Snowstorm: New York Makes It Illegal to Be an Idiot

As often happens with snowstorms, the forecasters look to have gotten it a bit wrong, with supposedly epic snowfall of two feet plus for New York City now significantly downgraded by the Weather Channel, which has a bias to overpredict, to what looks like 12 to 14 inches total.

But even with the worst of the snowstorm now hitting further north, were the extreme safety measures justified? Drivers have been ordered off the road in New York State in the designated emergency areas from 11PM, with $300 fines for violators. All the bridges and tunnels to New Jersey are closed. The New York City public transportation system has also been shut down.

The only times the transit system was closed in the past was in 2011, for Hurricane Irene, and in 2012, for Sandy. Those storm both were likely to, and in the case of Sandy, did flood significant portions of the subway system. By contrast, the blizzard of 1996, which dumped 20 inches of snow in Central Park and 24 inches at Laguardia Airport, didn’t lead to mass transit closures. Ditto with the blizzard of 2006, which left 26.9 inches of snow. The city muddled through the next day. And a hurricane scare in the 1990s (the storm’s peak winds in the city turned out to be only 40 miles per hour) led Giuliani to order city workers home at 3 PM and strongly urge private businesses to do the same. Public transportation still ran; I took a bus when it was evident (per when the eye of the storm has passed) that the storm was not as serious as it had been expected to be.

Now it may be that the subway infrastructure is worse than it was in 1996, so greater precautions were needed. But this propensity to order citizens into their homes looks to be a post 9/11 official impulse. I spent part of my childhood in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where 20 inch plus blizzards took place at least a couple of times a winter. One January, the temperature didn’t get above 0 degrees Farenheit the entire month. Everyone plugged their car in at night in the winter to keep the engine block from freezing.

This was before the days of cellphones, so if you got stuck in your car in the snow, you really could be in serious trouble, particularly since this was a small town/rural area, so it could be quite a while before you’d be rescued. But the officialdom issued plenty of warnings and let people decide for themselves. Apparently now people no longer have the right to be stupid.

Admittedly, the shutdown is overnight, starting at 11PM, and the storm is supposed to be at its worst just before dawn. The plan is to have the system running again for the morning commute. The argument given for doing it this way appears not to be just safety, but cleanup efficiency.

Now readers in areas that were hit harder may tell me that they deem the reaction to have been sensible. And the safety of transit workers may have been a concern.

But there is a lot of difference between issuing warnings and taking more forceful measures. In the 1990s hurricane that turned out not to be, most businesses closed early but some diehards, like Korean grocers and Chinese restaurants, remained open. I’m bothered by the continued creep of safety concerns being used to restrict individual movements. Maybe I’m a dinosaur, but citizens used to be deemed competent to make prudent choices.

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  1. timotheus

    You are on to something, IMHO. Last weekend’s insane pile-ups on nearby highways due to black ice might have led officials to excessive though understandable caution. But the complete shutdown of all transport, school and office closings (many people didn’t even come to work Monday, which was a perfectly normal winter day), and herding of the citizenry off the streets, all seasoned with the relentless hype from the weather-weenies on local TV, suggest a Be Very Afraid approach to governance. I think it is another manifestation of our neurotically litigious culture in which nannyish caution is never punished, but all harm is someone’s fault, including lightning strikes. Example: Our park volunteer committee had a clean-up and planting session planned with neighborhood schoolchildren, but the principal canceled it when there were rumbles of thunder. No doubt there was a 0.00000001% chance of a kiddie being electrocuted, in which case the entire school admin would have been placed in stocks and done to death with rotten cantaloupes.

  2. Moneta

    Here in Ottawa, as soon as a snow storm is announced (decision made before the storm hits), the school bus service is stopped citywide but, go figure, the schools stay open.

    I am not sure if it is due to insurance reasons or because they don`t want to pass in rural areas but what ends up happening is even more cars on the road and many kids getting snow days without any snow.

    Yes… technology based predictions will save the day… LOL!

    1. diptherio

      Jeebus…I’d think you Canadians would have this whole “winter” thing down by now…I fear that some our American failings may be creeping northwards…

      1. Moneta

        They created megacities to deal with suburban sprawl but this is where centralization fails… rural areas can not be managed like the city core.

