have to work and can’t get childcare. No one in the school system gives a crap about them. A rumor of snow or ice a week away is sufficient to close schools. A temperature in the single digits, and sometimes in the teens, is a reason to close schools. Principles, teachers and students all expect lots of bogus snow days. When the year draws to an end and enough instruction days were not delivered, someone will waive the requirement to extend the school year because, duh, parents have vacation plans already!
  • Here is what you do if you see a snowflake: panic. It’s required. You are driving down a clear street and one stray flake falls from the sky. You must immediately scream and cause an accident. This is because even if you have lived in the area thirty years, you are not allowed to retain the memory of how to drive safely in snow. Even if you did somehow remember, your fellow commuters won’t, because most are newbies and previously lived in tropical environments. In any event it only takes one person who has never driven in snow before to thoroughly shut down a major artery, and it’s guaranteed that you will have plenty of those, so traffic will quickly gridlock. It will be hard to say if it is due to snow, since this is the way traffic is most of the time anyhow, but it is guaranteed if there is just a single snowflake.
  • You will eventually end up with spouse and kids all home together, and you are required to drive each other nuts. This is because it’s not normal to be all at home together at the same time.  You keep your sanity by being physically removed from each other most of the time by being at work, school, or at friends. Suddenly you are together 24/7 and you quickly will discover that while you love your family, you don’t like them. In fact, you secretly hate them, including your spouse. The longer you are housebound the worse it will get.
  • The rule on shoveling sidewalks is: every other walk is shoveled. Some will dutifully shovel in the midst of a snowstorm; some never will, including their driveway. If pressed people will create all sorts of reasons for not shoveling, including school kids will get better traction in the snow instead of on a cleared sidewalk. The lazy ones simply wait for nature to “shovel” the snow for them. Some will hope a kind neighbor to do it for them. The really clever ones keep a broken shovel as a ready excuse and, gosh darn, all the stores are closed so there is no way to get a new one.

That will do it for a starter. I am hoping to retire this year or next and we are likely to move further north. So I expect to see more snow but I also expect the streets will be plowed regularly. It will take some time to forget the Washington snow culture, but it will have me chuckling during each snowfall in retirement. Washington is a city full of eggheads who become vacuous blondes the moment a snowflake arrives. If it weren’t so frustrating, it would be very humorous.

Feds bravely telecommute while the government “closes”

The Thinker by Rodin

The recent set of snowstorms here in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area made many headlines. It’s not often that federal government offices shuts down at all, let alone for four days straight. Newspapers were full of reports on the cost of the storm including this one: $100M a day in lost productivity because federal workers like me could not get to work. Hmmph. Call me skeptical.

As someone who survived the Snowpocalype (Dec 19-20, 2009) and then Snowmageddon (Feb 5-6, 2010) and another eight inches (Snowmageddon Part Two) that ended on Wednesday, I can report first hand that, yes, we did get a lot of snow. By my count, my neighborhood received 27 inches from Snowmageddon, Part One. Add in the eight inches and that is nearly a yard of snow. Now there was some time between the two latest storms to attempt a recovery, but we never quite got there before part two arrived. Snowplows had nearly (but not quite) finished clearing the roads from the first storm when the second hit.

Clearing the road in my neighborhood did not mean getting the road down to bare pavement. It means your road becomes a teeth-rattling washboard where two cars can barely pass each other. Driving down my road is a slow process requiring lots of caution, good shock absorbers and plenty of clearance between your car and the road. There are a dozen feet between the lane where it was plowed and my driveway. To get our cars out at all, in addition to shoveling my driveway, I had to shovel a dozen feet into the street.

Yesterday, the major arteries were at least back to bare pavement. Yet, like with the Snowpocalypse in December, lanes frequently narrowed or disappeared altogether. Even if federal buildings and parking lots had been cleared, it would have been gridlock for federal workers to try to drive to work because so many lanes had disappeared. Taking the metro was out for most as well because the outdoor tracks were still being cleared of snow.

If it really costs $100M a day in lost productivity when the government closes, you would think taxpayers might not mind chipping in $50M or so a year in order for DC, Maryland and Virginia to have more snowplows and drivers available. This way commerce could resume a lot more quickly than it did. Unfortunately, Congress is pennywise and pound-foolish, and with so many overlapping jurisdictions, making it work is pretty much impossible. So taxpayers pay for it in federal closures that are sometimes simply a result of neighboring states like mine being niggardly about paying for promptly plowed roads.

