Archive for the 'Weather' Category


Petty complaints about Irene stand out on social media landscape

Life is getting back to normal in the Delaware Valley after Hurricane Irene spun her chaos throughout the region. Transportation systems into and out of the area are nearly back to full power. And despite some damage and flooding, we skated by pretty luckily down here, all things considered.

A hurricane is kind of a big deal. On the day of impact, you can forget about how things are supposed to happen normally. The day after, you can expect a lot of clean-up and rescheduling; maybe a few flights and a few buses. Not until a good couple of days after the storm can you really expect anything approaching a regular routine to resume.

Most people feel inspired to band together and push through. Solidarity was in full bloom on social networks, where activity overwhelming centered around checking in on people’s safety and spreading reports of the latest details.
So the small but noisy minority of petty tweets and Facebook posts about travel delays I saw were doubly disappointing.

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The Long Winter

Philadelphia got dumped on again Wednesday night. Mounds of blackened snow were covered with yet another thick, white coat, giving the city once again a suede-like sheen in the dampened gray daylight.

Honestly, I love the snow. And I love the response. Everyone emerges from their houses like worms after a rainstorm. It’s funny how similar the behavior looks between such dissimilar species. Up and down the main streets, dark shapes move against the whitewash, coated and bundled neighbors doing their best to push back the weather, dig out their cars, clear their sidewalks. Cars get stuck, and within minutes there are two or three men (always men, it seems) gathered around offering advice, pushing, pulling, calculating the mechanics of a spinning tire in a frictionless ditch — get a brick, get a board, get some rope. It always ends in a complaint about the bad plow job done by city trucks.

In the climate of negativity toward the response of northeastern cities to recent winter weather emergencies, it’s nice to see some happy news. Here’s something from the Associated Press about random kindness and senseless acts of shoveling.

Between storms, a builder in Connecticut uses his skid loader to plow his neighbors’ driveways. In Maryland, a good Samaritan hands out water and M&Ms to stranded drivers. The mayor of Philadelphia urges residents to “be kind” and help one another out — and they respond by doing just that.

Across the Northeast, full of large cities where people wear their brusqueness like a badge of honor, neighbors and even strangers are banding together to beat back what’s shaping up to be one of the most brutal winters in years — and it appears to be contagious. [MORE]

I witnessed the storm grow from a gentle snowfall to maximum-strength blizzard during my weekly Bolt Bus trip from New York to Philadelphia. All across New Jersey, traffic moved steadily on I-95, at about 3/4 speed, but periodic curbside clusters of red flares and occasional 16-wheelers, like dead whales, breathless, dark and still, on the wrong side of the median, were unsubtle reminders to me and my fellow passengers that Bad News could happen at any moment.

We applauded the driver when we arrived safely at 30th Street Station. We were an hour and 10 minutes late, but we were there, and I love that no one complained.

When I saw three cars stuck on the open streets nearby, one of them a cab, I decided to take the subway to my neighborhood and walk home.

Later, stumbling down unshoveled sidewalks (sometimes it’s easier to walk in the street), I heard a mechanical crescendo behind me and turned to see an approaching brigade of half a dozen yellow-and-black loading shovels led by a brave little pickup truck. With their top-mounted headlights shining through the thick haze of flurries, they reminded me of machines in post-apocalyptic science fiction movies. But these were the good guys in the conflict between man and nature. They passed me to seek out needier streets.

The next day, we had to clear out our sidewalks. I forced myself out of bed and sleepily pulled on my boots to go shovel at 6 a.m. My neighbor had already cleared out half of the block on his side of the street. Someone on my side had us taken care of us from the corner up to my house. With so much good-samaritan activity around me, there was no way my conscience would allow me to shovel only one house worth of sidewalk. I paid the path forward about five houses down and went back inside to make coffee.


Philly’s Snow Panic Brings out the Best and Worst

Over the recent weekend, Philadelphia got its second-worst snowfall ever (since they started keeping such records in the early 19th century). If forecasts are correct and we get another foot or more today, we’ll be on track to break a record for annual snowfall.

So, we pull on our boots and dig ourselves out.

With only 14 feet of sidewalk in front of our house, it’s no big deal to shovel and salt our walk and the neighbors’ on either side. On Sunday, half a dozen people on the block took up their shovels and started hacking at our tiny, narrow street. There’s no chance of getting a plow around the corner, so it’s down to us.

There was some real community spirit out there for a few minutes. I didn’t know anyone’s name, and we didn’t even all speak the same language, but we all had a common purpose. Kids were bouncing around like puppies. Neighbors were talking.

There are not many places you can shift two and a half feet of snow. There’s only so much room between the snowed-in cars parked along one side. We were forced to dump a lot of it on the curbs, knowing we’d have to tidy up the sidewalks again.

And then the daisy chain was broken.

Continue reading ‘Philly’s Snow Panic Brings out the Best and Worst’


Now That’s Entertainment!

Maybe the cat has the right idea, perched on the radiator, watching the snowfall this morning through slitted eyes. She twitches just the tip of her tail from time to time as I might tap my finger. Not bored, but content. And maybe a bit expectant.

One can see the snow only against the buildings and cars and the skeletons of trees. Glancing skyward, it seems to disappear against the gray. But it’s there. Traffic is quiet; schools are closed: the world in slow-motion. I already hate the rain that will come later to beat it down and flush it away.

Actually, she might just be staring at the wall across the alley.

