Copyright 2003 Linda Marcas - All Rights Reserved
It's No Emergency
I lived in Massachusetts during the Blizzard of '78, the one that
paralyzed the northeast quarter of the United States for more than a week.
My living room was dark, because the snow had piled up over the windows.
My apartment was on the ground floor, which had been divided into two
small units, but the second and third floors held one large apartment each.
This turned out to be a good thing, because the only way I could get out of
the building was to take an indoor stairway up to the second floor, go
through my neighbor's apartment, and leave through the rear stairs and
walkway, which had been shovelled. I walked the two blocks to the diner
where I worked, wading through hip-deep snow the entire way, then
changed into the dry clothes I'd brought with me and served food to the city
plow crews. My fellow employees made it to work because one of the
brothers who owned the diner fetched them in with his trusty Jeep. That was
A week ago, it snowed here in Northwest Ohio. No surprise, because
it's still winter, and that's usually when it snows. I don't like winter, but I
wouldn't mind it quite so much if I didn't have to listen to the local TV
stations make such a big deal out of every snowflake. Every passing cloud
seems to prompt the local news to dire predictions of The Great White
Death, usually followed by anti-climactic mumblings of "it looks like it
missed us this time" when we don't get enough of "the white stuff" to have a
decent snowball fight.
Perhaps it is in order to make up for the many instances of the doppler
that cried "wolf!" that the TV folks go hog wild with flake-by-flake
coverage whenever we actually get a few inches of snow. Last week, after
airing two hours of nothing but infomercials, the local CBS affiliate waited
until the opening segment of "Sunday Morning," the only thing worth
watching at that hour, to break in with frantic babblings about the varying
levels of "snow emergency" and live footage of shivering reporters standing
in empty cornfields, commenting on the lack of traffic, and sticking
yardsticks into snowdrifts. They repeated this performance several times
throughout the program, padding it out with high-tech live radar images that
showed absolutely nothing, because by this point the storm was long gone
and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. They could have shown me everything I
needed to know in a "crawl" of text at the bottom of the screen, but they
opted for the hysterical self-aggrandizement of "breaking news coverage"
And what is it with those "snow emergency" levels, anyway? This is
Ohio, it snows in the winter, and driving on snow is different than driving on
dry pavement. If you don't know this, you shouldn't have a driver's license.
"Snow Emergency Level One," as endlessly drilled at us after any
accumulation, means that blowing and drifting snow, and maybe some ice,
will make road conditions hazardous. Well, duh! How is that any different
from saying, "it snowed, drive carefully"? Calling it a Level One
Emergency, though, makes it sound important enough to be news.
Level Two is a little harder to pin down, depending on whom you
listen to. It's either "don't drive unless you have to," or "don't drive unless
it's an emergency." You might be in trouble, though, if your boss chooses
the first interpretation while you choose the second; he'll think you have to
be at your job at the Whizzbang Widget Works, but you'll think it's not an
emergency if the world has to wait for more widgets.
Level Three is the only level that makes any sense, at least to me;
"emergency vehicles only, or you might be arrested." Now, that qualifies as
a snow emergency! Level Two should change its name to "stay home if you
can," and Level One should just be "it snowed, don't drive like an idiot."
I'm tired of winter, but I'm more tired of weather hype delivered by
nattering nincompoops trying to make their job seem more important than it
is, because they do it all year 'round. I'm tired of flashy street-by-street
weather tracking from TV stations that don't even post a thunderstorm
warning on the screen while I'm looking out the window and seeing the
debris equivalent of Dorothy's house blowing down Main Street. I'm tired of
being warned about storms that never appear, and more tired of having no
warning of some that do occur. I'm most tired of after-the-fact coverage,
and re-coverage, of fairly ordinary weather events. Get a grip. It snows in
Ohio in the winter, and, unless it's a Level Three, it's no emergency.
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