TIME weather

Listen to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio Laugh at Himself by Reading from The Onion

Bill de Blasio
Bebeto Matthews—AP New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, and top city officials hold press conference at the city's Office of Emergency Management, Monday, Jan. 26, 2015, in New York

Satirical post warns NYC, "All shall meet their death in the coming tempest"

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio injected some self-deprecating humor into the city’s no-snowpocalypse Tuesday with an dramatic reading of an article from The Onion.

The 53-year-old reads, and praises, “NYC Mayor: ‘Reconcile Yourselves With Your God, For All Will Perish In The Tempest,” which pokes fun at his reaction ahead of what was supposed to be a historical blizzard, but ended up as a simple snowstorm.

The mayor had come under criticism for stoking fears that the storm would devastate the Big Apple, which led to the cancellation of hundreds of flights, food runs on supermarkets and the threat of fines for those caught flouting a driving ban.

But despite the unexpectedly benign conditions, de Blasio showed he has the chops to weather a media-storm instead.

TIME weather

How Much Did the Snowstorm Shutdown Cost New York City?

NYC Snowstorm
Andrew Burton—2015 Getty Images NYC Snowstorm

There's the cost of the shoveling and salt, but there's also lost productivity from the travel ban

The purported blizzard of record-breaking proportions never struck New York City Monday, as some meteorologists predicted it would. By Tuesday morning, around eight inches of snow had fallen in Central Park, instead of the forecasted two to three feet.

But much of the city was shut down anyway, as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo suspended subway service, street traffic and commuter lines in and out of the city as a precaution Monday night. Schools, too, were closed for the day.

How much did the the snowstorm cost the greater metropolitan area? There are direct expenses—the cost of snow removal, for instance—and then there are bigger economic costs, like the productivity loss. A preliminary cost is difficult to measure accurately, but here are a few ways to think about the costs involved:

It costs money to clean up snow

When the city sends out trucks to plow the snow and spread thousands of tons of rock salt, then sends workers to remove the snowfall, those costs really add up. Though the city hasn’t yet announced the cleanup expense associated with this week’s storm, a decent rule of thumb is that each inch of snow in New York costs $1 million dollars to remove. Multiply that by the eight to 10 inches the city got, and that’s at least somewhere in the $10 million range.

The city isn’t getting money from parking tickets

The city collects an average of about $270,000 each day in fines from drivers who violate alternate-side parking rules. With those rules suspended through Wednesday, New York City is losing about $500,000—but its residents and businesses are holding on to that much more cash, which could boost spending (and sales tax income) down the road.

Fewer New York City residents are taking the subway

More than 55% of New York City’s approximately 3.9 million employees take the subway, train, bus or ferry to work. They earn an average of $409 a day, according to the New York Times. Transportation was shut down for the morning rush hour, but started to resume around 9 a.m. Assuming one in every five New Yorkers didn’t make it to work and couldn’t work remotely, you can very roughly guesstimate about $320 million in lost productivity. But there are lots of variables here, ranging from workers’ income to the distance between a worker’s home and place of business.

 

Overall cost to the economy

This category is the major question mark.

The greater New York metropolitan area’s gross economic output was roughly $1.4 trillion in 2014. Let’s assume the city has about the same economic output on the weekends as the weekdays: That’s about $3.8 billion in economic output per day. Does that mean the city lost $3.8 billion in economic output thanks to the storm?

That figure is a tempting starting point, but it’s way too high. The city didn’t completely shut down, as it might have if the storm really walloped the five boroughs. Lots of parents of school-free kids and commuters stayed at home, but some chose to work remotely. And many thousands braved the commute Tuesday morning when subway service began and travel bans were lifted. Electricity was still produced and paid for, radiators turned on, food was bought and sold, services exchanged.

But snowstorms still have far-ranging economic impacts. How did the storm and travel shutdown affect the metro area’s economy? According to a 2014 study by IHS Global Insight, a single-day travel shutdown costs New York State about $700 million, mostly in lost retail sales and lost wages. Consider that the greater New York metropolitan area’s economy (including parts of Long Island, Westchester, New Jersey and Pennsylvania) is larger than New York State’s as a whole, and that figure looks like a decent ballpark range to start for New York City — but it’s tough to put a precise number on things.

Summing it up

These numbers are really slippery. If previous studies are correct, the shutdown’s total cost was likely over $500 million, but not much more than $1 billion. The takeaway is this: For New York, biggest economic cost of dealing with this snowstorm probably isn’t the weather itself, which wasn’t as bad as feared. Instead, it’s the productivity loss related to the travel shutdown that’s the mostly costly thing.

