Jasper Smith

Commentary on politics, economics, culture and sports.

Are we weather wimps?

with one comment

A couple of weeks ago — about the time we got our first big snow storm — The Globe ran a story asking if the people of Greater Boston had become weather wimps given to over-the-top reactions and whining whenever we get a bit of tough weather:

We’re supposed to be known for our hardiness, for the way we embrace the elements with stoicism and even a touch of pride.

So what happened?

This season’s first snow – big, fluffy flakes totaling 10 inches or less – paralyzed an entire region. Workers fled their offices early, clogging highways and side streets. Drivers fishtailed trying to get to supermarkets, only to find parking lots jammed with customers buying last-minute items like bread and batteries. Yet the rush for supplies proved unnecessary. Much of the snow melted yesterday, a sunny, 40-degree day, exactly as the weather reporters said it would.

Nathaniel Philbrick, author of “Mayflower” and “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex,” said he sees signs that New Englanders’ storied moxie is on the wane.

In fact, he used the word crybabies to describe peoples’ reaction to Thursday’s storm, one that set no records, came as no surprise, and delivered the kind of snow, dry and light, that is a DPW commissioner’s dream.

“The fact is, once you get used to these modern conveniences and luxuries, even the mildest inconveniences become an epic tale of deprivation,” Philbrick said. “Perhaps our threshold will be so diminished [that] our version of the Essex disaster and the Mayflower will be the drive home from the mall in 2 inches of snow.”

To be sure, parents needed to get children from the many schools that were dismissed early. The snow, at its peak, was falling at an uncharacteristically rapid clip. City, state, and private industry offices were closing in virtual unison.

Still, Philbrick echoed the thoughts of many residents yesterday who were befuddled by the way the city reacted to the storm – more like, perhaps, the way Washington or Memphis shuts down over an inch of snow.

“People who live here should know how to handle this by now,” said Yvonne Thompson, a 49-year-old construction worker and lifelong Boston resident who pointed out that meteorologists had been predicting the storm for days.

Quite so, Yvonne. And I have to agree, we have in fact become weather wimps.  There are lots of reasons for this, but I suspect much of it is transportation: Many people have to drive longer distances on average, and fly more often for their jobs — than was the case thirty or forty years ago. Also, it seems to me many young kids participate in FAR more activities and clubs that require parental chauffeuring than once was the case. Also, the internet makes it easier for employers to “pull the trigger” on sending people home, so that’s one cause as well — there’s more pressure on employers to be “reasonable” and let people work from home.

Over the years we’ve simply became a much more mobile society that is more dependent on smooth-functioning transportation systems than ever before. It’s interesting to note, however, that when we do occasionally get a very snowy winter when blizzards roll in week after week through December, January and February, it seems like the metro Boston area deals with the weather much more efficiently and nonchalantly (and people are much more relaxed) toward the end of the season than is the case at the beginning. People simply get used to dealing with winter weather after many weeks of it. So I expect climate change also has at least something to do with the phenomenon: folks ’round these parts simply don’t have to deal with as many snow events and harsh weather conditions as they used to, so they forget how to deal with it. Also, greater population density means more traffic congestion, which in turn leads to bad driving manners, which makes people shittier drivers, and this makes driving in wintery conditions worse still.

Ahhh, the pleasures of winter in urban New England.

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Written by Jasper

January 4, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Posted in Miscellania

Tagged with , , ,

One Response

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  1. First blog I read after wakeup from sleep today!

    —————————-

    Sander

    March 3, 2009 at 7:55 am


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