Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Plight of Winter Wonderland: Part I (a)

By Miriam B. Medina

In this, the first part of a two-part series, we will examine the history of winter weather and the snow it brings, which has such an idyllic appearance, but is often aggravating and has provided potentially dangerous and damaging after-effects in this country. Americans have always talked or worried with anguish and anxiety about weather and devastating natural disasters. We have witnessed the desolation that has come from hurricanes which have annually battered our shores, causing floods and destruction, such as suffered from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Hurricane Andrew in Miami, leaving thousands homeless and causing billions of dollars worth of property damage. Then there are the Tornados that wallop the Midwest and the South, leaving death and destruction behind. How about the earthquakes and the forest fires that plague California? How many people swear each and every year that they are going to leave the extreme, bitter cold of the Midwest and the Northern New England States that they are going to move to sunny Florida? Most of them stay put for one reason or another, only to find themselves trapped in yet another winter weather emergency. Let's face it, no matter which part of our country we go to, there is no escape from potentially hazardous weather conditions.

Although the early colonists were already familiarized with weather conditions that often consisted of rain, sleet, and hail in England, I don't think they had any ideas about the severe weather in America, with its blizzards, tornadoes, and hurricanes. It's amusing how some of the terms that we are familiar with today, such as "snow shoes" and "flurry of hail", date back to 1664 and 1686. I am going to list a few such terms that still exist today as they did in early American society

Snow storm - coined circa 1771
Snow shower - coined circa 1779
Snow plow - coined circa 1792
Snowed in - coined circa 1859
Snowed under - coined circa 1880

Nonetheless, it wasn't until 1870 that the word "blizzard" came to mean a snowstorm with sweeping gale winds and frigid low temperatures. A Gale wind from the Northeast has been referred to by New Englanders as a "northeaster" since 1774. As we know, a blizzard and a northeaster are two of the most powerful snowstorms known to man. To this day, they shut down transportation and utilities for hours and even days in entire modern cities. Imagine what it did to the founders of this great country? As devastating as these storms could be to the colonists and Early Americans that inhabited this land, and is industrial in spirit as those citizens were, they needed to find an organized, efficient way to detect when a storm was coming and how terrible it would be so that they could better prepare for it. However, it took until the mid 1800's for this to happen.

To be continued: Part I (b)

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