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Friday, January 29, 2010

A winter tale

By Dick Hirsch

I don’t know about you, but if I am going to be cold, I would much prefer to be cold in Buffalo, rather than in Florida or some other sunbelt location.

I realize the snowbirds will never understand the reasoning that led to that kind of attitude, believing it to be a commentary on their lifestyle. It isn’t. It is merely a statement of fact, arrived at after many winters of consideration. Where we live, we look at the calendar and know what to expect. We also have learned to expect the unexpected. The snowbirds embark annually for Florida in the belief they know what to expect there. But they are never prepared to expect the unexpected.

For them, this has been an unexpected winter, and it seemed like a very good time to declare my position. Many people spent much of January shivering, whether they were in Buffalo or Florida. The snowbirds chronicled many tales of woe, characterized by a friend who winters near Naples and who told of teeing off when the thermometer was just above freezing. In the nearby orange groves the smudge pots of old had been replaced by sprinklers designed to create an icy coating, insulating the fruit.

“We’ve never had it like this before, and chilly weather never bothered me,” he observed. He quit after 12 holes and rushed to his apartment to take a long, hot shower.

After hearing several reports like that I realized that where I live the expectations are clear and those who choose to stay the season seldom do much more than the usual griping. Here, cold is a feature on the menu. Still, it’s possible to be sensitive to the cold, without allowing it to become a topic dominating behavior and conversation.

In my own case, I can quickly identify a draft, any time, any place. If there is a leaky window or a blower ill-advisedly circulating a current of cool air, I notice it immediately. I try to either remedy the problem or else make a strategic relocation. This is a skill I must have inherited from my mother, who had an uncanny ability for detecting drafty spaces and suggesting how to avoid them.

At the same time, I’m very familiar with winter. Over the hears, I’ve ridden in a city snowplow, interviewed those marooned in unlikely havens and critiqued the city’s various clumsy attempts to plow the side streets in a successful fashion. I learned about lake effects at the knee of a renowned meteorologist. Despite that background, I remain somewhat bitter over Buffalo’s reputation as the home office of winter.

Just the other day I was doodling on the computer and for some unknown reason, I entered “Buffalo, NY” in the area of Google called “Images.” The immediate response from the search engine was a list of Buffalo topics, the leading one being “Buffalo snow.” When I clicked that, the result was a depressingly sizable collection of photos depicting past Buffalo blizzards, people trudging down the middle of snow-covered streets or digging cars out of snowdrifts. I wished that a topic other than snow would have led the Buffalo list, but I suppose facts are facts.

To make a comparison, I entered Syracuse, NY. We all know that Syracuse actually gets more snow than Buffalo during most winters, yet Google, that supposedly trustworthy source of information, had not a single mention connecting Syracuse with snow. I was hoping our climate would receive more objective treatment on the information superhighway, but, no; Syracuse gets the snow and we get the headlines and the visits from the Weather Channel.

I drove to Syracuse twice during January. In both cases, it was cold and clear in Buffalo. On the same days, within a 25 mile area both east and west of Syracuse on the Thruway it was snowing, blowing and blizzard-like.

I suppose it’s a testimonial to the power of the media, especially television. On several occasions in the past I’ve accused the networks of making Buffalo a winter cliché, a locale doomed to be perpetually associated with winter weather. As soon as significant snow begins to fall, network news editors in New York order video from the local affiliates and BINGO!, we’re getting another 90 seconds of winter infamy.

We must accept it because it is not likely to change, but neither are my feelings about cold: if I am going to be cold, I’d rather be in Buffalo, where the other day it felt like spring.


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