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Waking up to another two inches of snow the other day, I shoveled and marveled at how high the snow piles have become.
It reminded me of February 2019 when we had a record 40 inches of snow; December of 2010 when the Metrodome roof caved in from heavy snowfalls; the winter of 1995/96, when it was -32 on Groundhog Day at an outdoor graveside service at Fort Snelling for my wife's grandmother; of course the Halloween blizzard of 1991, and the famous snows of January 1982 — two 17-inch snowfalls in three days the year I moved to Minneapolis from tropical southern Wisconsin.
Snow, cold, a little wind, a bit of ice, short days — all are familiar results of being landlocked at 45 degrees north, like southern Russia.
Coming into the house after shoveling, savoring a cup of hot coffee, I logged onto my computer to check current weather. I encountered a concerning forecast — a 50% chance of "snow/blizzard mix" that day.
What exactly is a snow/blizzard mix? There were no official warnings or advisories issued. We had received a bit under two inches of snow. There was a breeze but no drifting to speak of. The snowplow came by, people were heading to work, my dog was playing in the new powder ... where was the snow/blizzard mix?
I checked the wind speed — south at 18 gusting to 25, not much of a blizzard. Was the word added to create hype? The Weather Channel has done a terrific job over the past few years naming snowstorms as if they were hurricanes, and the media today delights in intoning that millions of Americans are "in the path" of some disagreeable weather event. Last week we were advised that "7 million people are under alert for weather."
Really? Some 2% of the population of a vast continental nation is in the path of a storm? Seems pretty typical. The U.S. is big — no doubt millions are constantly in the path of inclement weather.
This is not our first winter with snow and cold and will not be the last. It was not a blizzard/snow mix we had the other day, it was a typical fast-moving nuisance, in the past dubbed an "Alberta clipper" and often followed by arctic air. Nothing unusual. Nothing to make headlines. School is in session, people are going to work, and to McDonald's and Starbucks, mail will be delivered, flights will take off and land.
This week's arctic cold front is not a "polar vortex"; it is a cold front. A polar vortex is from a Hollywood movie ("The Day After Tomorrow"). Most of us never heard the term "bomb-cyclone" until recent years, either. We called it a fast-developing storm when I was younger. I guess it sounds more threatening this way?
I am not writing this to challenge climate change. No doubt there are things we can and should be doing to mitigate our impact. The weather is changing; we are going to need to adapt.
But another thing to consider, which the media seldom discusses: Populations in areas vulnerable to hurricanes and other disasters have grown. California today has 39 million people; a century ago it was 3.5 million. All those millions more people live in heavily concentrated cities; the central valleys are irrigated so we can have lettuce, fruit and other produce year-round across the country. Of course, this makes the impact of drought (or floods) much worse.
Arizona has 7.5 million people today; in 1920 it had 335,000, less than the population of Minneapolis. Nevada has more than 4 million people today, it had 77,000 people in 1920.
Florida today is home to 22 million people, in 1920 that number was under 1 million. It was largely low-lying swampland, prone to flooding and hurricanes. Over 100 years we put 21 million more people there, built highways, amusement parks, golf courses, vacation homes, convention centers, etc., etc. When a hurricane arrives now, guess what — big-time damage. We have created this, and Florida continues to grow. Same thing in the Carolinas, Virginia, east Texas. Growth continues and so will the damage from storms. Does it make sense to keep building more and more in areas that are prone to this kind of weather?
The time has come to consider all this, but also to understand that bad weather has been a part of our planet's history forever and will continue. Let's stop blowing it out of proportion and start acting upon strategies to mitigate further damage. Let's call the weather what it is and stop creating fantasy names to embellish it.
Alert people appropriately if there is threat, but call it a winter storm, a cold front, arctic air, a hot day, etc. Or maybe reality is just too dull for the media?
Will Nagle lives in Lakeville.