TIME weather

Here’s a Closer Look at the ‘Snowmenclature’ People Are Using

Literal is so hot right now

Every great blizzard that hits the U.S. sends people running to the grocery store to stockpile canned goods and, in recent years, to their keyboards for rampant hashtagging. As snow hit the Northeast on Monday and Tuesday, social media was rife with references to the #snowicane, the #snowjam and the #snownado.

TIME partnered with Hashtracking to find out which trending hashtags were getting the most traction on Twitter, as New York residents geared up for chaos that never really hit and New Englanders battened down the hatches. The results are in: The top hashtag for tweeting about the storm is the quite literal #blizzardof2015. (You can get a closer look at the chart here.)

Chart complied by Hashtracking

But, as with many competitions, the winners aren’t as interesting as the losers. Juno, the green line above in a solid third place, is the name for the storm chosen by the Weather Channel. That cable network decided two years ago that it would start giving names to winter storms like the government does for hurricanes, a move many saw as a branding “ploy”.

The government hasn’t endorsed the Weather Channel’s names and doesn’t name winter storms itself because snowstorms are more frequent and more ambiguous than events like hurricanes. The network has said its aim is to make people more aware of such events, but it appears that people prefer to orient themselves with the more straightforward #blizzardof2015 than the more arbitrary #Juno.

That unpoetic hashtag has also trumped the long-dominant blizzard-time puns #snowmageddon and #snowpocalypse. This blizzard may mark the first time some people are hearing this duo of “portmansnows”—as Stanford University linguist Arnold Zwicky dubbed them—but they have been around for at least a decade. And they may finally have reached a point of exposure where they’re on the way out.

Ben Zimmer, executive editor at Vocabulary.com, found evidence of bloggers using this “snowmenclature” when storms hit the U.S. in 2005. But, he says, they didn’t really blow up until Twitter had taken hold in 2010. Even President Barack Obama was on board that year. “Hashtags lend themselves to this play with blended words,” Zimmer says. “And a successful blend, one people recognize and understand, is one where the parts are obvious at first glance, like snowmageddon.”

MORE: Why Blizzards Turn Us Into Irrational Hoarders at the Grocery Store

Clearly snowmageddon is a blend of the white precipitation commonly known as snow and Armageddon, the final battle between good and evil that leaves the earth in ashes—just as snowpocalypse is a blend of snow and apocalypse, a last catastrophe that marks the end of the world.

But what really makes these words irresistible (at least for a while) is the nature of the events that inspired them. As Zimmer says, “It makes you feel like you’re in a disaster movie.” And what’s the best part of a huge snowstorm or a zombie takeover that leaves 10 newly acquainted survivors huddled in a farmhouse? The same thing. There’s a suspension of the rules. You’re expected to figure things out for yourself and you get to do things you wouldn’t on any regular day. Walking right down the middle of what is usually a busy street is a thrilling little treat, whether everybody’s dead or everybody’s cars are stuck in their driveways.

Just like those survivors in the farmhouse, there is also a sudden solidarity among everyone who is having their normal lives upended. “There’s something kind of exciting and it kind of draws everybody together,” says Tom Skilling, top weather broadcaster for WGN in Chicago. “‘We’re about to go through this as a group and if we all deal with this together, we’ll get through this.’ Major weather events affect everybody, all ages, all demographic groups. And if it doesn’t happen too often, there’s a drawing together that goes on.”

That said, Skilling is not a big fan of these “gimmicky” words. He’s more of a #blizzardof2015 kind of guy. The fact that they’re so hyperbolic—clearly no one is taking a snowstorm as seriously as an apocalypse—makes them playful. And the fact that they’re playful might lead to people not taking dangerous weather events as seriously as they should, he says. “You’re dealing with an event in nature that really does have great consequence,” he says. “Sometimes we’re better off just dealing with facts.” (Then Skilling apologizes for being a killjoy.)

Here is a short selection of puns and plays on words the people are using to get themselves through this cold, dark time.

#snowbomb
#snowboken
#SnowCountryForOldMen
#SnowEndInSight
#snowghazi
#snowgate
#snowicane
#snowjam
#snowjob
#snowku (for haikus about the storm)
#snowlarvortex
#snowmageddon
#snownado
#SnowtoriousRex
#snowwhat

(Feel free to tweet the author with other puns to add.)

TIME weather

Why the Big Blizzard Fizzled in New York

Inside the imprecise art of weather forecasting

Mother Nature took a huge swing at New York City and missed by miles. And while the Blizzard of 2015 turned into the Fizzard of 2015 for the Big Apple, just up the coast, Providence and Boston got walloped as scheduled. Beantown conspiracy theorists are wondering: Did this blizzard get bribed?

