What If Chicken Little Is Right?

It is hard to know how to reasonably react to impending danger. It is clear that a lot of people overreact, but at the same time it is obvious that people are capable of ignoring real danger when convenient. For instance, suburbanites freak out about being in the city, because the city is full of dangers including the chance of getting mugged, run over, or looked at funny by people who know you are from the ‘burbs. But the single largest cause of non-disease-related injury or death is driving, and most of that driving happens in and because of the suburbs. Those mass killings that happen in schools and office buildings…those are usually in suburbs, aren’t they? Suburbs are dangerous. But suburban people are fearful of the city and think the suburbs are the safest place to be.

But at the same time, people will excuse what may be dumb decisions for what are clearly dumb reasons. Here in Minnesota, as I write this, we are expecting a significant snowstorm. This is the sort of storm that, I think, reasonably makes one question whether or not to change one’s plans. Does one really want to go across town for a few hours then back during the storm of the century? But a snowstorm maybe an inconvenience, and for some, it is better to be in denial of inconveniences.

So a couple of days ago I said to someone who I know has plans for Christmas day, “You may have to skip your plans, with this snowstorm coming. I hear there may be a foot or so of snow.”

The response: “There shouldn’t be a problem. They had 20 inches in D.C. We’ll be fine.”

Huh. So does this mean that if they had 40 inches in D.C. that we would be okay with, say, 34 inches? Interesting.

Then, the next day, as the storm we are about to have was getting closer and started to look like it might be even more severe than earlier thought, I said to a different person, who has Christmas Eve and Christmas plans, “So, you may have to cancel your plans. There’s a big storm coming.”

“Yeah, but there shouldn’t be a problem. I hear some of it is going to be sleet. The more sleet, the less snow.”

Huh. So, instead of fluffy snow, we could get ice. And the sleet is going to fall, but in Iowa. So we could have two feet of snow with 25-foot drifts, and as long as its sleeting in Iowa, we’re okay?

Now, something you must understand is that here in Minnesota, we don’t get much snow. Minnesotans THINK they get lots of snow, because Minnesota is thought of as a wintry state. But the snowfall here is moderate, not great, in a typical year. What we do get here is wind and cold. But not so much snow.

In fact, if Minnesota were snowy, and Minnesotans could handle that, it would be hard to explain the 400 or so accidents that happen on the Twin Cities highways every time it snows (more for the first snow of the season).

But there was this one storm that everyone remembers. The day the sky fell on Minnesota. It was Halloween of 1991, and between one and three feet of snow fell in the impacted areas. The storm killed 22 people. Whenever the issue of snow comes up, the Minnesotans in the room wait patiently for the opportunity to mention the Halloween storm. It is as much part of the Minnesota Mythology as the Virgin Birth is of Christian Mythology. The Halloween storm.

So today, some people were talking about the storm.

“We could get quite a wallop from this storm that’s coming,” said one person.

“Yeah, might have to cancel Christmas!” added another.

“Right, like that’s going to happen,” noted a third.

“Nothing like the Halloween storm, that’s for sure,” said the first.

“Oh, yeah, I remember that one…” said the second.

“Hey, we’re Minnesotans! We can handle a little snow!” said the first.

“You betcha,” said the third.

“Oh, listen, the weather report is on the radio.”

” …the 46 to 60 hour long snow storm may turn out to be similar to the Halloween storm of 1991…”

“Oh…” said they all.

Pale faces became paler. You could hear the ticking in the heads. People thinking about their plans.

So, I’m going to go to the grocery store and stock up on supplies. Then we’re going to spend the next couple of days watching the baby burp and stuff.

Merry Christmas.

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5 Responses to “What If Chicken Little Is Right?”

  1. December 23rd, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    a daughter's mother says:

    I remember that Halloween blizzard. I had to drive the first night of that too, and remember listening to radio conversations with dispatchers insisting my coworkers proceed on roads already closed while they argued back. The next two days I stayed home because the path shoveled to the street got filled in by drifting snow before it was a third completed. But you’ve probably heard enough of those stories by now.