What the average American may not realize is that just because the government is closed does not mean it is really that closed. Congress was in session, at least for part of it. The White House was busy doing things as well. Social security checks went out as usual. Homeland security kept running. In short, news stories gave the incorrect impression that the whole government was shut down, at least in the D.C. area. In fact about the only thing that was working was the government, mostly state and local governments pushing snow out of the way and providing emergency services. In some ways, the federal government had to “close” so state and local governments could do their jobs. As for the federal government, except for emergency personnel, offices were closed. Maybe the State Department could not process visas for a few days, but it is likely that some of their other offices away from Washington took up their slack. In general, Washington may seem dysfunctional and politically it is often gridlock. But we have all sorts of backup and contingency plans that the most essential parts of government will keep chugging away no matter what the weather.

It is true we civil servants in the area stayed home because basically we were landlocked. So, incidentally, was virtually everyone else. Some of us did kick back and watch HBO on your tax dollars. Most of us had more pedestrian things to deal with, like simply shoveling our long walks and driveways or fretting over the volume of snow on our roofs and wondering if it would cause them to collapse. We also waited for snowplows that were loathe to arrive, tried to figure out ways to keep our kids from driving us crazy and hoped our power would not go out. For hundreds of thousands of us, the power did go out. For the rest of us, we had to hope we had stashed enough provisions to ride the storm out. In short, we weren’t necessarily being lazy, we were overcome by events beyond our control.

As for the $100M in lost productivity, I really question that figure. One thing the storm demonstrated to me is that I could telecommute nearly as effectively as if I were in the office. So I did! I did not work full time during those days; because of the snowstorm, I had other things I had to do. Nevertheless, I did work part-time even though the Office of Personnel Management excused us from working altogether. Maybe I got lucky but I had no problems telecommuting. The telecommuting infrastructure worked: the high speed internet, the VPN, the access to internal file servers that I needed, the email system, the whole shebang performed flawlessly.

Moreover, I was hardly the only federal telecommuter. All the other members of my team were also spending significant parts of their snow days working. If I had to guess, most were working half to full time. They did so because they felt the professional responsibility to keep things moving. Federal employees have deadlines that must be met as well just like the private sector. In my case, I had an executive steering committee coming at me like a freight train in two weeks. My schedule did not allow for a four-day snow holiday. So I kept plugging away at home. We also had a couple of servers with issues to deal with during the storm, but we were able to fix them working remotely. On Thursday, I also attended a two and a half hour conference call from home. Most of us working in this information age can work anywhere there is electricity and high speed internet. Yes, it is convenient to come together daily in a shared office setting, but it is not essential. When you are working from home, you are still working even if the office is “closed”.

Unfortunately, the Office of Personnel Management’s policies for snow days are still 20th century oriented. They should be updated. If the telework infrastructure is as robust as it was while the government was “closed”, the policy should be to simply require employees to work from home, like I did. Granted, the people who maintain the telework infrastructure may not be able to fix certain problems if they cannot get to the office. Moreover, if everyone is working from home at the same time, it might overtax the network. It appears though that most technical issues can be addressed remotely. It seems like everyone with a white collar job has an employer furnished laptop and high-speed internet at home these days. All we need is a phone and a desk and we are at work. There is also the advantage of having no commute whatsoever.

If you are inclined to think that federal civil servants are lazy and pampered SOBs, think again. It is true that we may get more holidays than you get, but most of us are not lazy, spend our days at the water coolers, or take two-hour lunch breaks. Most of us are very much vested in our work. It gives a lot of meaning to our lives. I was glad to work from home because I felt useful and I had no lack of work. I just hope next time we will have policies that are more realistic in place. In addition, I hope in the future that the public relations folk at the Office of Personnel Management paint a more realistic portrayal of what “shutting down” the government actually means. It does not mean what you think.

Snowmageddon

The Thinker by Rodin

After nineteen inches or so of snow back on December 19-20 of last year, most of us Washingtonians had figured we had seen the last big snow dump for a while. Based on my experience we could expect to wait another five to eight years before we would get a snowstorm that would exceed a foot.

And here it is less than two months later and the snow is back, but even worse. I will let the meteorologists tell us what the official tally was. Based on trying to shovel out our driveway late this afternoon after the storm ended (and getting only about a third done) it is clear that this storm will exceed last December’s storm. Based on my shoveling, I’d say we received somewhere between twenty four and twenty seven inches of snow. Washington Dulles Airport (just a few miles away) reported received 32.4 inches of snow so maybe our actual total was higher. Areas north and east of us reportedly received more snow. So it is a good bet that this snowstorm will go in the record books, actually exceeding the crippling snowstorm that dumped twenty eight inches back in 1979 on Gaithersburg, Maryland, where I was living at the time.

