One of the new words of the year is "blamestorm
," and we seem to be having one today. typically, none of the participants is able to do what grownups do: take on a portion of the responsibility for a merely average New England snowstorm turning into a freakin mess.
I spent 4 1/2 hours going from Framingham to Marblehead yesterday, via the Pike and Route 1-A, which would be quite enough for me to qualify for whine with my cheese, but as usual I'm looking at things cockeyed. Disclaimer: I left work twenty minutes after
my usual departure time. I was told to go home early, but took one look at the mob in my own company parking lot and decided I'd be more useful and more comfortable at work for another hour. That may be one reason my trip was shorter than many others, although it covered more miles.The Commonwealth
has always been in denial about being a northern state, and consequently is always unprepared for normal snowfalls. If you want your limited access highways plowed early and often, you need an adequate snow removal budget. You must spend part of that budget on snow removal teams on the state payroll, led by plows capable of clearing snow at 50 mph, which are on the road within minutes of the first flake's appearance, whether they drop a blade or not. You then can leave the secondary roads to contractors. Here, we spend most of our inadequate snow removal budgets on contractors, whose equipment is not up to high-speed snow removal, and can be comedic*. In fairness to the contractors, there isn't enough money in the pot to motivate them to obtain adequate high-speed hardware. Thus, Massachusetts tries to clear major highways with equipment and tactics better suited to a suburban main street. It gets done, but sure can take a while.The entire culture of disaster
is the unspoken heavy. Its chief enablers are the local news media and the general public. The local news and weather media
have successfully created the fable that they were prepared for the Blizzard of 1978. I was here: they were not. It was clear enough that it was going to snow. In those far-off, naive days, six inches of snow was reported as what it was: six inches of snow: be careful, but it's no big deal. That was what the models predicted. That was what was broadcast. The forecasts were about thirty inches short. Our local forecasters were caught with their pants down and they have never forgotten it. From that day onward, no snowflake has gone unreported.
We as the public could
respond to this steady diet of hype with cautious, informed skepticism. We do not. We either panic on cue, or ignore the news completely. Tens of thousands of us queue up in supermarkets to buy potato chips and soft drinks by the case every time the word snow
is in the forecast. Yesterday, about two million people who generally leave work over a period of six hours left work over a period of one hour, and guess what? The roads got clogged. They would have become clogged on the finest day in summer with the same situation.
Because the roads were clogged with people unable to exercise their own common sense, the snow removal resources, such as they are, were literally unable to move. That's how we got a mess.
The business community's
response was, as usual, both timid and dense. In snow emergencies, companies gather like penguins on the edge of an ice floe, waiting for someone else to be pushed in and survive before they jump. Their chief concerns seem to be neither the common good nor the welfare of their employees, but their own liability position and the opinion of their stockholders. Ultimately it was employers, in every sector, who made the decisions that put those millions on the street at once. I should check to see if I own any piece of the companies who aided this decision, because my opinion of their judgment hasn't been at all improved.
If no one but state employees had gone home early, it is likely that the major highways and arteries would have been reasonably passable by the normal rush hour period. Solutions would come faster if all concerned admitted this instead of sidestepping it.
I understand the Boston Chamber of Commerce is belatedly trying to create a programme that spreads the load out more effectively and allows the snow removal resources we have to get to work ahead of the highest demand. One can hope that idea spreads to the suburbs as well:
Because I hate to think what would happen if we had a real
*I have seen highways plowed in ten states. Massachusetts is the only place I have seen a divided highway plowed by oil tank trucks, and I am not making this up.