  3. BillC

    Those interested in this theme may find the work of German author and lawyer Juli Zeh useful. Zeh, whose father was politically well-connected, has followed dual high-profile careers in international law and as novelist and essayist. She published her critically-aclaimed first novel at age 27 and has recently devoted her efforts to precisely the issue Yves raises: the over-regulation and intrusive personal information collection of supposedly “free” societies ostensibly in the name of safety and efficiency. has an extensive article on her work.’s very short English article has a reference to an interview (in German) on this subject. (Sorry about this if everyone but me already knows Zeh; I just discovered her last week.)

  4. Sc

    I have to disagree with Yves, First, the City made the decision based on the weather forecast. So if the storm did not materialize, blame the forecast. Second, NYC is really not Michigan. The city might be prepared for winter, but most of the people are not. That is why you see the panic in supermarkets. And how many drivers in NYC (in outer boroughs of course) really prepare their cars for snow? The subway system is very brittle. I take the 7 train everyday, most of which is exposed. Whenever it is not perfect weather condition, there is going to be delays. For those of us who live in the outer borough, getting to work after a snow storm is really difficult. We have to dig our car out. Street condition is hazardous so you drive slowly. If you have kids it takes more time to drop them off. And then by the time you go to public transportation there is going to be delays. So when and if you get to the office, half a day is gone. Why bother? Third, some employers are idiots. They say they care about your safety, yet they still want you to go to work, as long as public transportation is available, not necessarily reliable though. Blame them. The City actually does us favor by taking that idiotic decision away from those employers. And finally, if people want to be idiots, fine. But the City should not waste resources to rescue them if they get stranded. Instead, the City should focus on getting the whole city back to normal asap for the benefit of everyone.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      How long have you lived in this city? And did you get beyond the headline?

      I’ve been here through at least four major blizzards of the 20+ inch category here and two in Boston. And as indicated, also lived where the odds of actually being hurt in winter storms (the Upper Midwest) was greater due to how much more isolated people were, greater odds of power outages (more exposed power lines), and lack of cellphones. You didn’t see anything approaching the level of weather hysteria you see here.

      And you are wrong re employers not sending people home. They did when the Giuliani called for it in the 1990s. When people get off the street, it isn’t profitable to keep most businesses open. You could put pressure on businesses to close by threatening fines if you really felt the need to up the ante.

      And did it not occur to you that some people still have to come to work with no transportation, like nurses, hospital orderlies, EMT drivers, and the night shift in apartment buildings? The travel ban hits both workers that need to get home and the ones that come on duty. Your concern seems to miss that some jobs have to be done even in storms.

      1. sc

        “How long have you lived in this city?”

        How much time have you spent living in NYC OUTSIDE OF MANHATTAN? There are four other boroughs, you know… When was the last time you commute on a daily basis? By driving? Your experience in Manhattan does not translate well to other boroughs, Long Island and NJ, where people often drive to bus/train stations and then commute from there.

        I’ve been here through at least four major blizzards of the 20+ inch category here and two in Boston. And as indicated, also lived where the odds of actually being hurt in winter storms (the Upper Midwest) was greater due to how much more isolated people were, greater odds of power outages (more exposed power lines), and lack of cellphones. You didn’t see anything approaching the level of weather hysteria you see here.

        You keep comparing NYC to upper MidWest, Boston, etc. We the people here are not prepared for the kind of prolonged snowy weather they often have. Snow tires? Most car owners don’t even have 4×4. Plugging in the car at night? I only saw that in National Geographic about a Siberian town. How do you even do that? We are not as isolated as those folks up north, but just enough that it matters. And one word about hysteria: SANDY. The government totally screwed it up.

        And you are wrong re employers not sending people home. They did when the Giuliani called for it in the 1990s. When people get off the street, it isn’t profitable to keep most businesses open. You could put pressure on businesses to close by threatening fines if you really felt the need to up the ante.”