As with the December storm, this one I got to ride out in the comfort of my house. Our electricity stayed on but many Washingtonians were not so lucky. No property damage for us, as best I can tell. Our next door neighbor’s purple plum tree though fell to the ground under the weight of the snow.

The storm was preceded by the usual frantic preparations that clogged roads and emptied store shelves. Friday found me nervous, because I was expected in Georgetown to have my sutures removed and the snow was to start around 10 a.m. Fortunately, we could be seen early and the snow when it did start came down wet and for some hours did not stick to the pavement. For a few hours, the storm actually made getting into and out of D.C. a breeze compared to a normal Friday. Most people just stayed home. We were able to buy food without too much trouble before the storm hit as well.

As usual, we expect it will be a few days before we see a snowplow on our street. More than likely they will do what they did last time: plow one lane and throw some sand down. This means of course that our driveway will temporarily extend six to twelve feet into the road, which we of course will have to shovel. Ah, the paradise of living in a low tax state! We are learning more of that good old American self reliance!

No question about it, it was a lot of snow and perhaps I will not live to witness a larger snowfall. Look at how the snow accumulated on our deck and you will get some idea of the volume of snow we received. I will let Mother Nature take care of the back deck. Hopefully it will be melted by spring.

White Christmas

The Thinker by Rodin

Our unofficial snowfall from the storm that began a week ago was twenty-one inches. The storm set a December record for recorded snowfalls in the Washington D.C. metropolitan region. Typically, if we get massive snowfalls they arrive in February, often at inconvenient times like Presidents Day Weekend. Many of us Washingtonians were caught with our snow pants down this time, counting too much on global warming and figuring our rarely used snow shovels would carry us through whatever mild dusting we could get.

In the last week, the snow has not so much melted as collapsed under its own weight. It is now about half its size. A snowplow finally came down our street on Monday, threw some sand on the streets but could not be bothered to actually plow to the curb. Since then, it has retired to wherever snowplows go. While this approach keeps our taxes low, it also means that to get your car onto the street you must shovel six feet or more into the street. I knew there was some point to all that weight lifting I was doing. Shoveling snow turned out to be excellent cardiovascular exercise. My arms were stiff as a board three hours later, but my back was intact and I felt only winded. Our street is still a mess of half cleared pavement and packed ice and snow. Driving down the street is like driving over a washboard.

The upside is the first genuine White Christmas in my thirty years of living in this area. The streets are mostly clear of snow but at least a dozen inches of snow solidly cover the ground, and most roofs are still covered with snow. The snow looks likely to hang around through the New Year.

In many ways once the frantic rush of holiday preparations are behind me, this is the best part of the year. At work, so many people are on leave that the building is half (or more) empty. I walk largely alone down darkened corridors, even in the afternoon. The usual hundred or so emails that clog my inbox are down to about twenty. Work feels more like a vacation. I find time to do things I don’t usually have time for: reading back issues of IEEE Computer and slogging through a book on software testing. For me, these sorts of activities are almost fun. It is far more interesting than budgets, supervising employees, reviewing travel authorizations and working on requirements. Now I too join the vacationing crowd, with plenty of leisure at home until I return to work on January 4th.

The presents under our tree were fewer this year, in part due to snow that made shopping the last week before Christmas a living hell. I tried on Christmas Eve to make a final run at a Barnes & Noble. I should not have bothered. Cars were queued a dozen long waiting for a free parking space. Heaps of snow occupied other parking spaces. Still, our Christmas was cheerful enough. There was ample time today to enjoy the first DVD in my new set of Horatio Hornblower episodes.

Mostly this holiday season I am struck by how fortunate I am in a time when so many people are hurting. I am in my peak earning years with little likelihood of unemployment. Even if unemployment were to strike, I have ample money and decent job skills that should see me through bad times. Overall, we are doing exceptionally well. Most of the medical issues that bedeviled my family and me are behind us with a few exceptions. One that still bedevils me is the tarsal tunnel in my right foot. This hopefully will be solved on January 14 when I undergo tarsal tunnel surgery along with nerve release surgery from this guy at Georgetown University Hospital. Then I get to enjoy a couple weeks at home recuperating, where my largest problem will be keeping the stitches on my ankle from rupturing for three weeks. Whatever work I can do will have to be done at home. Our cat Arthur will be quite happy.

