Preston Clive
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A Blizzard Of--Overreaction & Lost Revenue


Uh oh.. it's a blizzard! Better shut down the entire city!!! (IMAGE:

When I was a kid growing up in New York City--I was born not too far from the original Yankee Stadium, in fact, in the year of 1967--blizzards were a regular feature of city life. As a matter of fact, the day I was born was marked by the start of a blizzard that shut down much of the city for a week .  .  .  and when I say shut down, I mean schools being closed. Schools were closed for a full five days, which ignited squeals of joy in my three older brothers (I'm the youngest of four boys) and their comrades in school.

However, all through this period, I cannot once recall the subways ever having a substantial problem with snow. The elevated lines are porous enough--and the rails run over, to and fro frequently enough--where accumulations are never an issue. Station porters always salt and shovel the stations with enough of a lead time whereby the areas beyond the overhanging canopy are typically safe to walk through. And, of course, the underground lines are safe because, well--it's underground. Even with blizzard level accumulations that were followed by--when the cold storm front passed--unseasonably warm weather that melted the snow immediately, the drainage systems underground inevitably handled the runoff without event.

The NYC subway system was built during a period of time when the wintertime in the city was always a long stretch of frigid temperatures, and lots of snowstorms. Blizzards were a regular feature of city life. It's only within the past fifteen to twenty years that the "big blizzard" has turned into a unique event in the urban year. 

It's certainly true that blizzards in the past had the ability to slow city life to a crawl-- see for example the blizzard I mentioned in 1967 that shut the public and private schools down for days. Above-ground transport like bus service could obviously be slowed to just a few basic north-south and east-west routes on well-plowed primary arteries. Secondary lines would have to wait for plows to do their work elsewhere.

But nowadays there seems to be a rush to declare unprecedented conditions--Mike Bloomberg was especially prone to this, very famously when he declared that the city had experienced a record snowfall, simply because of a couple of drifts that reached just shy of 27 inches in Central Park sat around the city's snow measuring stick on February 11th-12th 2006. The *whap* of forehead-slapping around the city was deafening. This blizzard was more like two feet around the vast bulk of the city, but the mayor constantly trumpeted that we were sitting on the biggest blizzard in New York history. Most folks will tell you that the 2010 Christmas storm, and the 1996 storm of January 7th dumped a greater amount generally, and consistently across the plains of the city.

But alas, nothing is more exciting for a politician than being smack dab in the middle of something big for the history books--or one that gives off an aroma of being the aforementioned. Governors and mayors move to the forefront in such scenarios. They make Moves For The Ages, and in doing so, sometimes overreact.

Yesterday's relatively limp snowfall is a perfect example of how Frankenblizzard can quickly turn into Frankenburp in no time flat. Weather station websites, anxious for traffic, trumpet record setting conditions as a Given; other sites jump on the bandwagon using the unison message being given out by competitor sites as cover, and enjoy the special attention they receive during potentially dire moments such as Monday evening when all were girding for the End Times. Soon enough the politicians join in and react with the worst case scenario as a fait accompli.

Problem is the weather doesn't always cooperate with the push toward record-setting conditions headed for the history books. In the end, we were left with a completely unspectacular snowfall that wouldn't frighten a kitten, and via the shutdown of virtually the entire City of New York, lost revenues via paying MTA employees with no operating income (via a system completely shut down), businesses missing a day's worth of revenue, and a city in sum deprived of a day's worth of tax revenues from across the virtual sum of the levy spectrum. A day of red ink.

There are lessons to be learned in here--a little less sensationalism, a little more "wait and see before" emergency measures are put in place. Let's respond to actual emergencies, not theoretical ones. 

And lastly--when embarking on an act as significant as shutting down the entire Metropolitan Transit Authority, the governor should at least commiserate with the mayor. The state was stunned to discover that Mayor deBlasio found out about the shutdown the same way we all did .  .  .  via general organs of the media and public dissemination of information.

Preston Clive