Still, I suppose the principle is the same.


Welcome, September!

The last of September’s insidious little heat waves has broken, and we are in store for a week of temperatures in the low- to mid-70s, and I could not be more delighted about it. Even when we were having 87-degree days, the mornings started out breezy, with a hint of coolness. It smells like autumn now. Leaves are falling — unfortunately, before they are allowed to turn color — and that late-summer/early-autumn rot has begun.


One Track Mind

The pet owner is bundled up against the winter elements. His dog, because this is New York City, is teeny-tiny and dressed in an outfit that costs as much as the man’s. The dog scampers along in front, keeping pace, pretending there is no leash connecting them. And then he stops to inspect the base of a retaining wall. The owner passes him and pauses, giving the lead a gentle tug. Come on. Time to go in, boy. The man shifts on his feet and shivers.

The animal stands there with his ass in the air, clearly shivering. He’s one of those little guys that shivers on a warm day. A bitter wind whistles under his tail and across his exposed belly. His single-mindedness and determination is almost inspirational. I’m coming, I’m coming. I just really have to smell this because it’s so … interesting, and I … Oh, wait, what’s this? Oh, now that… that smells awful. Isn’t that awful?



SnowToday when I woke up, there was a fine dusting of snow on the ground and on the rooftops and in the trees. As if on cue, the night of December 1 was the first occasion of snow accumulation in New York City. I couldn’t be more delighted.

I watched Fargo again last night for the first time in years. Ignoring for a moment the more gruesome elements of the story, and my absolute adoration of Frances McDormand‘s Marge Gunderson, it is primarily for me a strong reminder of Minnesota winters. Minnesota is not exactly the remote, desolate wasteland the Coen brothers would have you believe. There is a lot of open country along those highways. And, sure, you can take your life in your hands driving from Minneapolis to Leech Lake in the dead of a December night. But winter is a time of year that brings most Minnesotans to life. A state with so many lakes to freeze knows how to live it up when the temperatures get down.

All it takes to put me in a good mood is the random occurrence of rising moisture on the cold side of a low pressure system and the freezing of water vapor condensation into six-sided crystals heavy enough to fall to the surface of the earth. I’m not asking for much, really. Yet as simple and random and, frankly, common as it is, snowfall never fails to delight and inspire me.

I think what is less common and more remarkable is the stillness. For lightweight snowflakes to fall so gently in a more or less straight line, things have to be pretty calm. It’s worth taking a few minutes to notice and appreciate — especially in the city. Five floors up, the world is impressively silent and peaceful. Some of the larger flakes are swirling around as they meet the building and flirting with the window panes on their way to the courtyard below. There is a cat, big, fat and lazy, on my lap, and I am drinking strong coffee, listening to Ella Fitzgerald sing about something that came upon a midnight clear. I am definitely a northern lad, grateful for snow. I pity the South.



Today is the first day of summer, the longest day of the year, but you’d hardly know it. It doesn’t feel much like summer. New York has been blessed with a mild spring this year. I desperately hope the lower temperatures continue.

It is the summer solstice. Basically, it all has to do with the position of the sun — which is way over my head. And everyone else’s too. (Heh heh… get it?) Twice a year, the sun’s path around the earth is the farthest north or south it can get from the Equator. On June 21, the North Pole is tilted toward the sun. Six months hence, on the winter solstice (to us Northern Hemisphere folk), the South Pole will be tilted toward the Sun. On the first day of summer, everywhere north of the Arctic Circle has 24 hours of sunlight, and the length of day at all places north of the Equator is more than 12 hours.

It amazes me to think how much of human belief has been shaped by the length of a day. It’s all down to the accidental 23.45° tilt of Earth’s axis, and its distance from the sun. One or two degrees in either direction, and the whole of human existence could have developed completely differently.

Who knows: If we were tilted a bit further, the polar ice caps would be bigger, we’d all be a little cooler year-round, sleep patterns would be different, biological rhythms would all be different.

We seem to make a bigger fuss over marking the winter solstice. Winter celebrations predate agriculture. As winter approached and the days grew shorter and the temperature dropped, and plants, animals and people began to die all around, I can see how ancient people might have been afraid that the sun was disappearing and not coming back. I’d do whatever I could do to get it to come back. Apparently, they lit bonfires and had big parties and built religions. (Today, rather than lighting bonfires, we risk housefires and death by electrifying evergreen shrubbery.) This in turn led to the founding of civilizations and nations and economic systems and flying to the moon and realizing that the whole thing is actually not managed by a guy in a glowing horse-drawn carriage.

My hat’s off to those weirdos who counted the as-yet-undefined units of time between sunrise and sunset, and to all those who broke their backs hauling enormous stones and such just to tell time and mark dates. It’s so easy for us now that they’ve done all the work.


Saving Quarters

The days are lengthening through these cool spring months, and afternoons are warming up slowly in anticipation of summer’s full force. Families up and down Henry Street and East Broadway have begun to hang their laundry out their windows to dry. Wire hangers clatter against the fire escapes and iron grates along the tenement facades, and the damp clothes flap like prayer flags in the breeze that whips across Lower Manhattan and the East River.



I could never live in a place where there is no autumn or winter. It makes springtime all the more miraculous. Do I have such a bad memory that new leaves are a delight for me year after year? Or is it truly amazing how, over the course of three days, a bright green parasol unfolds from nowhere over a drab streetscape? Even this place is beautiful.

the untallied hours