From snowpocalypse to apocalypse

I’m sure you’ll agree this blog requires visual aids:

snowpocalypse2012

Seeing the National Weather Service use the phrase “Life-threatening impacts” makes one think that exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

As of Wednesday night, in our corner of southwest Wisconsin 14 to 18 inches of snow were predicted, along with winds of 20 to 30 mph and gusts to 40 mph. That is certainly something one would not choose to drive in, and, yes, if you got stranded in that weather — in, say, snow deep enough to cover the exhaust pipe of your car, or wind chills below zero  that could be potentially life-threatening.

For the NWS to say that, though, invites people to assume hyperbole, similar to the tornado warnings without actual tornadoes. Last March, we in Wisconsin were on the northern end of a huge storm system that caused a two-day 70-tornado outbreak that killed 40 people farther to the south. What we did get? Several inches of wet, heavy snow. Less than two weeks later, our weather was almost summer-like. That’s Wisconsin for you,  the state where the term “normal weather”  is an oxymoron.

When you’re young, forecasts of snow lead to one question: Is school called off? (The answer here: Yes.) School was rarely called off in Madison — if I remember correctly, once for a day and a half in 1973, once due to an ice storm in 1976 (the same year as the Madison teachers’ strike, which wiped out two weeks of school), once in 1979 because our middle school had flat roofs of the same kind that caved in at my soon-to-be-alma mater, and once in high school, with a few early closings and late openings added. The cliché was that you’d listen to the radio in the morning and hear every area school district except Madison had closed for the day.

When I got to Grant County, school seemed to be called off all the time, with the added strange feature of no school, but that night’s sporting event still going on as scheduled. (They don’t do that anymore.) Obviously rural Wisconsin has more roads that take longer for snow to be removed, but the additional reason, a school district administrator told me, was the fear of lawsuits should school go on as scheduled and a school bus crash causes injuries or deaths.

My mother will tell anyone who asks about the day school was called off right after lunch and she intercepted me walking home in a blizzard. The worst storm I recall, however, wasn’t in Wisconsin; it was on our (attempted) trip to Florida in the middle of, yes, a blizzard. (Some people would take the early morning phone call from their neighbor the meteorologist as a hint to not go. Not us.) Things seemed fine until we got into Illinois and I saw, for the first time in my life, a whiteout — we couldn’t see past the hood of the car. We got to Chicago without hitting anything (despite having to get the car jump-started due to a battery problem unrelated to the weather — hint number two ignored by us), and decided to press on regardless, channeling our Viking ancestors.

We stopped channeling our Viking ancestors between Portage and Merrillville, Ind., because Interstate 65 in Indiana was worse than Interstate 90 in Illinois. A tractor–trailer materialized in front of us, and we decided where he was going, we were going. And that turned out to be a Phillips 66 truck stop, where we slept on the floor that night. The next day, we got to a hotel … back in Portage, because that morning an Indiana state police officer got on the PA system at the truck stop and announced that anyone who tried to go farther south would be arrested.

We did get to Florida a day late, where it was about 45 degrees at Disney World. The only reason we got to Disney World at all was that Dad decided to take the  long way around — the Indiana Toll Road to South Bend, and two-lane U.S. 31 to Indianapolis, a long bypass around closed I–65.

The worst snow I’ve ever driven in was the fault of WFRV-TV (channel 5), where I was making appearances promoting Marketplace Magazine on WFRV’s First News program … at 6:15 a.m. My paranoia about missing my live shot usually meant I was out the door from Ripon around 4:30 a.m., making me a good half-hour early at the studio. One particular day, with a foot of snow predicted (and nearly every school district in WFRV’s viewing area closed for the day), I was out the door at 3:30 a.m., driving through a foot of unplowed snow between Ripon and Oshkosh, followed by weaving on 41 where only one lane at a time was open. Yes, I had my all-wheel-drive Subaru Outback, but an all-wheel-drive station wagon is not a four-wheel-drive pickup truck with a foot of ground clearance.

The irony is that if the Mayans are right, we don’t have to shovel this snowfall, because, you know, their predicted apocalypse is, depending on whom you believe, today, Friday or Saturday.

I’ve noted before here my skepticism about end-of-the-world predictions, using as my reference guide Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32, and Acts 1:7, all of which say, quoting Mark, “But of that day and that hour knows no man, no not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”

The song at the beginning is the most obvious (at least for those from the ’80s), but not only apocalyptic-themed song; Ultimate Classic Rock suggests others:

In case the Mayans are wrong, A Brief History of the Apocalypse helpfully lists the next predicted ends of days, including the pope that follows Benedict XVI, 2017, 2020, 4,500,000,  etc. (I particularly like Nov. 13, 2026, the day the Earth’s population will reach infinity, according to a 1960 Science magazine prediction.)

Reform your lives; the end is near … someday.

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