Not quite, it just got shoved a few miles to the east at the last minute, which changes everything as storms move up the Atlantic coast. That more easterly track is exactly what computer models had been predicting until three days before storm hit—but a critical shift by one model moved the storm track a little more to the west, which triggered the snowpocalyptic forecast. “Before that, the models all took the storm out to sea,” says Joel Gratz, a meteorologist and CEO of Open Snow, which makes detailed snow forecasts for skiers. “That is a something to be cautious about when they pick something out so late in the game.”

Why did the models goof? There are four weather models used by meteorologists around the world: the American Global Forecast System, the European model, called the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), the UKMET model from the U.K., and the Canadian model. The European model had shifted the track west and it has been the best predictor, with the UKMET model second and the American third. Late in the game, though, the UKMET model kicked the storm that critical few miles. “Over the weekend, the UKMET model nudged it a little bit further east,” says Gratz. “That just kind of gave me pause when the number two model in the world is pushing the storm a few more miles out to sea.”

The National Weather Service (NWS), on the other hand, kept jacking up the forecast totals even as the models were giving a broad range of snowfall, from six inches to three feet. “NWS’s adjustments were all in the ‘more severe’ category, says Ryan Maue, a research meteorologist at the private firm WeatherBEL. “That’s an ominous signal that suggested NWS had a high-level of confidence in their forecast. However, it was clear at the time that the exact opposite was true—this was a low-confidence solution, meaning the chance of a 30-inch snowfall occurring in NYC required everything to ‘go right’ for the blizzard’s track, intensity, and motion.” Private forecasters, including the Weather Channel, might have been skeptical about the 30-inch forecast, says Maue, but they don’t want to risk sending a mixed message that confuses the public about what to do.

There was never any doubt that New England was going to get nailed, but that was the easier part of the forecast—a lock, says Gratz. It’s the back edge of a storm that carries the most uncertainty. That left forecasters with a bit of a conundrum: follow the models and predict a dire and dangerous storm, or back off a bit, which might lead both officials and civilians to let down their guard at the wrong time.

MORE: Why Blizzards Turn Us Into Irrational Hoarders at the Grocery Store

Officials reacted to the fear factor. And, as Maue points out, the NWS absolutely nailed the last catastrophic storm, Hurricane Sandy, which caught some government agencies off guard. So in New York, hundreds of flights were canceled, mass transit shut down, stores closed and people loaded up on necessities, some in a panic state, in anticipation of not going anywhere for a couple of days. But the snow machine turned off at about 10 p.m. Monday night. Central Park ended up with about six inches of snow by Tuesday morning. The NWS’s Gary Szatkoski felt compelled to tweet an apology. “My deepest apologies to many key decision makers and so many members of the general public,” he said. “You made a lot of tough decisions expecting us to get it right, and we didn’t. Once again, I’m sorry.”

If weather is difficult to predict, precipitation is harder and snow even more difficult. The reason is that forecasters not only have to get the storm track right, they also have to nail the temperature, since the temperature influences how snow crystals form, which in turn determines how much snow falls. It’s compounding complexity and Atlantic winter storms have shown no discernible pattern over the decades.

Gratz does admit that there’s another possible reason behind the blown forecasts. When meteorologists see a big storm brewing they get a little too excited about it and want to share their knowledge and forecasting chops.

It’s only natural. Just like the weather.

TIME weather

East Coasters Share Amazing Storm Photos on Social Media

People across the northeast took to Instagram to post their #Snowmageddon2015 photos

MONEY Insurance

The $300,000 Reason You Should Shovel Your Walkway ASAP

Shalonda Earvin clears the sidewalk in front of her Union St. home in Norwich, Conn., Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. Earvin said this was her fourth time out shoveling since it started snowing.
Sean D. Elliot—AP Shalonda Earvin clears the sidewalk in front of her Union St. home in Norwich, Conn., Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. Earvin said this was her fourth time out shoveling since it started snowing.

Your municipality may have laws on snow removal, but you'll pay an even bigger price if somebody slips and falls on your property.

Find that shovel, snow blower or your neighbor’s kid if you’re in the Northeast. Thanks to winter storm Juno, your driveway and walkway are likely topped with a lovely coat of white snow that could cost you a pretty penny if you don’t clear it quickly.

“Property owners face legal obligations to keep their property clean, safe, and ice-free,” says Loretta Worters, vice president of communications for the Insurance Information Institute. “If you fail to shovel your sidewalk or other public walkway, and someone slips and falls, you could potentially face a lawsuit. In some states, you may have broken the law, too.”

