Category Archives: Weather

Snowjobbed

The spectacle of the Exploding Meteorologist has been a fixture of New York City winters for at least the last twenty years: the weather reporter breathlessly telling us about the monster snowstorm, which ends up yielding, perhaps, two inches.   Of course, every once in a while, a real snowstorm shows up, and the Exploding Meteorologists do their thing.

But this time, the Exploding Meteorologists were joined by an Exploding Mayor.  Yesterday’s morning news included this item:

Yeah, right, whatever.

I rearranged my schedule to get through my meetings earlier, and walked out of my last meeting at 12:20 pm.

Back in the office, I put on  WINS, the go-to radio station in New York City for bad weather.  I found that the Exploding Mayor had been joined by our Exploding Governor, Andrew Cuomo.  He admonished us, like little children, not to go out in the snow, and ordered all non-essential vehicles off the road at 11:00 pm.

I left the office about 5:00 pm, and had a pretty normal ride home, except that the trains were not as crowded because most people had left work earlier.  Back home, I learned that the ‘travel ban’ also included the subways.  Usually, the trains keep running when it snows, and during NYC’s worst snowstorm ever, in 2006, the subways kept running.  (I know, because I was travelling that day.)

At 11:00, ready to sleep, I looked out the window: there had been a substantial lull in the storm.  So much for the Exploding Meteorologists.

In the morning, my wife noted that the G train was running: we can see the viaduct from our windows.  Slowly it dawned on me: the subways could have kept running, and perhaps did to some extent. But we, as passengers, were not allowed to ride them, by order of the Governor.

The morning news reported that the storm had moved off to the east, and the travel ban had been lifted.  NYC got about a foot, although snow is continuing to fall, and New Jersey got 2-3 inches: hardly worth complaining about.  The subways are starting up and will run on a Sunday schedule for the rest of the day.

In another time, the Mayor and Governor would have declared states of emergency, ordered private vehicles off the roads, and left it at that.  Why did they feel the need to shut down mass transit?

Don’t tell me it was to protect the public: we’ve had many, many snowstorms, and this was the first time it was felt necessary to shut down the subways pre-emptively.  (Usually, in a really bad storm, lines that run outdoors are shut down on a case-by-case basis as conditions worsen.)

Is it a case of liability making cowards of us all?

Were they simply asserting their authority because they could?

Are they getting us in practice for martial law?

Whatever it was, I’m sure it wasn’t good.

Weather Duds

The Exploding Meteorologists have been at it again this past week, warning us of an epic snowstorm that would leave us shut in for most of the weekend.  The Weather Channel even gave it a name, ‘Nemo.’  I don’t know whether they were referring to the captain of the Nautilus, or the fish in the Disney movie.  Whatever.

Friday was a normal workday, other than that I got a late start and didn’t get into the office until 10:00 a.m.  I was going to come home early, but then, as the afternoon went on, I started to get productive, and I didn’t want to interrupt that, so I ended up getting home a little late.   The weather was starting to get unpleasant after dinner, with snow and wind, so it was good to be home.

The morning, I woke up to a cloudy sky: the snow had stopped.  We got a little less than a foot.  By noon, the sun was out and sky was a beautiful clear blue.  The streets were plowed, the buses were running, everything was relentlessly normal.  Shut in for the weekend, yeah, right.

I know that places further east, like Boston and Long Island, got whomped.   But for New York City, weather like this used to be part of a normal winter.  And when I lived in Pittsburgh, getting a foot of snow at a clip wasn’t even worthy of being called a ‘snowstorm.’  You shoveled it out and then enjoyed a mug of hot chocolate.

Enough, already….

Sandy, Day 2

I stand corrected.

When I heard about ‘Frankenstorm’ last week, I was derisive: here come the Exploding Meteorologists, again, gushing about an approaching storm that would turn out to be underwhelming, just like Irene last year, Floyd in the 1990s, and at least one overhyped snowstorm every winter.

But this time it was real.  To be sure, my little corner of the world was pretty much untouched: we lost cable TV and Internet overnight, but it was up and running again this morning.  The lights stayed on, and in my travels today, the worst victims were temporary construction fences and a couple of uprooted trees.  About half the restaurants in my neighborhood were open, doing a brisk business.

