Monday, February 11, 2013

Nine Catastrophes Worse Than Snow: Why Snow Isn't Always Bad

Over the past 10 days I've acknowledged the negative aspects of snow but also offered up nine catastrophes that are worse than any blizzard.  I feel that to really bring home the point that snow shouldn't automatically rule out the Finger Lakes as a fabulous place to spend the winter, I need to point out some of the great things about living where it snows regularly:

Image courtesy of franky242 /
Skiing and snowboarding are great ways to spend your winter days, especially when wakeboarding and waterskiing are a little out of season.

Image courtesy of Bill Longshaw /
When you're used to spending your summer days exploring the Finger Lakes on a jetski, snowmobiling is a fabulous winter equivalent.  New York has dedicated trails for snowmobiles, and you'll have the ability to ride to some gorgeous views that you can't access by car.

Pretty birds tend to come to your feeders more in the winter, when food sources are scarce.  If you're a bird watcher, snow gives you a nice backdrop for some great birdie photo ops.

Lastly, snow is just pretty.  In winter, when grass turns a dull brown and the trees are bare, snow is like icing.  Christmas decorations are lovely when the lights are shining and sparkling in the snow.

I know snow can be a bit of a pain sometimes, and it does have the potential to be dangerous if you have a reckless personality.  But changing seasons ensures that we never get bored with the scenery.  And if Henry Doodlebug doesn't let the snow keep him from the great outdoors, you shouldn't let it keep you from the Finger Lakes in winter!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Nine Catastrophes Worse Than Snow: #1

1. Earthquakes

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I'm not a seismologist, so I can't tell you if there are adequate warning signs of an earthquake's imminence.  I will acknowledge that we do have earthquakes from time to time in the Finger Lakes, but I have only experienced two that were even noticeable to the average human.  I'm pretty sure that there was no loss of life or even property in those instances.   

But it seems that the huge earthquakes that have occurred around the world during my lifetime have generally caught most of the affected population unprepared, leading to a huge loss in life.  Over 300,000 people died in Haiti in 2010 as a result of an earthquake, and Indonesia experienced similar losses in 2004.  Measurable levels of radiation have been documented on the west coast of the US months after an earthquake destroyed a nuclear power plant in Japan.

Ultimately, the lack of warning and destructive potential are what pushed earthquakes into the number one spot on my list.  Beyond damage to property, these are by far the deadliest catastrophes, especially taking into consideration that they can cause avalanches, landslides, and tsunamis as well.

~Sarah Jane

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Nine Catastrophes Worse Than Snow: #2

2. Hurricanes

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I'm a bit of a planner so I do appreciate the advanced warning that hurricanes offer.  The ability to track and predict hurricanes is why I rank them at second for worst natural catastrophes, despite the huge financial impact they can cause.  

Hurricanes are probably the most destructive weather event in terms of size of area affected and the damage they can cause.  But when you consider life, which is what I truly hold most valuable, instead of property, at least with a hurricane you have some time to get yourself and your loved ones out of it's way. 

~Sarah Jane

Friday, February 8, 2013

Nine Catastrophes Worse Than Snow: #3

3. Tornados

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I don't know a whole lot about tornados beyond what I learned during Earth Science (okay, and the movie Twister), so I'm basing the following observation mostly on intuition: tornados are freaking scary. 

I'm not talking about the baby tornados we have (rarely) in New York, that may knock down a tree, cause a few hours of power failure, or maybe destroy a greenhouse.  I'm talking the real tornados that go for hundreds of miles and can leave damage paths a mile wide.  Tornado tracking seems far less accurate than that of other weather systems, and can cause huge devastation where they hit.
But what I find most alarming is that, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the average tornado warning lead-time is 13 minutes.  That means from the time you hear the tornado siren, you have 13 minutes to run for cover.  Maybe it's just because I'm a slow runner, but that doesn't seem like a lot of time to gather your family, pets, and cherished possessions and hide in the cellar.  Twister and The Wizard of Oz may have romanticized tornados, but I would rather avoid such an experience if at all possible.

~Sarah Jane

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Nine Catastrophes Worse Than Snow: #4

4. Volcanos

Image courtesy of TeddyBear[Picnic] /
Besides studying igneous rocks or researching a trip to Hawaii, you don't hear so much about volcanoes these days.  But lack of discussion is no reason to believe that winter weather is worse than experiencing a volcanic eruption.  

Even if there is opportunity to evacuate, which is more likely today than back in the time of Pompeii, what about your house melting or all that ash in the atmosphere?  It wasn't too long ago that a huge plume of ash from Eyjafjallajokul (a volcano in Iceland) cut off direct air travel to Europe for days.  Even ignoring the effects on international travel, all that stuff floating around in the atmosphere sounds like an unhealthy mess.

