Mayor de Blasio was wrong to declare a snow day yesterday. While he may have been treading cautiously, remembering November’s horrible sneak snowstorm, a clear analysis of our changing climate shows that he overacted.
I’m not against #nycsafe, I’m for #nycsmart. Science is free and democratized. Our federal government built and funds the Nation Weather Service which provides localized hourly weather data. Many apps, like DarkSky, which I use, provide direct access to that data for making informed decisions. Just knowing what to do with the data once accessed is the challenge.
As you know, schools keep kids safe, occupied, learning, fed and warm. Having kids in school keeps parents working and businesses functioning. None of those things happen well when the kids have no school. Sustainability means keeping communities and business running. A sustainable city is one that can function even in the face of challenge, and is one that understands the difference between urgency and emergency.
I do realize that today’s school closing is perhaps a post- trauma of the very scary and very real snow storm we experienced in NY and NJ in November. The impact of that storm was not the NYC mayor’s fault- there were hundreds of accidents on the NJ turnpike and throughout the region. But understanding that storm can help lead to better decision making for this winter and for the decade and a half of snow we have left in this region.
What happened in that November storm?
First, a changing climate contributed two parts:
A/ Because of a warmer fall, the leaves were still on the trees longer than they would have been on, say a decade ago. Deciduous trees lose their leaves before winter by design: the flat surface of a leaf catches and holds lots of snow which in turn could pull down limbs and even whole trunks – which is exactly what happened in November. Downed trees blocked roads and walkways, stopping traffic.
B/ Because warmer water holds more moisture, there is at least 4% more moisture in the atmosphere than there was 30 years ago. So when precipitation does come, it can come harder, deeper, and more intensely. These intense precipitation events have been recorded in increasing numbers since early in this century. We need to be ready for that.
The second two of factors are just bad luck:
A/ The timing of the storm meant that it hit everyone during rush hour home.
B/ It happened to be bouncing between 31 -32 degrees. Freezing on and off creating heavy icy thick and unpredictable conditions.
I know how horrible it was. I had 5 climate refugees bunk down in my house because they couldn’t get home to distant White Plains. I had a son stuck hours on a bus, a husband trapped, a school bus burst into flames at my daugther’s school. Terrifying. But it is so much more important to understand and prepare for that sort of event and the difference between that event a regular winter snow so that out communities can function.
Last night was none of those things. The trees are bare. Snow stopped by 5 am. Plows and DSNY had time to function. It is and will be above freezing all day long.
Kids should be in school. Parents should be at work. Everyone should of course be safe. Government should be smart. Last night it snowed, yes. It was important to urgently have plows ready, to stay off the roads for a few hours, but a little bit of thought could have prevented the emergency and still kept us all safe.