You’re responsible not just for snow and ice on private walkways but also public ones that abut your land. If you fail to keep your premises safe, those who are injured on your property could sue you, says Worters. “If someone slips on ice because of a poorly positioned downspout, it is considered negligence,” she adds.

Some places like New York City and Bridgeport, Conn. have also enacted laws that make landowners responsible for keeping public sidewalks clear of ice and snow. Those who fail to follow the law can be fined. In New York, you could have to pay up to $150 and be subject to up to 10 days of imprisonment.

Often, places that have snow clean up laws will also have a time limit for when pathways need be cleared. “Some jurisdictions say that a property owner can wait a ‘reasonable amount of time’ before clearing, which is nebulous,” says Worters. “But in Boston, property owners have three hours after the snow falls to shovel.”

While it is a good idea to check directly with your local municipality to find out if snow clearance laws apply for your town and state, the safest route is to simply shovel your area within a few hours of the snowfall’s end so you can avoid both fines and litigation. After all, even in places that do not legally require you to clear the snow, such as Ohio, you can still face a lawsuit.

Since even the most vigilant shoveler may miss a spot, Worters also recommends having liability insurance coverage to pay the cost of your legal defense and any court awards (up to the limit of your policy) should someone slip on your property and sue you. Liability limits generally start at about $100,000, but the Insurance Information Institute advises that you purchase at least $300,000 worth of protection.

TIME weather

Hey, That ‘Moron’ Who Did or Didn’t Cancel School (or Close the Subway, or Shut Down the Roads) Is My Dad

Children play in Central Park as it snows in the Manhattan borough of New York
Carlo Allegri—Reuters Children play in Central Park as it snows in the Manhattan borough of New York City on Jan. 26, 2015.

It’s someone’s job to make those decisions, and they’re not easy to make

My father was the superintendent of a school in a town where it snowed a lot. He was the one with the authority to cancel school, a decision making process which began at dawn. Whenever I woke up in darkness to a ringing phone, I knew before I opened my eyes that outside, in the glow of the streetlight, I would see snow falling.

My slightly older brother and I would then convene on the stairs outside my parent’s bedroom, straining to hear my father’s conversation. Phrases like “pretty icy out there” or “really coming down” were Good, and phrases like “No big deal,” “turning to flurries,” and “Hmm. Pittsfield’s staying open?” were Bad. The dim light, the dead quiet of the whitening landscape and the nail-biting tension gave each of these occasions a Polanski-esque intensity.

If school was cancelled, hooray. Cue snow forts, cocoa, and a Three’s Company marathon. But if we went to school, our day was doubly ruined, first, by being there at all, and then, by everyone complaining to us that our father had not cancelled it.

Obviously the kids were the worst. “Tell your dad he’s a moron!” was a favored comment. But kids were kids — they want what they want and that’s what they understand. What bothered me much more was comments like “My mother said to tell you to tell your father that he is stupid.” Even worse was adults actually complaining to our faces. There was one teacher who would bitch about my father’s not cancelling school all day, and would even call out to us in the hallways “Hey, when did your dad go blind?” Some of our friend’s parents would yap similar things at us into their rear view mirrors as they drove us home from scouts or sports practices.

Forget about the inappropriateness of all of this or the fact that despite the years and an intense meditation practice I still hate all these people. What bothered me the most was people’s confidence in their opinions about the decision despite having so little understanding of what went into it.

First of all, people seemed to think that a snow day was all about how much snow there was. Yes, sure, five feet of snow was a slam dunk. But if there was one foot, these things called snowplows turned out to be very handy, and business might well proceed as usual.

On the other hand, there could be an extremely light snowfall which, if it got warmer and then colder, could melt and then turn to ice. And then of course there were the various textures and stickability of snow and shifting temperatures, which meant roads that were entirely safe in the morning could turn bad in the afternoon.

Finally, there was the fact that the decision wasn’t really my father’s to make. In truth, it was all really up to a guy named Don, who was the head of the Department of Public Works. Although it was my father who technically called off school, his decision was pretty much all about what Don said. That wasn’t just because my father thought Don was awesome. It was because in this situation, doing what Don said was just his job. It was not his job to just do whatever he wanted. And of course sometimes Don was “wrong” — who can totally predict the weather? — and my father would take the hit because that was also his job. (Actually, Don may well have taken abuse, too. I never met him. He was an important figure, but a shadowy one.)

