This is a re-post of an earlier blog entry from a couple of months ago, but given the latest round of snowstorm hysteria surrounding the storm that wasn’t on the east coast from the last two days, it seems strangely appropriate. I love the names people have come up with – Snowperbole, Snowfail, Snoreaster… I have to wonder, if the same data had presented out west here in Colorado, would the forecasters and media have gone all in forecasting the blizzard of the century?
Here’s my original blog post:
Bryon and I watched with amusement this past week, as snow was forecast for the mid-Atlantic and New England states — basically the corridor extending from Washington, DC in the south up to Boston in the north. Soon, there were Facebook posts of panic and horror over the snowstorm that would soon grip the East, and national news stories about snow on the east coast. We smile in amusement because whenever snow hits the east coast, it feels like the news cycle just stops and focuses on the impending doom. This media frenzy seems to stir up the locals too, as grocery store shelves are stripped bare before a snowflake has even touched the ground. Do people really think that they won’t be able to get out of their home for days or weeks from the incredible amount of snow that will fall? (I’ve always wondered about the rush on milk, eggs and bread — is everyone making french toast as they persevere during the snowpocalypse?) Having lived in the vicinity of Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, I have personally witnessed this rush to action and quest to save oneself before being buried in snow. The government doesn’t help alleviate these fears, as the federal government has shut down their offices before anything even falls from the sky — wonder how much money that costs us taxpayers for the privilege of government workers getting a day off for a storm that may or may not even happen.
I believe a lot of this stems from media like The Weather Channel who are desperately trying to stay relevant in the era of Smart Phones and the Internet. They whip up people’s emotions by going into Red Alert mode, even going so far in recent years to name snowstorms (akin to hurricanes), I guess to make them see even more foreboding and threatening. They talk about Snowpocalypses, Snowmageddons, and “Blizzards.” A true blizzard has very little to do with copious amounts of snow and a great deal to do with wind whipping across open places to the point of white-out conditions, where you literally can not see 50 feet in front of you, something that is quite common in the western U.S., but rare on the eastern seaboard. I chuckle over all this hype (just a little) because it’s something that doesn’t occur in other parts of the country that receive much harsher weather and greater amounts of snow. Washington, DC had what they considered to be a “record” winter a few years ago, receiving around 60 inches of snow. In Nederland, a mere half-hour from Boulder, we receive on average 150 inches of snow per year, and Boulder receives around 84 inches of snow per year. In the five years, we’ve lived here, the front range area has received several storms of more than 20 inches of snow. And yet, no one is panicking, raiding the grocery store shelves, ringing their hands over perceived blizzards. People seem to take the weather in stride, and deal with whatever comes with a calm and reassured manner. But I’m not alone, places like Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Utah also receive huge snowstorms and harsh winter weather on a regular basis, but rarely does the media blink an eye over what happens there.
I realize that many places on the east coast don’t have as much snow removal equipment, or have as much experience in preparing for snowy conditions as other parts of the country. But is it possible that the hype and frenzy that the media and others promote is sort of a self-fulfilling prophesy — leading people who live in those areas to perceive and handle snowstorms with more panic than is necessary? If the rest of the country is any example, perhaps there is another way to weather the storm….