So how about that blizzard? Which one, you might ask — the one that socked us last Friday or the one that threatens us this Wednesday?
Let’s start with last week’s — the blizzard of the century, with the two feet or more of snow that would knock us out Friday and most of the weekend, as well. That was the sense of it on Thursday, as the weather forecasts became the talk around the office copy machine. That was the dark feeling Thursday night, as shoppers flocked to cash registers with extra staples in hand.
And that was the grave concern Friday, as the sky darkened and events were canceled: Princeton High School’s “Mr. Princeton” contest, the Cranbury-Plainsboro Little League open house on Friday evening, and the Boheme Opera presentation of the Broadway-bound “Warsaw” on Saturday night at the War Memorial in Trenton, among many others.
It was all discretion, of course, the better part of valor. It was also some degree of over-reaction. Sometime on Thursday afternoon, as the hysteria over the storm was mounting, I asked a colleague to get the exact forecast for central New Jersey. Forget the two feet or more of snow. In fact, the prediction then called for snow to begin at 11 p.m. Friday and accumulate to as much as eight inches in central New Jersey.
On Friday night I looked out the window at about 11:15 and saw a light dusting of snow on the ground. The next morning I stuck a ruler into the pile of snow outside the door: just under eight inches. The forecast had been spot on.
As I have written before in this space, I don’t like to talk about the weather, but I feel there’s a communication lesson in our collective reaction to the threat of snow, real or perceived.
But first a qualifier: New Jerseyans are notorious snow sissies, as anyone from New England or upstate New York (in my case) can attest. Three inches of snow closes the schools. An inch of snow causes a delayed opening. An inch of snow in mid-day precipitates an early school closing, causing hordes of parents to clog the slick roads leading to the schools.
Sometime after the famous blizzard of 1996, an employee called me and said he would be unable to get to work. He had made it to the bottom of his driveway and determined that the street was impassable in both directions. Good, I said. Go to the end of the driveway again in 20 minutes and I’ll pick you up.
It helps, of course, if you have a four-wheel drive car and a snow shovel in the back, as I do.
But it also helps if you read the forecast carefully, especially the fine print part that tells you when and where the storm is going to hit. And that’s the lesson of these winter storm warnings: Even though talk about the weather is the height of banality most of the time, there are a few moments — such as last Friday or this Tuesday, as this column goes to press with the threat of another winter storm looming — when it requires a little bit of critical thinking.
This past weekend not everyone panicked at the first reports of the blizzard. McCarter Theater went ahead with its 3 and 8 p.m. performances of “Fetch Clay, Make Man.” The Princeton Art Museum, meanwhile, kept registrants for its annual gala on Saturday night informed via its website through the day. The museum finally decided at around 3 p.m. to go ahead. Nearly everyone showed up.
I stayed home Saturday night, not because I was afraid of going out but because I was eager to see the C-Span coverage of the Tea Party convention and the Sarah Palin speech. The chit-chat at the proceedings before the speech was especially illuminating. Naive pleas for a movement that would remove politics from American democracy were followed by, well, political wrangling over whether the Tea Partiers should be considered “conservatives” or “patriots.” (Some said “conservative” has too many different connotations. The patriot label is simple — all you have to do is want to “take back our country.”)
The Tea Partiers railed against President Obama’s birth certificate, his treatment of the Christmas Day terrorist, and his healthcare plan, billed as an effort of the government to “take over” one-sixth of the nation’s economy.
Liberals wonder how so many can be so greatly swayed by such misinformation. You can explain it partly by thinking about our reactions to the snippets of weather reports we hear, and the near-panic that ensues.
As the deadline for this column loomed, so did the onset of the midweek blizzard. Sorting through myriad weather forecasts is about as easy as figuring out what the Senate and House versions of the healthcare bill say. My best guess for the weather, culled from Alan Kasper’s blog at nj1015.com and from weather.com, was that the real snow shouldn’t bother us until Wednesday morning and that there was a chance our deliverers could get this issue to many of you before a second blast hits us Wednesday afternoon.
If that doesn’t work out, don’t blame me. Blame the weatherman, or Obama.