Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Recriminations While the Storm Rages On

It is a little too obvious when you see the media coverage of today’s blizzard that writers knew the big storm was coming and had their pieces written in advance. The stories are about reporters’ and analysts’ presuppositions rather than about what is actually going on. One way to tell that writers aren’t really paying attention is that there are more stories about the places where the snow didn’t fall than about the places where it is actually falling at the moment, or where roads are closed by one or two feet of snow on the ground. Climate scientists and climate-change politicians knew a big storm was coming at some point this winter (because of climate change, natch) and are using the occasion to pitch the connection between global warming and the jet-stream extremes that create extreme weather. The connection is scientifically accurate, but the attempt to link it to any specific storm is dubious. For their part, climate deniers are eager to show that today’s storm isn’t setting many records or killing many people, as if only an absolutely unprecedented disaster could make the idea of change seem worth considering.

Some of the writing is just irresponsible. The Washington Post has been hammering “forecast failures” all day after only a dusting of snow there, ignoring the fact that the weather forecasts never put Washington anywhere near the heart of the northeaster, and also ignoring the astonishing accuracy with which weather models predicted the timing and intensity of a storm before the first clouds had even formed. The fact that the forecast accurately predicted a blizzard right down to the hour could more easily be seen as a success than as a failure, but that wouldn’t be much of a story, would it?

Meanwhile, the storm is still going on. Here, snow fell for 38 straight hours, a noteworthy weather event for its persistence if nothing else. When it finally ended at the end of the morning, it was only because the sun had so thinned out the clouds that there was no place left for the snow to fall from. In eastern New England, several more inches of snow may fall in the next eight hours. If I spent two hours shoveling snow today, friends in the Boston area spent the whole afternoon trying to dig out, only to get up tomorrow morning and go at it again. In that context, how can you describe the people in Washington who are trying to tell us the storm never happened? Is it going too far to say that Washington is basically a southern city where people don’t necessarily know what winter means?