But much of the city was not so lucky.  A transformer blew out in Manhattan last night, plunging 300,000 into darkness.  Over 100 houses in the Rockaways burned down last night: the area had been evacuated, the fire whipped by the wind, and there was little the Fire Department could do about it.  Parts of the subway system are still underwater, and while the politicians suggest that service might be restored in 3-4 days, in reality, they’ve only started to pump out the water.  The evening news included an interview of New York Governor Cuomo on the World Trade Center PATH platform, with the water lapping in the tracks a few inches below the surface of the platforms.

Tomorrow I’ll go back to my office in Manhattan.  It’s about a two-hour walk from my home, but the buses should be running tomorrow, so maybe that will help.

Sandy, Day 1

As I write these words, the lights have flickered for a moment, but are staying on.  Cable TV went out about 15 minutes ago; I have a pocket Internet hot spot that enables me to write this post.  The wind is blowing hard outside, but there has been relatively little rain.  It’s close to high tide, and the maximum storm surge that it’s supposed to bring.  That’s more of a concern than the rain and the wind, and if that’s peaking now, it’s one less thing to worry about.

At about 8:00 this morning, I went out to the Gowanus Canal, my handy spot for measuring storm surge.  A couple of taxis passed me on the street: I could have gone to work today!  The water was about five feet over its normal high tide, about the same as when Irene hit last year.

For the last month or so, I’ve been dreaming of roast chicken, one of the few dishes I know how to make, but haven’t had the time for this fall.  Today was the day: I prepared the chicken, threw it in the oven, and realized: if I want to have a really nice lunch, we need a bottle of wine.

Going out at 11:00 a.m., the weather felt like an ordinary autumn storm.  The sky was grey and the wind was blowing the drizzle into my face, but it wasn’t really raining.  The liquor store in my neighborhood was doing a brisk business at what I’m sure is normally a relatively slow time.  Usually, we have festive lunches at Thanksgiving and Christmas, so now I’m prepared for the holidays.

We all enjoyed the roast chicken, and then I nodded off for a while.  Later in the day, I went for a brief walk with my wife.  The wind was stronger and it was now really raining, but still more wind than rain.  The liquor store was closed for the day, but a little grocery store was open.  My wife wanted some strawberries, which they had.  And as we passed the Chinese restaurant near our apartment, we saw a guy head off on his bike to make a delivery.  Indeed we saw more bicycles than cars out on the street.

The news was nonstop Sandy reports.  A crane atop a building at 57th Street had collapsed; coastal areas were very soggy; Governor Christie of New Jersey, looking like a plumber in a running suit embroidered with ‘Chris Christie, Governor,’ berated the people who had disregarded mandatory evacuation orders, and the mayor of Atlantic City, who had opened shelters in public buildings that were subject to flooding.  He looked ready to send people to bed without their supper.  There would be no rescues, he said, until daybreak tomorrow.

So now I think I’ll watch a movie….

Sandy, Day 0

Governor Cuomo directed the public transport to shut down, and as I write this, the last train has gone by my window.  For how long?  Nobody knows.

I’ve thought about disaster preparations, and always been stymied by the thought: what am I preparing for?  I’m worried that, in the longer term, the economy will become unglued, with shortages and widespread power failures and civil unrest and God knows what else.  How do I prepare for that?  If I arm myself to protect my property, isn’t that a lost cause to begin with?  (Besides the fact that getting a pistol permit for one’s house in NYC is genuinely difficult.)

But what I’m preparing for this time is much simpler.  I expect that my family and I will be stuck in the house until Wednesday. I don’t expect damage to my apartment: I live in a stout concrete building.  I don’t expect flooding to affect the building, although there probably will be street flooding nearby.  Cable TV is the most likely utility to fail, although it held up when Irene hit last year.  A power failure is possible, but unlikely.  Water or gas failure is implausible.   (New York City’s water is delivered by gravity, and restarting the gas after it had been shut off would be such a major production that it would take something catastrophic to get it shut off in the first place.)  The latest weather maps suggest a total of 4″ of rain in the city over two days: nothing the sewers haven’t handled before, so I don’t expect trouble there.

My wife and I went to the supermarket to pick up some final items.  The store was busy for a Sunday, but mostly normal.  The shelves were being restocked, and we were able to find what we were looking for.