    I thought it funny today that KARE thinks the snowfall total will be 12 inches by Saturday, and WCCO is saying 22 inches. MPR when last I listened said 15-20. I just know that I still have to drive at least 200 miles tomorrow, Friday, X-mas Eve, all for work, and if we’re all lucky, the rest of the world is finishing their holiday shopping tonight and will stay off the roads tomorrow. But I’m not usually that lucky. So I’ll expect to be passing many of them slowly while they sit in their cars in ditches. That’ll be my little white car holding up traffic because I slow way down in this crap, and your (generic, Greg, not personal) sitting on my bumper and flashing your lights at me just convinces me that you’re dangerous and I need to slow even more to allow for your craziness so I can get safely where I need to get.

    I hate this weather.

  2. December 23rd, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    I’m more of the slow down in front of the tailgater kind of driver.

  3. December 24th, 2009 at 7:16 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Growing up where I did, we didn’t get a lot of snow but we got a lot of blizzards. The amount of snow was not the fear nor the danger. It was the wind driving the snow. We would get out of town and be unable to drive because the wind picks up the snow, and this is a wind that swoops down from the Arctic and through the plains of Saskatchewan and Western Manitoba gathering speed and anger and hatred of all things warm along the way with barely a tree to slow it down.

    When I first moved from Texas back to Minnesota to save my children’s future education, we took a Christmas trip to Hallock. The drive from MSP to Grand Forks was great, but we stopped in a gas station in so that the kids could go to the bathroom and I could grab a cup of coffee for the last 2 hour stretch. From the time that we went into the gas station, a 40 mph wind swooped in. I didn’t even dare get onto the freeway, and opted instead to go to the Minnesota side and take HWY 220 the rest of the way. We were 4 miles north of East Grand Forks when I realized that there was no way that I was going to risk my family’s lives for 70 miles of torturous driving and road blindness. We turned around and spent the night in Grand Forks at a hotel. The kids loved it.

    Total snow from that blizzard was 0″.

    The wind chills can get truly frightening, so whether a blizzard dumped 15 inches or 5, the storms were broad and fearsome, and worthy of caution.

  4. December 24th, 2009 at 9:29 am

    Natalie says:

    So I’m from Minnesota, born and raised, and I experienced that 1991 blizzard. I was 6. There was a time when I thought, “Eh, we’re Minnesotans. What can’t we handle?” But in the past several years, as I’ve heard about the huge amounts of snow they get out east from the nor’easters , and I’ve seen how people drive, here (even in the rain), so I know people freak out at the slightest sign of precipitation… But you’re right that people are really (too) nonchalant about the weather, especially when they hear someplace warm got bad weather. I also know that I was too nonchalant, in the past, and it both got me in an accident and in a ditch (both last year, different occasions, and there were other winter-driving-related incidents, last year, too), and we’ll just say it scared the sense into me.

    Personally, I’m not at all thrilled that the weather is going to be bad, tonight. We’re just going across town to St. Paul, and my other side is coming to us in Maple Grove, on Friday, but… it’s going to be dangerous out there. Whether it’s wind, snow, or a combination… it won’t be nice.

  5. December 24th, 2009 at 10:06 am

    Greg Laden says:

    There was a guy on TV being interviewed this morning who I’m sure had read this post and was mocking it!

    Reporter: So, were you out this morning?

    Guy: Yeah.

    Reporter: So, what was it like.

    Guy: No problem, I just went slow.

    Reporter: You going out this afternoon?

    Guy: Yeah, I am. Hey, this is Minnesota. We know how to handle it.

    Reporter: You’re not worried about the blizzard?

    Guy: Hey, my wife was just in New York. She sez they had no idea what to do in New York, and they had less snow that we got so far (Editor’s note: NY got several inches, Saint Paul has had three inches). We won’t have no problem.

    Reporter: OK, well, good luck with that.

    Guy: Hey, this is Minnesota. You Betcha.
    :

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