~Sarah Jane

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Nine Catastrophes Worse Than Snow: #5

5. Tsunamis

Image courtesy of think4photop /
There is a reason that killer waves have movies made about them.  Tsunamis are terrifying.  I know that areas at risk of tsunamis usually get warning in the form of the earthquake tremors that cause them and thus are often able to evacuate, but the devastation is still tremendous even if few lives are lost.  Just like floods and wildfires, they can take away everything you own in a matter of minutes.  But they also have the additional ability of annihilating significantly larger areas.  And if they head towards an area with few warning systems, the consequences are deadly.

~Sarah Jane

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Nine Catastrophes Worse Than Snow: #6

6. Wildfires

NPS Photo by Jeff Henry / Yellowstone National Park
Thanks to meeting Smokey the Bear at the Great New York State Fair, I know that wildfires do happen in New York, often in the Adirondacks during the summer.  And in the Finger Lakes we often live through "burn bans" in July or August as an effort to lower the risk of brush fires out in the country.  But I can't think of anywhere in New York where huge, unstoppable fires but entire metropolitan areas are at risk, like in some areas of the US.  

I know that controlled burns are often done as a method of reseeding dying forests, or to create fire blocks so a forest fire won't continue to spread to homes and businesses.  But sometimes forest fires start by accident and are hard to control I can't imagine knowing that a fire was headed towards my home, and having to watch as it destroyed everything I owned.

~Sarah Jane

Monday, February 4, 2013

Nine Catastrophes Worse Than Snow: #7

7. Flooding 

Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat /
As with droughts and dust storms, flooding is usually easy to predict.  There are some areas of New York where flooding is a concern, especially during heavy rainstorms or winter thaws, but it's not a huge issue for most of the Finger Lakes region.  It's pretty rare in New York for homes to be completely washed away or destroyed due to flooding.  Yet every year in the spring we see news reports of people in other areas of the country being rescued from roofs and trees, or being washed away or drowning during flash floods.  I think I'd rather shovel my driveway every day for a year than require being airlifted off the roof of a barn.

~Sarah Jane

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Nine Catastrophes Worse Than Snow: #8

8. Dust Storms

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A side effect of drought and poor farming practices, dust storms seem like they'd be rather unpleasant to experience.  Reports of respiratory illnesses, dirt coming into houses through invisible crevices, and what appears to be whiteout-like driving conditions (do you call them brownouts?) are all reasons I'd like to avoid this sort of situation.  And let's not forget an aspect of dust storms that has affected all high school students in the US: being forced to read John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, which was a fictionalized portrayal of the Dust Bowl and the effect of dust storms on it's inhabitants during the 1930s.

~Sarah Jane

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Nine Catastrophes Worse Than Snow: #9

9. Drought

Image courtesy of Stoonn  /
Growing up in an agricultural environment, I learned early on that drought can be devastating.  Even in New York, it can destroys farmers' livelihoods and drive up food prices.  

But in some parts of our country it can be a much more serious situation.  Besides harming farmers, it increases the risk of fires and can even cause health problems when wind whips dust and dirt into the air to be inhaled.  Less dangerous, but still problematic, it can result in communities putting uncomfortable restrictions on water use, even for bathing or washing clothes.  So while there is no reason for anyone to die due to drought, having your well run dry and not being allowed to wash your clothes is not something I would seek out to avoid a bit of snow.

~Sarah Jane

Friday, February 1, 2013

Nine Catastrophes Worse Than Snow: Introduction

Probably the biggest detraction from visiting the Finger Lakes in the winter (or deciding to reside here permanently) is snow.  Between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, our region receives a significant  amount of lake effect snow, which might seem intimidating but is really quite tolerable considering the extreme weather and natural events that are inflicted upon other areas of the United States.  

Probably considered a major disaster by someone living south o
Pennsylvania, this wouldn't even make most CNYers late for work.
I can't say that I especially love snow, but I don't find it nearly as horrific as the media would like everyone to believe.  I know it's a disaster when it occurs in some parts of the country, but snow in central New York is no big deal.  Our plow guys know how to get it off the roads, our roofs are purposely built to handle the weight, and, because traffic doesn't stop completely at the first snowflake, we can pretty much go about our normal daily lives without too much inconvenience.

Besides having to brush off your car if you don't have a garage and the need for appropriate winter apparel (who doesn't love a good pea coat?), snow really isn't a big concern in the Finger Lakes.  We are given days to prepare if there happens to be a bigger storm coming our way.  Preparations pretty much consist of buying some canned soup and making sure you have a blanket and a book to read if your driveway isn't the first to get plowed out.  If you really like to be prepared, you might have a kerosene heater or a generator in case the power goes out.  I know the kerosene heater came in handy both times the power went out at my house due to inclement weather over the last 31 years.  In the end, as long as you have food, water, and a heat source, losing electricity probably won't kill you.  After all, having to spend a day or two at home isn't the end of the world. 

To help those who find snow to be a compelling reason to avoid the Finger Lakes, I will be spending the next nine days presenting my case for why Finger Lakes weather is significantly less threatening than what many other areas of the country consider normal. Always a fan of lists, here are my Top Nine Catastrophes Worse Than Snow.

~Sarah Jane