Snowmageddon 2016

Apropos of Snowmageddon 2016 on the East Coast, I can’t resist reproducing this email exchange I had with my friend Rick Minto the day before Hurricane Sandy hit in October 2012:

Rick: Hope this note finds you well, and in a position to safely avoid the wrath of Sandy.

Irfan: Carrie-Ann and I have been having this bantering argument about whether Sandy is really dangerous (her) or just media blather and hype (me). Just went to the deli across the street where we managed to split the regulars down the middle on that question. One guy on my side said, “I can’t believe they interrupted the Jets game to talk about this stupid thing.”

Am I ready? No. Am I worried? No. Have I learned from past mistakes? Not really.

Mood music for the occasion….

No need for alarm.

Postscript, 11 pm. I’ve begun to have a last-minute change of heart about this storm. More along these lines….

Postscript, January 23, 2016, 3:15 pm: OK, so there’s a lot of snow out there. Still, there’s something I find puzzling about all the hullaballoo that’s made of “nor’easters.” A “nor’easter” is heavy snow in the American Northeast. But blizzards are commonplace in the Midwest, the Plains, the Rocky Mountains, in Canada, and in the Baltic states in Europe (as well as in Russia). Why do they become such a big deal when they take place in the American Northeast? It’s only when blizzards strike the area between Boston and D.C. that ordinary life is “paralyzed,” and heavy snow becomes an “emergency” on par with an apocalypse out of a Lars von Trier movie. I don’t get it. Why?

I spent six or seven years living in South Bend, Indiana where “lake effect snow” was a commonplace, and a foot or two of snow was widely regarded as a nuisance but hardly qualified as an “emergency.” In the northeast, by contrast, the threshold for “emergency status” seems to be pretty damn low. It doesn’t take much before government officials here declare a “state of emergency” and act accordingly. Nor does there seem to be any intermediate legal status between “emergency” and “non-emergency.” Every state of affairs is either an emergency or a non-emergency, considered as mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive categories.

As far as I can tell, the term “emergency” is nowhere defined in the law, and there are essentially no limits on what the government can do to deal with one, up to and including measures that we typically associate with martial law (e.g., curfews, checkpoints, and travel bans, all of which we had in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy). I admit that the authorities have a hard job, and need the flexibility to handle life-threatening conditions that pose a risk to life and property (including the lives of emergency workers), but the degree of discretion granted them strikes me as excessive, as does the vagueness of the law.

Anyway, here’s the text of the law in all of its vacuous, circular, and loophole-laden glory, New Jersey Statutes Annotated (NJSA, Appendix).

Postscript, 9:30 pm: Well, after sitting inside all day, I’m off to break some laws by taking a walk, thereby engaging in “non-essential travel” into the “disaster” zone. Though the “expected wind gusts of 40-50 mph” have not yet materialized, the cold breeze blowing through the three open windows of my apartment is giving the curtains a damn good (if somewhat sporadic) riffling–and giving my stuffy apartment some nice cross-ventilation. I’ll be sure to take my camera outside with me, so that I can add to the region’s quickly-burgeoning collection of photographic banalities, i.e., freshly fallen snow, freshly plowed snow, and snowdrifts of a size not seen in these parts since, well, last  winter. Wish me luck. I shall return.

Postscript, January 24, 2016, 9 am: Reader, I can scarcely conceal my astonishment at the events of the last 24 hours. Snow fell. Then it accumulated. The wind blew it in drifts. Those who drove in it were at higher risk of having a traffic accident. Many such people had accidents. Some died in them. Some drivers got stuck in this same snow. Some of those who tried to help their fellow citizens under trying circumstances were shot by their intended beneficiariesSome died while shoveling the snow. Many did not. The temperature remained below freezing. The snow remained on the ground. It did not melt. Even as I write these words, I hear the plaintive sounds of snow blowers struggling against the eternal nemesis of the snowblower–snow.

As one man put it in The Times:

We haven’t seen snow this season and we got this storm. It’s a lot of snow.

Poignant words indeed for an event unprecedented in the annals of meteorological history.

Postscript, 8:30 pm. Couldn’t help LOL-ing at this email from a Felician colleague:

Subject: So much snow

Do we have school tomorrow?

Sent from my iPhone

Ha! Nice try….

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