Like everyone else, big weather events make me think about hot cocoa and marathon television watching, which, thankfully, is a more high-quality experience than it once was. But I also think about the workers who have to make decisions about what roads and bridges and institutions will stay closed and which will be open, and who stand out in the cold at mountain passes telling drivers to put chains on their tires. And I know that those people will get a lot of crap from other people who themselves would hate to take on the responsibility for making these decisions and enforcing these rules.

I’m not saying that all snow storms are handled well and that we should just trust in authority figures because they always know what they’re doing. That would be idiocy. But if you should find yourself wanting to post on Facebook that you’re mad because school was or wasn’t cancelled by some dummy or that how can so and so road be closed because you need it to get somewhere, maybe think about the fact that it’s someone’s job to make those decisions, that they’re not easy to make. Also be aware that these decisions are made by people whose names you don’t necessarily know, and that knowing someone’s name doesn’t mean they’re the right person to be mad at.

Something else to take into consideration: Government officials aren’t perfect, but at least they don’t multiply their salaries by 2.8 every time it snows. Also, don’t ever take anything out on anyone’s child, because they’ll just turn into a writer someday, and make fun of you in print, and even if they don’t mention your name, you might recognize yourself and feel guilty.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME weather

Snow Slams Massachusetts After Mostly Sparing New York City

Heaviest bands of snowfall hit eastern Long Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts

A powerful winter blizzard that spared New York City the worst of its wrath still wreaked havoc across much of New England on Tuesday, with more than two feet of snow expected to fall in Massachusetts along with winds above 70 miles per hour.

Almost 12,000 people lost power in Nantucket, thousands more did in Cape Cod and the coastal town of Scituate was flooded. About one-and-a-half-feet of snow had fallen on Boston by late Tuesday morning, with more expected, the Associated Press reports. The city of Worcester, 60 miles west of Boston, recorded accumulations as high as 25 inches, NBC News reports.

“This is clearly a very big storm for most of Massachusetts,” Gov. Charlie Baker said.

More than 7,000 flights were cancelled because of the snow costing the economy about $230 million, the U.S. Travel Association said. Still, what some had forecast to be one of the worst winter storms in recent history clearly didn’t pack as much punch as expected. Travel bans were lifted in Connecticut and western Massachusetts. And further south in New York City, the most dire predictions failed to materialize, raising questions for city and state officials who ordered a total shutdown of the city’s transportation system. The National Weather Service cancelled its blizzard warning for New York, and one official conceded the forecast had been off.

“This is a big forecast miss,” Gary Szatkowski, a meteorologist at the U.S. National Weather Service, said on Twitter.

The heaviest bands of snowfall skirted east of the city, blanketing eastern Long Island and parts of Connecticut with more than a foot of snow. But accumulations in New York and New Jersey ranged from two to six inches as of early Tuesday morning. Forecasts had called for between 20 and 30 inches of snow in the city.

MORE: Why the Big Blizzard Fizzled in New York

“The storm in general, I think it’s fair to say, was less destructive than predicted so far,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a Tuesday morning press briefing. Cuomo announced a resumption of subway service by 9 a.m. ET, but urged commuters to stay home and away from “hazardous” roads. “If you don’t have to travel today, you really don’t want to be traveling today.”

“The heaviest snows have struggled to move west of the Hudson River,” the National Weather Service announced on its New York State Facebook page, adding, “the science of forecasting storms, while continually improving, still can be subject to error.”

MORE: Why Blizzards Turn Us Into Irrational Hoarders at the Grocery Store

New Jersey lifted a partial travel ban over state roads by 7 a.m., coordinating with the state of New York, which also lifted travel bans on city and upstate county roads. Connecticut was set to lift a statewide travel ban at 2 p.m., but Gov. Dan Malloy encouraged people to still “limit travel and use common sense while driving.”

City streets remained deserted and eerily quiet early, after New York officials took the unusual step Monday of ordering all traffic cleared from city streets by 11 p.m. and suspending all metropolitan transit service.

TIME weather

Massive Snowstorm Buries New England

APTOPIX Winter Weather
Michael Dwyer—AP Fishing boats ride out the storm at dock in Scituate, Mass., on Jan. 27, 2015.

New England was braced for two or even three feet of snow

Up to four inches of snow an hour fell in parts of the Northeast early Tuesday as tens of millions of people hunkered down for a historic blizzard that shut down travel — but New York City and Philadelphia escaped the worst of the weather.

New England was braced for two or even three feet of snow, whipped by near-hurricane force winds that created almost whiteout conditions and threatened coastal flooding.

However, a blizzard warning was downgraded to a winter storm alert in all but one county of New York early Tuesday.

As winds combined with high tides, a storm surge. . .

Read the rest of our story from our partners at NBC News

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