I get ham sandwiches from a local deli for lunch.  They have about twice as much meat as usual.  Like me, they’re expecting not to do business for a few days.

“We need water,” my wife remarked.  We have a case and a half on hand, but I’ll let her exercise her paranoia.  The Lowe’s sells cases of water for $4. She also wanted some garden items for her house plants.

Heading back from the Lowe’s, I was buttonholed by Steve the barber.  He has a tiny shop on Ninth Street that doesn’t get much business because the subway station nearby has been closed since March.  I’ve been running around like a maniac these last few months, and haven’t had time to go for a haircut.

“Do you think it’s the end of the world?” he asked me while clipping.

“If it’s really the end of the world, do you think I’d bother with a haircut?”

No, the world is not a more dangerous place than it was 15 years ago.  We’ve just been led to believe that it is.   And if this turns out to be the end of the world, or the end of New York City, at least I’m looking sharp for the occasion.

I was going to write about how we’ve wimped out: can we expect now that every storm will come with a state of emergency and a subway shutdown?  But after dinner, I find a Web site with an ’emergency preparedness checklist for perfect storm Hurricane Sandy.’  By the standard of the list, I’ve failed miserably.  I have nowhere near enough food or water stored; I haven’t boosted my intake of superfoods, immune-boosting herbs and nutritional supplements; and I have no way to defend the house against the marauding hordes that will come if there is an extended power failure.

Well, we shall see….

Sandy

Here we go again.

Thursday and Friday, we were treated to Exploding Meteorologists on the tube as they talked about Sandy, the hurricane that’s supposed to turn into some kind of mutant monster before it gets here Sunday night.

OK, there’s going to be a lot of rain and wind.  And if you live near the beach, or in the suburbs, you need to batten down the hatches and prepare.  But for the city, it will be like a thousand other storms with no name and no press agent that have hit us before.

In 1985, Hurricane Gloria struck the city on what was supposed to be a normal workday.  I headed into work that day.  Later in the morning, my wife called me and asked me to come home.

“Is the power out?” I asked.

“No, the lights are on.”

“Are there any broken windows?”

“No.”

Then leave me alone, I thought, but being newly-married, I said something nicer.

I had had other issues that year, and I didn’t want to skip out from work unless something was terribly wrong, and Gloria did not qualify as ‘terrible,’ at least not to me.  Fortunately, most of my colleagues were out that day: I was tasked to run a couple of errands, and then I could go home.  But the subways were running normally, and when I got home a little after 1:00 pm, my wife and I went out for a walk under blue skies, looking at a couple of trees in the neighborhood that had been blown down.

As I write this on Saturday night, the city has not ordered an evacuation, but the MTA is talking about shutting down public transport starting at 7:00 pm tomorrow.  Not they’ll necessarily do it, but they’re thinking about it.

Before Irene hit in 2011, the city had never ordered an evacuation, and there was never a total shutdown of public transport.  Yes, some bus and train lines would get shut down in heavy snow or rain, but until 2011, the idea of an organized shutdown was unthinkable.  And now we’re thinking about these things again.

When did we get so wimpy about bad weather?

Retro-Rockets Day

It rained all day today; the high temperature for the day was 69 degrees after midnight, and then it got colder through the day.  That means that today is officially Retro-Rockets Day, the first genuinely cool day of the year.

I started using that expression to myself in high school: I got genuinely lazy during the summer, and when the first cool day arrived, generally some time in late August, I knew it was time to get out of my lazy summer orbit and prepare for school.

Many years ago, I worked as a subway conductor.  When the first cool day came around in August, my immediate reaction was to pull out the cool-weather uniform (long-sleeve shirt and jacket), perplexing most of my colleagues.  Even though my work didn’t really change with the seasons, I was still happy to see the first hint of fall.

Alas, I don’t have the luxury of lazy summers anymore, but I still celebrate Retro-Rockets day, at least within my own mind.  It’s better being productive when you’re not fighting the weather.

A Little Soggy

I know that Irene caused flooding and wind damage elsewhere, but in my little corner of Brooklyn, it was generally a dud.

