woody zimmerman 118 2007All over the country Americans are going crazy over one of the wildest, coldest, snowiest winters in our history – or so politicians and reporters claim. Is it really that bad? Although my grandkids think I probably knew Robert E. Lee, I don’t really know much about way-back weather, except what I heard from superannuated relatives. My guess is that it got pretty bad sometimes. My grandpop was a boy when the Blizzard of ’88 – a “snow-icane” some historians call it – hit the eastern USA, dumping 55 inches of snow in some areas, and killing over 400 people plus untold numbers of livestock. Grandpa often reminisced about walking over the tops of fences on the snow-drifts. The effects of that catastrophic storm were long-lasting. Here’s one description:

On March 10, temperatures in the Northeast hovered in the mid-50s. But on March 11, cold Arctic air from Canada collided with Gulf air from the south, and temperatures plunged. Rain turned to snow and winds reached hurricane-strength. By midnight on March 11, gusts were recorded at 85 miles per hour in New York City. Along with heavy snow, there was a complete whiteout in the city when the residents awoke the next morning. Despite drifts that reached the second story of some buildings, many city residents trudged out to elevated trains to go to work, only to find many of them blocked by snow drifts and unable to move. Up to 15,000 people were stranded on the elevated trains… Telegraph lines, water mains and gas lines were also located above ground. None was a match for the powerful blizzard – freezing and then becoming inaccessible to repair crews. Simply walking the streets was perilous. Only 30 people out of 1,000 were able to make it to the New York Stock Exchange for work; Wall Street was forced to close for three straight days. There were also several instances of people collapsing in snow drifts and dying, including Senator Roscoe Conkling, New York's Republican Party leader. Overall, about 200 people were killed by the blizzard in New York City alone. In the wake of the storm, officials realized the dangers of above-ground telegraph, water and gas lines, and moved them below ground. In New York City, a similar determination was made about the trains, and within 10 years, construction began on an underground subway system that is still in use today.”

Another account mentioned hundreds of New York horses that froze to death where they stood, and were buried under snow drifts during the storm. The animal-carcasses presented a major health problem when they were revealed during the subsequent thaw. (Try to imagine the task of loading a frozen, 1500-lb. horse-carcass onto a wagon for disposal, without using the portable cranes and front-end-loaders we have today.) With temperatures falling below zero, the East River froze over during the blizzard – an extremely rare occurrence. Thousands of passengers were stranded on snowbound trains and in terminals during the height of the storm.

Recent storms have certainly been disruptive in the northeastern USA, as well as farther south where serious snowstorms are rare. Heavy snow and ice make travel extremely difficult and hazardous in urban and suburban areas. Most of us have seen news-footage of those mind-boggling crash-scenes involving scores of cars and trucks on interstate highways. It’s very difficult for state and urban highway departments to be prepared for situations like this. And despite what northerners claim, no urban drivers are really skilled at driving in ice and snow. It’s the amount of traffic – not whether you know which way to turn the wheel when you’re sliding – that snarls city traffic in bad weather. I clearly recall a photo from the late 1970s showing a Boston Freeway that was packed, bumper-to-bumper, with three lanes of cars abandoned during a heavy storm. Snow was up to the hoods of the cars. I always wondered how long it must have taken to get all those thousands of cars towed after the storm.

After the disastrous storm of 1888, city planners and other wise people sat down together to make plans that would hopefully prevent future storms from causing so much disruption and damage to city-infrastructure. This included placing utilities and urban transit systems underground – as the above accounts indicate. Of course, the widespread use of motorcars was not anticipated at that time, but planners did their best with the knowledge gained from the storm.

Today, we are much smarter about these things. We waste no effort on the public-spirited good will that brought people together after disruptive weather-events of yore. Instead, local politicians turn every snowstorm into a political football by accusing political foes of bad faith in snow-clearing. Precinct A complains that its streets didn’t get plowed, while Precincts B and C got preference because their residents voted for the mayor. The chance to convert lessons learned from a storm into something productive is buried under a blizzard of stupid recrimination. (Is this a great country, or what?)

At the national level, things are no better, with the president, some congress-people, and other assorted flacks running round the country claiming that “climate change” caused the latest big snowstorm. They promise their gullible, “low-information” voters that climate-change can be stopped, and that doing so will end the increasingly severe storms across the country. All that’s needed, says our scientifically-hip president, is for rich Americans to pay higher taxes and accept stratospheric fuel, heating and electricity costs. Big Media are embarrassingly uncritical of these claims, which are based on two principal axioms:

  1. That the burning of hydrocarbon fuels is causing the climate to change;
  2. That government action can reduce that combustion enough to stop the change.

Mr. Obama claims that the science is “settled” on this whole shtick – which really boils down to tax-extortion and crony-capitalism – but neither axiom has been conclusively established. Nor has the weather cooperated. During recent years, “climate-change” gradually supplanted global-warming claims when it became obvious that the earth had, in fact, been in a most inconvenient cooling mode since 1998. Moreover, an expanding body of evidence suggests that the earth has undergone continual climate-change – sometimes warming, sometimes cooling – over millions of years, without the influence of any man-produced CO2 added to the atmosphere. Scientists have further noted that eliminating the USA’s entire industrial CO2 output would reduce climate temperatures by no more than 0.2 degree for this century. Such a drastic course would destroy the country’s economy, of course, but would have no appreciable effect on climate.

Control of the weather is a pipe-dream as old as mankind. In simpler times, Native Americans did rain-dances to try to induce the Great Spirit – or the gods (or whoever was running things) – to send rainfall to help grow their crops. Today the rain-dance is far more elaborate. In it, a slick-talking, impeccably dressed president flies to California on a gigantic plane to play several rounds of golf on lavishly irrigated golf-courses, between speeches declaring that climate-change has caused the ruinous drought in the San Joaquin Valley – sometimes called the nation’s “salad bowl,” since it produces much of the country’s produce. But Mr. Obama delicately omits the fact that the drought is essentially manmade – not from anthropogenic climate-change, but from his government’s order to divert millions of gallons of fresh water – water that could have irrigated the San Joaquin Valley – to the Pacific Ocean in order to preserve the tiny delta smelt.

Is our weather really becoming more extreme? Probably not – only more ambitiously reported and more frantically hyped for political purposes. Only in America could a two-inch fish trump the livelihoods of millions of farmers whose crops are dying of thirst. When lost incomes and higher produce prices are factored in, the costs could run into the tens of billions. Somewhere during Al Gore’s 15-year campaign against global-warming we’ve lost our collective minds. I hope we can come to our senses in time to save the asylum from the inmates who are running it.

Meanwhile, let’s arrest Al Gore and bring him in for questioning. Somebody has to be held responsible for all this snow. Al’s mercury-bomb light bulbs and electric cars could be to blame.

Blizzard of 1888, New York City