I was watching one of the Pittsburgh news stations the other night, and it was time for the weather. Oftentimes it seems the weather segment is promoted and delivered with more buildup and excitement than the top breaking news story.
But I think that’s just the nature of Western Pennsylvania climate – fickle, very unpredictable and sometimes, but not often, “SEVERE.”
On this night, though, the weatherman was showing comparisons to record highs and lows on this given day. To my surprise, on this December evening, the record high on this particular day was 66 degrees in 2007.
Now, we are talking early to mid-December weather, and five years ago it was a balmy 66 degrees.
I can remember as a kid going trick-or-treating on Halloween in the snow. I also remember, not too clearly because I was only 3, the infamous Thanksgiving snowstorm of 1950.
So, I must beg the question: Where have our snowy winters gone? Oh, periodically we get a few inches here and there, and on rare occasion, a snowfall might reach A FOOT! And panic ensues.
Really? Snow removal on highways and neighborhood streets has come a long way over time. Chemicals and improved plows have made traveling a little safer following a dumping of the white stuff.
Seldom do I see anyone shoveling a sidewalk. Start up those snowblowers!
Yet, while I bemoan the lack of winter’s white rain, I must confess I cannot understand the reaction of people who flock to supermarkets to stock up on the essentials of milk, bread and toilet paper when a forecast is delivered with foreboding urgency that this area may receive up to 6 inches, “depending on where you live, or course.”
Come on. Wait a day, the roads will be clear. Bread, milk and toilet paper will still be on the shelves the next day. Don’t panic.
I must confess, however, there is one thing about snow that gives me pause, and that’s driving on roads that have not been completely cleared.
A year or so ago, while driving to work in the year’s first significant snowfall, certain images kept popping into my mind.
First, and perhaps most vivid, was that I very well could become a statistic, not a pleasant one mind you, but one that is documented when weather makes certain drivers overly cautious, and others throw caution to the wind.
I kept a reasonable distance between my car and the one directly in front of me. Interstate 79 south, from Washington to Waynesburg, was in relatively good shape at 8:30 a.m., considering.
But I soon realized I was driving behind one of those overly cautious drivers, someone who would, for reasons known only to him or her, continually apply the brakes when there seemed to be no logic to do so. And of course, that meant I had to brake or I would be a “ran-into-the rear-of-a-car” statistic.
I backed off even more, just in case, even though traffic in the right lane was moving at a safe pace.
Here is where the not-so-pleasant statistic came rushing into my mind: While most of us were exercising good driving habits, a tractor-trailer flew by me in the passing lane at a speed barely suitable for a bone-dry road.
The bottom line is that snow was created for children. Remember making snow angels, having snowball fights and dumping a handful of snow down a friend’s back?
As a kid there’s nothing quite like waking up to see a white world, knowing that someone else will clear the sidewalks or driveways and unearth the family car. Snow meant it was time to play, and not having to worry about driving interstates where brake lights and tractor-trailers cause sweaty palms.
I guarantee if a snowstorm is brewing, we will know about it before we know whether we all have plummeted over the Fiscal Cliff.
Jon Stevens is the Greene County bureau chief. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.