The blizzard of 2013

The blizzard of 2013 was not technically a blizzard, but it was certainly a big snowstorm with strong winds and 26″ of accumulated snow — in Cambridge at least. (It wasn’t a blizzard because the wind and visibility criteria were not met. “By definition, a blizzard occurs when the following happens: winds reach a sustained speed or frequent gusts of 35 miles per hour at the same time the visibility is at or less than one-quarter mile due to snow or blowing snow.”)

Even before the first snow flake fell we knew it was going to be a big storm. TV, radio, on-line media was going crazy about the storm. And when it comes to weather events I just get sucked into the hype. I normally do not watch much TV, but when there is a storm coming up I can’t get enough of the weather forecasts. I mean, all of the weather forecasts, on every channel, non-stop. But in the end Harvey Leonard on Channel 5 is my trusted weather source. What I didn’t really get into was the name Nemo: I guess the Weather Channel started a thing where they name snowstorms, and this one was named Nemo. Hurricanes do have official names, but to me unofficially starting naming snow storms is a little too much.

The forecast was calling for the storm to start around noon on Friday, so the office closed at 11 a.m. I went to Whole Foods to get a couple of things, and it was so busy, it looked like a Market Basket wannabe. It started snowing lightly on Friday afternoon and intensified on Friday night into Saturday morning. In addition to the standard snow emergency procedures that go with a forecast of 2-foot snow accumulation, the Governor of Massachusetts issued a travel ban starting 4 pm on Friday, virtually banning all travel from all the roads in the State. The ban was largely heeded, and anyone breaking the ban would be subject to $500 fine and up to a year in prison, we were told. Travel ban aside,  I had to go from North Cambridge to Spring Hill in Somerville and back, and I had to drive. So I drove. The streets were eerily quiet, the empty streets coated with snow. I saw people cross country skiing and a few people walking around. Driving down Highland Ave I found a deserted street, with flashing lights of police cruisers and plows, and a couple of lone figures trying to walk against the wind. Thankfully I wasn’t stopped by the police. And even if I were, I had prepared a list of excuses to get away with it.

The winds picked up late Friday night and the snow was coming down heavier. When I got up on Saturday morning everything looked blanketed with snow. Mass. Ave and the bike path were completely covered by seemingly deep snow. It was bright and beautiful. People were walking and cross country skiing along the bike path.

The travel ban was still in effect until Saturday 4 p.m. When I went out for a walk in the afternoon it was quite nice to see people enjoying the snow, kids having a blast. Seven Hills Park at the Davis Square T stop turned into a snowmen park. No cars on the roads meant people on the roads. Walking on the street was much easier than walking on the sidewalks which were pretty much still covered by almost two feet of snow.

The wind drifts created 4 feet high piles at some places. Walking on Highland Ave you could see people had started digging their cars out, cars completely covered with at least a foot of snow. Some side streets looked like they hadn’t been plowed at all. Even where the streets were plowed, the travel lane width was reduced. And trying to clear the snow off sidewalks, driveways and cars did not get any easier as there was no room to put the snow.

I finally made it to Spring Hill in Somerville with my right hand almost frozen. I helped shovel a sidewalk and driveway, and actually that was my first time shoveling.  The snow was light, but still my shoulders and upper back got really sore. And that made me appreciate the fact that my car is parked in a parking garage and the sidewalk around my building is shoveled by a crew.

Later in the evening I walked to Harvard Square, and it was quite something to walk around the quiet city. Everything looked beautiful covered in fresh white snow. But what I enjoyed the most was the silence. Walking everywhere made me think of our ancestors, who at some point in our history did just that, they walked everywhere.

On Sunday things slowly started to return to normal. More plowing, more shoveling, more digging out. Mountains of snow in every intersection made driving and walking dangerous, and you could see dump trucks hauling snow away. It is now raining, so the snow is getting heavier. Most catch basins are under feet of snow, and the streets are already looking messy. This week is supposed to be rather warm and there will be some snow melt, but I wonder how long it will take for the last of the 26″ of snow to go away.

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