Archived Story

Don’t blame forecasters for weather panic

Published 9:23am Friday, March 1, 2013

Column: Notes from Home, by David Behling

It all started on a recent Monday. It was mid-semester, with midterm exams scheduled later that week for all but one of my classes.

“Are you going to reschedule any tests?” a colleague asked as we met in the hall early Monday morning. When I got to my office, there was a new message in my inbox; a student had emailed me a query: Would we be taking the test earlier than planned or after break? While checking my box in the snailmailroom a staff member joked as she waited for the copy machine, “Bet we don’t see much of you Thursday and Friday.”

It was all because of the Great Storm of February 2013. As the week progressed their concerns and comments came at me more frequently.

Publicly, I did not let their panic influence me. I laughed at their concerns and boldly told them that I had lived in North Dakota — in the winter — and that meant I could survive anywhere. But that was the public face; secretly, I did make plans — just in case. I found a colleague willing and able to proctor my remaining tests. I started taking all my work home with me (quite a bit easier than years ago since most of it was on my laptop). And I used my Droid smartphone to check weather apps for updates, checking more frequently the closer the storm came to this part of North America.

That’s when science met fear and things got confusing. The Great Storm everyone seemed to be talking about wasn’t showing up in any of the weather apps I consulted (and the list got longer the more I searched for anything that would tell me that any kind of Great Storm was approaching). But on and on people went, talking about it at every opportunity: The Great Storm Approaches. I began to feel as if the Armageddon were on the horizon, or at least a small taste of it.

Still, even through all that rhetorical imagery, I was still intrigued by the disconnect between the “panic” I was reading in others and in what that collection of weather apps was telling me. Great Storm indeed. Six inches by Friday morning was the worst I could find, and I hadn’t planned on driving to work on Friday anyway, since students and teachers all had the day off from classes.

Throughout that week the panic continued to build, and not just on campus, but also in many encounters with people throughout the region on both sides of the border. From the way so many people were talking and acting, I was expecting two feet or more of snow, with drifts the height of 10 story buildings while packs of wolves invading from Canada threatening the lives of travelers witless enough to drive anywhere outside of town.

Finally, the day of the Great Storm arrived. I drove to work as usual. No snow. I gave my tests. Still no snow. Or wind. I started grading the tests. I drove home. Still no snow or wind or even ice.

In fact, the whole day came and went without a single snowflake. The sun even came out during the afternoon. Evening came. The Great Storm was over our heads, and all around us: Still not a single snowflake. Finally, as I drove home after an evening engagement, some snow started to fall. But it was gentle snow, drifting down from the sky, covering up all the ugly bits of ice, frozen melt and dirt that were all that remained behind as reminders of previous storms.

When I pulled into the garage shortly before 10 p.m., there still wasn’t any snow. No giant drifts piled up in the streets or against the house by roaring winds. And definitely no wolves anywhere. I found it a great disappointment.

I know that the weather here is dangerously changeable. I know that blizzards with real menace in them have roared across the region in the past without much warning. But if a man who grew up in a desert, with no snow experience whatsoever until he was almost 30, can keep his cool (at least in public) in the face of the Not-quite-so-Great Storm of February 2013, then why can’t the natives?


David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea.