Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It's Midwest snow. What's the big deal?

BYRNE: Chicago's ultimate 'snow queen'
I wish I could follow the advice of Dean Martin, or many of the other people who have recorded versions of the winter carol, “Let it snow.”

Because we’re expecting “frightful” weather and it would be “delightful” if I could just hole myself up indoors for the night.

YET THAT WON’T be my fate Tuesday night, because I am a free-lance writer who actually has some paying work lined up that will require me to be out and about, driving my car during the evening hours.

Which, if the weather forecasts are correct, will be at the high point of the “deadly” and “devastating” snow storm that could see up to three inches per hour fall on us, along with strong winds that will blow the fluffy stuff all about and create “white-out” conditions. Visibility will be poor.

I could be in for one of the most harrowing evenings of my lifetime Tuesday night.

Or, it could turn out to be a whole lot of babbling about nothing!

IN MY DUTIES as a reporter-type person for one of the daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area, I interviewed several municipal types who said that while they expect a heavy snowstorm to fall Tuesday night, they’re not about to start the panic-type talk.

I literally had one school district official tell me how they were reluctant to talk about cancelling classes now, out of fear that the resulting snow storm would turn out to be a little flurry that wouldn’t amount to much – and certainly wouldn’t warrant giving school kids an extra day off from classes.

A premonition, or an over-reaction, for Illinois state government? Photograph provided by state of Illinois.

So this seems to be a matter of what one wants to believe. Little flurry? Or 18-plus inches of snow accumulating during a 24-hour period from Tuesday afternoon to Wednesday afternoon?

Is the Illinois General Assembly, which was supposed to begin its serious business for the year on Tuesday, going to look like a batch of geniuses for already cancelling their entire week’s worth of activity?

OR WILL THEY appear to be panicking for nothing?

Personally, my gut feeling (which is about as accurate as anyone else’s) says we’re due for a heavy snowfall this winter season. Be honest. We really haven’t had one yet this season.

The reality of a Midwestern U.S. winter is that it snows here, and there are times when it is an inconvenience. If it means that this week will be the one heavy snowfall of the 2010-11 winter, then we ought to feel fortunate that we only got one storm – and that we got something resembling advance warning.

People can joke, but those who chose to do some advance grocery shopping on the off-chance that it really does come down hard and heavy are better off than if this snowfall had suddenly snuck up on us and we were caught with nothing.

OR WORSE YET, if we were hit with a surprise snowfall that wound up leaving us stranded somewhere other than our respective homesteads.

This week’s weather is going to draw comparisons to the past.

We’re going to see on our television screens the grainy footage from the past – particularly 1967, when on Jan. 26, 23 inches fell on Chicago during a 35-hour time period.

We’re bound to get at least one old-timer (I was all of 1 ½ years old when that storm occurred) who will recall snowdrifts so high that they were able to walk on top of parked cars, and of people who lost their car for a week or so until the snow finally melted away.
Even winter slop can have some beauty in Chicago

WE’LL EVEN HEAR about the snowstorm of ’79, which as I remember it wasn’t so bad, in and of itself. It was the ineptitude of city officials in dealing with the snowfall, and the perception that then-Mayor Michael Bilandic neglected certain neighborhoods of a racial persuasion in terms of cleanup that caused the Election Day backlash – and the stories that still get told by amateur political observers to this day.

And no, we’re not likely to get a repeat of that scenario in this year’s municipal election cycle. Richard M. Daley isn’t running for election, and I can’t think of any way we can “Blame it on Rahm,” even for those people who want to believe that Emanuel is to blame for everything that is wrong in our society today.

So no, the snow won’t make Carol Moseley-Braun mayor. She’ll have to find another issue to campaign on, aside from the cheap shots she is taking these days about drug use and “smoking crack” cocaine by one of her opponents.

All of which means we’re getting our winter snowfall. Get over it. It snows in this part of the country, and it can be one of the charms of our region – compared to those parts of the United States in the South whose residents mock us now, but will have their home turf turn into a swampy, heated and humid mess in mid-summer; a condition I would find more repulsive than anything that might hit us in Chicago during the next couple of days.


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