Lessons of the Blizzard of 2013


For those of us who live north of New York City, the blizzard was the dominant feature of the past few days (and will likely be the dominant feature for the next week). During the weekend, I had the opportunity to reflect on the blizzard (there is a lot of time to think when you are moving several tons of snow by hand). A few of my reflections follow:

  1. Sometimes a storm is as big as predicted.  Residents of the east coast are used to the high drama that precedes storms of any magnitude: teams of L.L. Bean-clad weather reporters breathlessly reporting on what is to come, lines at gas stations, and a run on bread and milk (note: having grown up in Wisconsin, I think this may be region-specific).  But even if you grow to distrust the forecasters, sometimes they get it right.  We might be better off if Nate Silver turned his skills to forecasting the weather.
  2.  Nothing gives you a sense of your own mortality like shoveling for 5 or 6 hours straight. I often enjoy shoveling after a storm.  I take pride in the rapid restoration of order. After my dear wife posted a picture of me shoveling on Facebook, one of my good friends on our street replied: “Oh, the Germans on the street are washing their clean linen in public again. The Irish meanwhile are praying for the sun to come out and melt the snow for them.” Given the way I felt the day after my shoveling, I am beginning to think the Irish are on to something.
  3. One is easily tempted to shirk one’s responsibilities when shirking is the modal category. As I cut through the four-foot snow banks to clear my sidewalk, I did so with the knowledge (gained through past experience) that most of my neighbors would not bother to do the same. Yes, I take pride in the restoration of order, but there are limits to what one man can do. In this case, the sidewalk began and ended in four-foot walls of snow at my lot line. As hard as I worked, one could not enjoy the fruits of my labor unless one walked up my driveway and was content walking back and forth in front of my house. The knowledge that others will shirk their responsibilities can have a corrosive effect, particularly when the work gets hard.
  4. The state is particularly prominent when least needed. The night before the storm, there was a seemingly endless parade of snowplows driving down my street, lights flashing, sand spraying, overtime accumulating. After the storm, those same snowplows seemed to disappear. By Sunday afternoon, while entire neighborhoods waited for their first post-storm encounter with a snowplow, most business parking lots were already cleared and ready for sweet commerce.
  5. Today’s kids seem to be lacking the entrepreneurial spirit. When I was a teenager, a snowstorm was followed by bands of adolescent boys with shovels looking to make a buck. We would go door to door and make some serious money (or what appeared to be serious money at the time…we charged $10 or $20 for a driveway). Those of us who had other employment (I was a paper boy) had a ready clientele, and there was no difficulty in assembling a team of boys hoping to make some money. This weekend, the streets were eerily silent as the adults waited helplessly for the snow removal specialists to arrive. Unemployment may be high among the young, but apparently not high enough to lead them to search out temporary employment opportunities in the wake of a snow storm.

Final reflection: maybe it is time to get a snow blower.

2 thoughts on “Lessons of the Blizzard of 2013

  1. 4) I’m in MN now, but I used to live in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. PA and OH had their act together, because they got a lot of snow, so we had ample plows out any time needed. MN, while freezing, doesn’t actually get much snow, and the plows are late getting anything clear. This is not true of store parking lots, which are invariably clear, dry, and salted even while the snow falls.

    5) Roving kids have been replaced by text messages and craigslist. I found someone on craigslist that would clear my moderate suburban sidewalk, walkways, and driveway for $30 on a weekday. I assumed it was a teenager or young man out of work. It was a man about 40 that was out of work. Depressing, but makes me even more likely to call him next time.

  2. RE #5: I noticed the same thing here in ND, with regard to the youngsters. Back home in the woods, we hired snowplows until we got our own tractor, but here in town, in ND, I was telling my wife yesterday, that all the kids must be rich, because they’re not traveling in packs with shovels banging on doors, “Shovel yer out, Mister?” I see all of my neighbors with enormous snowblowers, walk-behind machines that could probably do my driveway in the woods with ease, blowing out a hundred square feet here, a 25-foot length of sidewalk there. So it’s not only are the kids rich, but from what it appears, with adults and only adults doing the snowblowing, that they have servants, too.

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