Until then, I look forward to leisure and clearing the detritus out of our house and off my desk. I hope your holidays are happy too.

Snow day

The Thinker by Rodin

We have a foot of snow so far, and the snow is still coming down frantically. It is hard to see out my northern facing window. No plow has bothered to come down our street. Only a few cars are even bothering to try to drive through the snow, and they are only the ones with four-wheel drive. If I got a newspaper this morning, it is buried under the snow somewhere. I dug out one lane to the street and there was no newspaper to find. I guess I will have to read it online.

Blizzards do have certain advantages. They tend to focus the minds of us Northern Virginians, which means we make frantic dashes to stores to stock up on snow shovels, milk, bread and toilet paper. What’s with the toilet paper? Isn’t that why we invented Costcos, so we could stock up in bulk? I have enough in my basement to see me through February, at least. This focus on essentials of course meant gridlock in general yesterday, and this was before a flake of snow fell on the ground.

So the actual blizzard now underway is somewhat anticlimactic. Life becomes pretty simple. You stay indoors, hope the power stays on, and start digging out once the storm passes. All those busy plans I had for today are blown away. I was supposed to give a final exam today. The exam was all prepared, but I was unprepared for the campus closing. What do you do in this case? I wrote the dean, who said in her thirty-six years in academia she has never seen this happen. What you do is (with the dean’s permission) make up a policy on the spot. So I am giving my students the options of getting their grade based on their work so far (since grades are due by Tuesday) or taking the exam later and maybe getting an incomplete. If I know my students, they will all opt for skipping the exam altogether. This is fine with me. The end of the semester is always the hardest. Students want to begin recess. Professors like me are sick of our students and all their little quirks and hassles. These include disputes over grades and homework, belated requests to take quizzes later and dubious excuses like they had to go out of town because grandma or Uncle Fred passed away. It is all suddenly moot, thanks to the blizzard. Post some grades online and the semester is over. Let the holidays begin.

Except, of course, I am behind on holiday shopping and this blizzard puts me even further behind. The Christmas cards were frantically assembled yesterday. Now stamped, they have no place to go. Meanwhile, I try to think about what to give my wife and daughter, who have pretty much everything they could possibly want. How much better am I supposed to make life for them? But for a day or two, no worries. We will be landlocked and even the 7 Elevens will be closed. For the moment, worrying is moot. Instead, you sleep in late, eat leisurely breakfasts and have as sex with your middle aged spouse as frequently your middle aged bodies will allow.

Still, this blizzard is exciting because of its timing just six days before Christmas. It virtually guarantees a rarity here in Northern Virginia: a white Christmas. Bing Crosby was right: “Just like the ones I used to know”, but it was oh so long ago when I was living in upstate New York. Around here, a white Christmas is something you enjoy once a decade if you are fortunate. “White” counts if there is any snow on the ground, so some dirty and gunky snow in a parking lot counts, even if it is mostly melted. I have counted as “white” Christmases where there was just a dusting of snow on the grass. This one however will be truly white. There is no way that all this snow can melt before Christmas, not even with global warming. The ground will be solidly covered on Christmas Day. Considering what a crappy decade this was, thanks to Mother Nature we will be leaving it behind on a high note.

So instead of frantically grading exams and posting grades, I will help put up the artificial Christmas tree and assorted holiday decorations. Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire will go on the stereo to regale us while we hang the ornaments and string lights. One difference this year: we are having a more ecologically friendly Christmas. The incandescent light strings are out: the new very efficient LED light strings are in. They festoon our front porch and soon will adorn our Christmas tree as well.

Also later today will come the smell of frantic baking as my wife and daughter roll and bake gingerbread cookies. For me this is good news, as I don’t like gingerbread cookies, so I likely won’t eat any. This in turn is good for my waistline during this perilous gastronomic time of year. I may have time to wrap the few presents I have bought and place them under the Christmas tree as well. In addition, there is always belated vacuuming and bathroom cleaning to be done. For a day, I can be a domestic god.

We have tickets to see Young Frankenstein tomorrow at The Kennedy Center. It is unclear whether the roads will be passable enough to get there for our matinee show, or if it will be put on at all due to the weather. In any event, there is nothing that I can do about it. Mother Nature will decide. It has rendered all else moot.

