It is apparently pointless to challenge the hysteria that hits the airwaves every time a snowflake forms and begins its plummet earthward, determined to unleash mayhem.
This week, outlandish overreaction went into overdrive when an announcer on CBC Radio reported that people would have to “contend with” three to eight centimetres of snow on the roads by the time they began their commute home.
Using the old standard of measurement, that’s about one to three inches of snow, which might be something to contend with if you were crawling home on your hands and knees and didn’t have gloves or pants, but isn’t anything at all to contend with if you’re driving a vehicle.
Even the learned folks at Environment Canada have succumbed to the hysteria. In their opinion, 19 centimetres of fluffy, dry snow that falls straight down classifies as a snowstorm. With a wisp of wind, it would count as a blizzard.
The last time Environment Canada issued a dire blizzard warning was Jan. 3. I drove home in the thick of it. Blizzard? It was a fine winter evening, albeit snowy, and the roads were perfectly safe if you drove as if it was January rather than July. Visibility was at least half a kilometre, and using four-wheel-drive wasn’t remotely necessary. A blizzard is when you can barely see the road in front of your hood.
The next day, Jan. 4, the power went out, the lights went off and houses got cold. It was quickly dubbed Blackout 2014, a dark and ominous beginning to a new year that was only four days old.
The blizzard took the initial blame, of course.
Except, there was no blizzard.
Good thing, too, because it forced the debate to shift to Nalcor Energy and all its doings and not doings.
Snow made headlines this week in places such as Georgia and Texas. They got some. They usually don’t.
Snow is usual in Newfoundland. What is unusual is the recent habit of getting hysterical about it.
Is “hysterical” an exaggeration? I don’t think so. When an impending 10 centimetres of snow brings “storm warnings,” something is seriously amiss.
The RNC and RCMP have taken to issuing “advisories to motorists” whenever it snows. As transmitted via the media, these pronouncements of the obvious advise people to slow down, hold off their usual tailgating and realize the roads might be slippery because, you know, it isn’t July.
The cops have good intentions, undoubtedly, and who can blame them if, on a wintry day, they’d rather sip coffee and send out emails than make another boring grow-op bust.
But all this hysteria can backfire. It can, and does, have unintended and undesirable consequences.
I’ve said it before, and it’s worth saying again: the City of St. John’s gets away with its deplorable snowclearing performance because too many people have accepted the notion that it is impossible to do otherwise. The city will be swamped with snow, and must therefore live with months-old snowbanks, if rain doesn’t come. Remove the snow? Impossible. Keep sidewalks cleared? Impossible.
There is also a safety factor. We haven’t had a snowstorm yet this year, let alone a blizzard. And yet, at least twice the police have advised people to stay off the roads unless it’s absolutely necessary for them to go out. This essentially disqualifies everyone except cardiac surgeons.
Put another way, there’s a bit of snow, so stay inside.
They have it backwards. Snow doesn’t mean things come to a halt. It means the snowplows have to get going.
It’s winter. There’s snow. It has to be cleared.
There might even be more tomorrow. Clear that, too. Costs money? Too bad. It’s well spent. It’s winter.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at
The Telegram. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.