It rained late Saturday night through most of Sunday morning, but with much less wind than I had been led to expect.  The power even stayed on.  It seemed like any of a hundred storms with no name and no press agent.

At 9:00 am yesterday, I put on my rain slicker and headed out.  There was moderate rain and some wind, and the Gowanus Canal was about 5′ over its normal level, causing some local flooding, but nothing dire.

In the afternoon, the report came that the subways might not be running for Monday morning.  The MTA posted pictures of flooding of their train yards near Coney Island and in Harlem.

In the evening, I went out for a walk with my wife.  The setting sun was finally breaking through the clouds, and it was windier than earlier in the day.  Weird.

And as I write this on Monday morning, the news reports that the subways are running again.  Let’s hope….

Hurricane Irene

I missed writing about the earthquake earlier this week: I was on a business trip in the middle of Pennsylvania, when the room vibrated for a bit, as if there were a subway train passing underneath.  I suspected that it was an earthquake, but the power stayed on, nothing actually shook, and nothing further happened.  It was only afterward, when I watched the evening news, that the dimensions of the event were clearer.  My wife, in Brooklyn at the time, was unaware of it.

Anyhow, if the debt brouhaha and an earthquake were not enough, today we await the arrival of Hurricane Irene, which is now pounding North Carolina and headed north:

  • The City has ordered the evacuation of locations in Zone A.  The zones are part of the citywide coastal storm plan, but there is no simple logic to them: it’s not like ‘five blocks from the water.’  You have to look it up on the map, or through the City Web site.  And while the map has been printed in the newspapers, it isn’t clear enough to resolve the details.  I live in Zone B: if I were two blocks south, I’d be in Zone A; if I were two blocks north, I’d be in Zone C; and if I were three blocks north, I wouldn’t be in any zone, and presumably safe from coastal flooding.  We live in a stout building, with windows high enough to escape any downed trees; we’re staying put.  I’m sure there will be plenty of confusion about evacuations today.
  • Mass transit, including subways, buses, and commuter trains, will be shutting down completely after noon today.  It’s the first time that I can remember a total shutdown because of weather.

The latest reports suggest that the storm is weakening somewhat, and will probably hit the city as a tropical storm.  I figure that we have about a 50% chance of losing cable TV, and 30% of losing power.

Well, we’ll see.

Heat Inflation

It has been hot of late; today’s official high temperature in Central Park was 97 degrees.

And maybe ten years ago, that would have been it.  The weatherman would report the temperature, and the humidity, and leave you to figure out how miserable it was.

Today, in addition to the temperature, the weather reporters tell us the ‘heat index;’ some calculation based on the temperature and the humidity, supposedly to give a sense of how hot it feels.

I think the real reason is to make the weather reports scarier:  today is no hotter nor stickier than a 97-degree July day ten or fifteen years ago.  But by telling us that ‘the heat index is 110,’ it turns an ordinary hot day (common enough in mid-July) into almost an emergency.

If all my meetings got cancelled because of the heat, then maybe I’d feel different about it, but other than being hot, it was a normal workday, with all of my meetings going on as scheduled.  So it wasn’t an emergency, after all.

If one is more into conspiracy theories, one might believe that the use of the heat index is a scheme to make us believe that global warming is real.  I don’t know if it is or isn’t, but new fake temperatures do not help to clarify the issue.

I wish weather reporters would report the real temperature and then shut up: we already know that it’s hot and sticky.

It’s July in New York City, after all.  It’s supposed to be hot and sticky.

Snowstorm Recovery

A couple of thoughts about the snowstorm that arrived Sunday and dumped about two feet of snow on the city:

  • The storm tied for sixth place among all-time snowfalls recorded in New York City in the past 150 years or so.  Among these seven greatest storms, four of them were in the past eight years, while the fifth was in 1996.  It’s definitely gotten snowier since I was a kid.  I don’t know if it’s global warming at work, or the coming of a new ice age, or God knows what.  But then, since I don’t drive, I actually like the snow.
  • Everyone’s moaning about how long it is taking to clean up afterward.  The F train was out for a day and a half (and it usually keeps running), and even now, three days later, there are a lot of unplowed streets out there.  It’s funny: those other storms in recent years took place under the same mayor we have now.  And it surprised me at the time how quickly the streets were cleared.  What happened?