Since our power lines are buried underground, I expect the power and the heat to stay on. This, the chance to blog and surf the web indiscriminately, and putting up some Christmas decorations will keep me happy. In fact, I will be much happier than if the blizzard had not arrived at all.

Let it snow.

Snow what else is news?

The Thinker by Rodin

Just for the record, it’s back! That white stuff. You know, snow!

The foolish around here thought that maybe after the blizzard a couple weeks back we were done. Since that time we’ve actually had a couple more snowfalls. Blissfully the first two didn’t amount to very much. Then there was the last couple of days. Two inches, then another four or so in the last 24 hours. This morning looked pretty nasty actually but 6 inches DOT can deal with, 18 they can’t. So the street was reasonably well plowed (but of course they never pushed the snow to the curbs … too much bother) and the big adventure was getting out of our driveway. And the main roads were spotty in places but driveable.

But of COURSE the schools were closed the last two days. Yesterday they could well have been open but the storm moved slower than expected so the two inches or so we got would have only slowed an arthritic school bus. But Wednesday night they were thinking it would move faster than it was did, so they closed schools on an expectation. Today of course schools were closed again. Terri and I made it to work okay. On the way home the snow had stopped, the roads were mostly just wet and things were just melting in general. By this evening with the sidewalks shoveled it was hard to understand what all the fuss was about this morning.

So Rosie was out of school ALL of last week and two days this week. There have been 3 or 4 other snow days during the year. And Monday school started two hours late and they sent the kids home around noon on Wednesday due to fears about that white stuff. At this rate she may be in school in July. However, our school board consists of a bunch of weenies. They won’t let it cut much into summer vacation. They’ll petition the state and the state will say, sure, why not. Who cares if an education is cut a bit short … we want to send these kids to camp instead!

Anyhow we are weary of the stuff around here. We’re just not used to this much snow. We were getting used to global warming. Now we long for Spring the way a sailor six months at sea longs for a port and a loose woman. But I have a feeling it will arrive late. There is still a lot of snow to melt first.

Our snow event

The Thinker by Rodin

The Northeast United States, as you may have heard, has been under a “snow event” lately. This blizzard dumped two feet of snow in my neighborhood and kept my family largely confined to our house for three days. Today we adults struggle back toward something called normalcy. Our daughter Rosie still has no school. Somehow I doubt (seeing the condition of the streets) that schools can possibly open tomorrow.

Our last major “snow event” (as the newspapers called it) was back in 1996. Happily this went a bit better than that event. That blizzard found me with a bad case of the flu and my daughter with a chronic ear infection and unable to see a doctor. That left my wife to do all the work, including the snow shoveling. One improvises at times like that. We reached a doctor on the telephone and found out it was okay to borrow some antibiotics from a friend down the street. The DEA wasn’t going to come after us.

This event allowed me to repay the karmic debt to my wife for not being available in 1996. It was my wife Terri’s turn this time to be miserable. Something triggered severe headaches and she was largely down for the count. That left me to tackle winter. My philosophy was “keep shoveling” so during the blizzard I was out three times clearing surfaces. Monday morning found the storm finally receding but four inches of heavy, crunchy new snow on the ground. The stuff weighed a ton and had to be broken up one square at a time. It was hard going and tedious work. However, the weight machines I have been using at the health club were a big benefit. My biceps and shoulder muscles were in great shape. They never got particularly sore.

With the driveway cleared we realized we were all dressed up but had no place to go. Tuesday morning arrived and we discovered a snowplow had opened a single lane to our subdivision. Unfortunately that was it, and there was an additional twelve feet of road I had to cut through until we could connect our driveway with the street. So like my neighbors I was out there basically shoveling the street! But at least the sun was shining. I took off my coat for a while.

There is something about a major snowstorm to both fear and admire. The fear was wondering what would happen if we got sick or injured. My wife Terri was convinced for a while she had a sinus infection. The wonder was how awesome Mother Nature can be when she wants to be, and how transformed and peaceful all can become during and after such a snowstorm.

For a while anyhow I didn’t have to worry about Code Orange. Life became a lot less complicated. Life was pretty much shoveling snow, listening to my wife complain about her headache, and in those few spare hours taking advantage of the extra time to prepare for the class I teach on Saturday. I could mostly tune out impending wars in Iraq as something surreal. This was how we survived most of human history: just getting through one day at a time using our wits. It was nice to know that through sheer human perseverance I could beat Mother Nature one more time. All I needed were a few snow shovels, a lot of time, and a huge amount of endurance.

You can find pictures of our “event” here.

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