One always risks the Earnest Brigade weighing in on these things, pointing out that There Were A Record Number Of Records Broken This Time; or, People Need To Be Warned So They Won’t Leave Their Pets Outside Because Flashing Banners On TV Screens Are An Important Tool For Public Authorities; or, of course, the all-purpose Children (Period Full Stop).
Plus, I live in southern California now, where the highs have been in the 70s (and the low in my neck of the woods has yet to dip below freezing this year).
So let me just say this: I recognize I’m occupying territory on which the Earnest Brigade may feel compelled to attack me.
That said, I felt a real rush of sympathy on reading Paula Bolyard’s “Survivors of the Blizzard of ’78 Mock the ‘Arctic Vortex’” at PJ Media.
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So is it any wonder that Ohioans of a certain age yawn at some wind chill warnings and a bit of ice?
WTAM talk radio host Bob Frantz posted on his Facebook page, “Man, we’re a bunch of wusses! You think this little cold snap is something to be worried about? You haven’t seen ANYTHING…until you’ve experienced the Blizzard of ’78!” which set off a torrent of comments from folks who reminisced — almost fondly — about the 1978 storm in Cleveland…
Apparently, a lot of folks out there have the same sentiments. In Ohio, at least, there was a lot more snow in 1978. Certainly, I remember winters in Oklahoma in the 1960s and 1970s when it was as cold as it was this past week, or colder (and there was also a lot more snow). I believe it was the winter of 1967-68 when schools were closed almost the entire month of December. (And they didn’t close at the drop of a hat back then either.)
I also remember the brutal winter of 1978-79, one that NOAA commemorates in those terms as well. Illinois analysts wrote it up as an unprecedented third straight “severe” winter, a memory cue any Midwest-dweller who had sentience in the 1970s would nod at in recognition.
Another major Arctic blast hit in late December of 1983, sending temperatures in the country’s mid-section plummeting south of zero and dropping snow all over the Midwest and West. I had to drive from Oklahoma to the northern coast of California between Christmas and New Year’s that year, to make a date with a Navy duty station. I’ll certainly never forget driving 30 miles an hour, on six inches of ice and a blanket of snow, in fog so thick I couldn’t see more than 20 feet ahead of me, for an entire day between Salt Lake City and Elko, Nevada. The day before, between Denver and Salt Lake City, the temperature had never gotten above -10F. It took over an hour that morning to dig my Ford truck out of the snow where I had parked it near the hotel – although I had no idea if I was in a parking lot or on the road somewhere. I just parked where everyone else was parking. (Grace of God, I’m telling you. He looks after drunks, the United States, and newly-minted Navy ensigns with more shiny new credit card than sense.)
I’ve got more, which I won’t bore you with. I assume there are plenty of other weather stories out there, from anyone who has lived longer than three decades. When the awful summer of 2011 hit, I had to mention it then, too: we’d had hot weather before. In summer! More records were set in 2011 (and 2012). More people died from the heat in 1980.
I guess that was because we didn’t have our TV screens beeping at us frantically in 1980, whenever the weather was going to deviate from 75, sunny, with winds 10 mph or less and no more than a 20% chance of precipitation. Those seem to be the criteria now. Get more than 2-sigma from those means, and the TV starts having a conniption. Weather alerts start making our smart phones jounce, vibrate, and jingle. Each one of us feels like a baby next to a window, teetering too close to the blind cord and just about – willy-nilly – to get his neck wrapped in it.
Or maybe we don’t. Maybe most of us think these weather alarms are mostly overblown. Seriously, I need a bright-orange weather warning because it might rain? I’m not convinced we’re as delicate as all that. It’s bracing to reread things like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, which chronicled pretty faithfully the extraordinary winter of 1880-81 in South Dakota. The Pilgrims’ first winter at Plymouth Rock is another one to hark back to, as a reminder of what our ancestors got through without beeping TV screens.
Or, we could just look north at what our Canadian neighbors routinely get through almost every year. The Canucks and the Arctic Vortex are BFFs. And they still manage to have really enjoyable home and garden shows, and some very creditable hockey and