2003-03-06 / This Week's Attitude

This Week’s

AttitudeWinter Of Discontent Turns Thoughts To Spring
By Neil S. Friedman

Winter Of Discontent Turns Thoughts To Spring

This is really the season of our discontent. Old Man Winter and Mother Nature combined to wreak havoc in the Northeast this year. For the previous five or six years we got spoiled, as snowfalls were few and far between and temperatures were unseasonably warm.

This season, however, idle thoughts of global warming were virtually iced, even as the man-made phenomenon shrinks massive glaciers and ice floes at the planet’s poles. The five-year warming trend became yesterday’s news faster than you can say, "Spring is right around the corner."

In what may be their unique way of reminding us how unpredictable they can be, the fictional twosome literally stuck it to us with 26 inches just in the month of February and extended stretches of below-32 degree days. When last Friday’s expected snow failed to reach New York City, we fell two inches short of the all-time record for February. Nonetheless, meteorologists reported that the shortest month attained the dubious distinction of ranking in the top five snowiest Februarys since 1869 when such accounts were first recorded.

And what a difference a year makes! We’ve actually had a total snow accumulation in the last three months of nearly 42 inches compared to a paltry 3.5 inches in the same period a year ago.

That news likely thrilled skiers, other snow sport enthusiasts, and winter resort owners, who probably have been elated by the snowy winter. But for the average citizen and many businesses, it’s been a financial disaster and not much fun.

The first blizzard of the century two weeks ago perhaps bolstered business at eastern seaboard ski resorts and many local markets, where citizens flocked to buy food staples as if they were going to be stranded indoors for days, but it clearly ruined Presidents Day sales for thousands of retailers, large and small, hoping for a much-needed sales boost in this unstable economy.

Aside from its restrictions on travel and occasional deterrence to business, snowfalls can be temporarily breathtaking sights when it covers streets, homes and foliage, transforming everything into a wondrous, picturesque scene.

When you’re a kid and there’s a couple of inches of snow or a blizzard, your mother dresses you in the appropriate clothing so you can venture outdoors to sled, snowball fight and whatnot with your neighborhood friends. As the years pass we tend to appreciate the natural beauty of a snowfall—for a little while anyway—but you know it’s going to become dirty and slushy before nightfall.

As responsible adults who commute to jobs, heavy snowfalls hinder traveling until municipal crews plow streets and highways and driveways and parking spots can be cleared. Heck, following the blizzard of ’03, the federal government was forced to shut down for a day.

Here’s a perfect example of how fickle Nature can be. Alaska’s 31st annual 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race kicked off this past weekend, but the state’s unusually warm temperatures forced the event’s organizers to truck in snow for the ceremonial start in Anchorage. The traditional start in Juneau was forced to relocate to Fairbanks, 200 miles north, where there is sufficient snow.

On the other hand, as Winter and Nature taketh, they also giveth. The abundance of precipitation over the last several months has made the drought seem like last year’s news, which, in fact, it is. Upstate reservoirs that serve New York City are currently several inches above normal and they’ll surely be replenished with this spring’s thaw.

Heavy rains a few weekends ago didn’t do as much as expected to diminish snow left in piles by Sanitation Dept. plows, but over last weekend the deluge finally reduced the remaining soiled mounds of snow to a few patches here and there.

There’s a stock adage that there’s not much one can do about taxes or the weather but complain. As cabin fever has taken its toll on many of us who’d rather remain close to the literal warmth of home than venture out to endure winter’s frigid temps, complaining reached its peak. Many of us are itching for that first taste of spring so we can begin to ponder storing our winter wear.

March roared in like a lion with Saturday’s steady rain. Then temperatures dipped below freezing on Monday for what is hopefully the last blast of wintry weather. But weather watchers reminded us that the region’s worst all-time blizzard occurred mid-March in 1888. Let’s hope this March adheres to the myth and goes out like a lamb and without another snowfall.

Incidentally, the vernal equinox — the proper scientific term for spring — is only 14 days away. So, unless you were fortunate enough to take a winter vacation in the Caribbean or in one of America’s Sun Belt states, just close your eyes, thing green thoughts and keep repeating, "There’s nothing like spring, there’s nothing like spring," ‘cause before you know it, you’ll be sweating in the oppressive heat and humidity of summer.

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