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Sparks

Get a Grip, New York. It’s Just Snow.

We have forgotten how to winter.

New York City during a snowstorm.
Heatmap Illustration/Library of Congress

It is a time-honored tradition for Americans who live north of the 39th parallel to mock cities like Washington, D.C., and Atlanta when they shut down over a little bit of snow. It is with great regret, then, that I write now to tell you that New York City has fallen. No longer will it be acceptable for us to roll our eyes at Southerners who abandon their cars over a mere inch of snow; no, we in fact deserve to be razzed by New Englanders and Minnesotans, our former partners in razzing. New Yorkers have become, in effect, weak. We’ve forgotten how to winter.

Maybe it’s because it has been 745 days since our last significant snowfall, or maybe it’s because, at some point, we started to lean into our designation as a “subtropical” climate. But no — I won’t make excuses, either. Outside my window in western Queens, the sidewalks are slushy but navigable, the flakes are light, and the city has lost its mind.

‘Stay home,’ NYC mayor pleads,” reads one illustrative headline, while The New York Times has at least 16 different reporters assigned to its nor’easter live blog covering — what, exactly? The fact that “the Metropolitan Museum of Art remained open on Tuesday”? (At least we haven’t all lost our senses.) And while the white stuff was still coming down around midday, at the time of this writing, Central Park had reported just 1.2 inches of total accumulation — not even enough to make a proper snowball without scraping the ground bare beneath your glove.

Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, channeling his inner Jim Cantore, posted video from the frontlines of the storm. Even he was forced to admit, however, that “the roads are not bad.” At home, kids robbed of a proper snow day struggled to connect to their remote classrooms after the city preemptively closed schools on Monday, a whole 20 hours before the brunt of the storm even hit.

As tempting as it is to blame meteorologists for overselling the nor’easter (another time-honored American tradition), that’s not what the problem is. More simply, New Yorkers have gotten soft. As recently as 2016, Snowzilla dumped 26.8 inches across the five boroughs, and my street went unplowed for days. There will be longtime New Yorkers who laugh at even that example, pointing to the 2006 storm — 18 years ago to the day! — that was a tenth of an inch deeper and set the standing city record.

Ridiculous snowstorms are, in fact, part of what gives New York its grit. None of thisfew are out on the [Prospect Park] loop in the snow” nonsense. Back in 1920, the city deployed the Army’s Chemical Warfare Service to use flamethrowers to melt the snowbanks. The Blizzard of 1888 was so severe that 200 New Yorkers died and you could reportedly walk across the East River from Brooklyn to Manhattan or, if you were less lucky, trip over a frozen horse:

One man suffered a gash on his forehead when he fell into a snow drift. The drift was soft and deep, but his head struck the leg of a dead horse buried there. For some time afterward, the man showed his friends the wound and boasted that he was the first person ever kicked by a dead horse. [NYCSubway.org]

Not everyone has forgotten what it means to be scrappy, though.The more I looked into it on Tuesday, the more I found New Yorkers reacting to the storm with refrains of “this is nothing” and “lame.” It’s not that we need frozen horse legs to feel like proper New Yorkers, but not having them certainly isn’t making us any happier. Having a real winter is part of what makes the city, the City. If we become the kind of people who get worked up over a few inches of snow, then we truly are no better than Washingtonians. Shudder.

But getting wimpier about winter might also be out of our control. New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation says that statewide, snowfall is “likely to decrease … due to warming global temperatures.” As we’re seeing already, our ability to handle a little snow will decrease right along with it. One day, there could even be New Yorkers who don’t know what it means to fatally misjudge the depth of a snow-crusted puddle at the corner of an intersection. Then who are we?

All I’m saying is, we used to be a proper city. And if what’s outside my window is what passes for exciting weather in New York these days — now at the tail-end of the storm, the snowfall is starting to turn to rain — then Boston, do your worst. We deserve it.

Blue

Jeva Lange

Jeva is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Her writing has also appeared in The Week, where she formerly served as executive editor and culture critic, as well as in The New York Daily News, Vice, and Gothamist, among others. Jeva lives in New York City. Read More

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