Saturday, March 08, 2014

Winter Storms

Though the worst of the winter storms and polar vortices seem to have passed (although then again, maybe not), the widespread cold is still taking its toll, whether it be through broken and burst pipes, immobile frozen cars, or businesses racing to make up for days of work lost due to employees’ inability to even get to their offices. Cities like Chicago and the surrounding midwestern areas, especially, have already seen their winter funds depleted by all of the plowing and salting that’s had to take place. Many residents of these areas have even been notified that, unless their homes are on main roads, to not expect any further plowing. Add the high numbers of delayed and canceled flights to the list, and you may begin to fathom how much time, energy, and money, these storms have wasted.

It goes without saying that severe weather causes issues, but in some cases the disarray was more than a little disturbing because it reflected how grossly unprepared everyone affected was. After all, if this much damage has been caused by a few weeks of difficult weather, imagine the chaos that could be caused by a sudden ice age, or shift in climate. It may seem unreasonable, since after all most people seem to fear the opposite: a planet that is becoming too warm. But, all it really takes is a large enough change to the surface of the earth (including under the oceans) to alter circulation patterns in the oceans and atmosphere and send us spiraling in either direction of climate change.

For example, an asteroid might hit the earth with enough force to knock it on its side, even slightly. The changed axis would result in an entirely different pattern of glaciation. Ice might appear near the equator, as many scientists expected it did somewhere between 800 to 540 million years ago, before the earth was righted to its current 23 degree tilt. If people were worried now, try to imagine the panic an even larger, unexpected shift to winter might cause.

Social media has been integral in communication of issues and news regarding weather concerns and closings, but it’s also been a factor in the reemergence of apocalypse discussion, which just goes to show how quickly worry can be transferred from one person to the next.



According to social media analytics tool Viral Heat, last Friday alone resulted in almost 100k tweets about the winter storms and nearly 5k Instagram posts of winter damage and landscapes. Images displaying states completely frozen over, like this shot of Michigan below, have also been trending.

America Frozen
Source: Grand Rapids Press (https://www.facebook.com/grpress)


It’s great that modern communication channels keep everyone up to date, but as we all know, misinformation can often cause a blow-up or exaggeration of events, which leads to panic, overreactions, and well, we’ve all seen the films. Imagine if the amount of images like this wrecked semi buried in snow on I-74 in Illinois tripled on your social media feeds:

truck in snow
Photograph by: John Dixon, AP


You might find yourself feeling the urge to buy out your local grocery store, stock up on canned goods and bottled water, and prepare for the worst (which might be a good idea anyway). This kind of behavior creates even more panic, and soon enough the entire country will have convinced itself we are in a state of dire need, with food shortages, and sudden price increases on remaining supplies.

So what does this teach us? For one, not only should people be more prepared for unexpected weather, they shouldn’t expect the government and officials to be solely responsible for fixing unexpected issues. As Chicago has demonstrated, the process of implementing forces to keep urban areas running efficiently are costly, and budgets don’t allow for a ton of wiggle room. This is all the more reason why every person should think ahead to what his or her most dire needs are, in case a trip to the grocery store suddenly becomes a non-option. We can only hope that this winter will serve as a warning for future occurrences, but in case it doesn’t, be sure to prepare yourself.


Elizabeth Eckhart is a blogger and entertainment writer, currently surviving the winter storms in Chicago, IL. She can be followed on Twitter at @elizeckhart.

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