        That was not my point. The travel ban started at 11pm, when most of the workers had gone home already. So we are just talking about real idiots driving in white-out condition in the middle of the night. If someone has a real emergency, CALL 911. Shouldn’t the safety of the people who keep the streets clear take precedence over the right of the idiots? And I don’t have a lot of confidence in seeing pro-business Republican mayors fining businesses for that.

        And did it not occur to you that some people still have to come to work with no transportation, like nurses, hospital orderlies, EMT drivers, and the night shift in apartment buildings? The travel ban hits both workers that need to get home and the ones that come on duty. Your concern seems to miss that some jobs have to be done even in storms.

        Easy: get them in before the travel ban. Hospitals have beds, right? Businesses should have the burden to make plans. Doormen? Can’t people in Manhattan live without their doormen for one night? If a job is critical to a business, then the business should plan ahead. If it is about life and death, make exception. Otherwise, stay home.

        1. sc

          New York Makes It Illegal to Be an Idiot

          The city has no problem with people being an idiot. How many idiots go to the new year ball drop every year?

    2. jrs

      Wouldn’t more paid personal days solve some of the problem? Yes I realize some businesses have the culture of noone daring to use any of their paid time off even if they have it, but many don’t. I do suppose everyone using it when they can’t dig their car out would be a problem.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Even better: give everyone “emergency days” to use only when their county is put in a state of emergency. That way employers can’t force them to stay.

  5. MartyH

    Good points all. Thanks, Yves. Two points. Our Public Rulers Servants are increasingly comfortable telling “us” how to live our lives. The primary sub-text is “Be Very Afraid, but We Will Take Care of You.” Having lived through Nor’Easters on Long Island for longer than I want to admit, the government and media hype is much higher than in days of old (and we lived through those dark and difficult times just fine). This messaging and over-reaction is all part of strengthening the Strong Father image of government and our other Great Lords of industry.

    Second, if the bridges need so much work (hard to say) what about the rest of the infrastructure. All the boring stuff is aging quietly which means increasing fragility. They rewired the main electric lines up Port Washington Boulevard to replace old wires and to install much taller poles so the wiring is above the remaining tree-line. Sands Point will be better protected from electric outages … fortunately, so will we. There’s too little of that kind of investment public or private in US infrastructure as best I can tell.

    1. diptherio

      All of this reeks of paternalism. I swear, sometimes NYC seems like a foreign country to me.

      In MT we are very familiar with winter and with the hazardous driving conditions that accompany it. Even in the worst-of-the-worst-conditions, I’ve never heard of anyone getting a fine for driving during a snowstorm. Generally, they put out a travel advisory and say “emergencies only,” but it’s up to you to decide what constitutes an emergency. If you do get stuck, and you’re an actual Montanan, not some California or NY transplant, you’ll have blankets, a shovel and at least a few granola bars in your trunk. If the gubmint here tried to start fining people for driving when conditions are bad, they’d have a revolt on their hands pretty quickly. We can decide when and when no to drive for ourselves, thank you very much.

      As for the re-wiring–one wonders why we don’t get a clue and bury all that sh*t like the Europeans do (at least some of them). Way smarter than suspending a very important piece of your infrastructure 30 feet in the air, completely exposed to the elements. Jeesh….

      1. jrs

        Yea the U.S. infrastructure is often much older than the European infrastructure, and it’s never been updated.

  6. LAS

    It is hard to generalize because in a storm there are portions of the population more vulnerable than others. Certain workers (food delivery and rescue workers and sanitation for instance) have a much harder job than the portion of the population expecting to get rescued, get transported, get clean streets, get food deliveries, etc. Sanitation workers save and extend more lives than any amount of surgeons and doctors with a lot less fanfare; let’s not make their work and lives more difficult. A sound regulatory rule can save a lot of expense and trouble downstream from the regulated event. It is good economics, good public policy and good population health.

    As a second controversial example: take overweight and obesity. It SEEMS like an individual choice but is actually caused by man-made structural circumstances that has our culture distorted to the profit of a few and the peril of many. The whole population is fatter than it used be 30 years ago because of the proliferation of snacking/sugar beverages/high fat/high calorie fast foods offered and built by capitalists — until it undermines physiological hormones that control metabolism. This has caused an epidemic of diabetes which is a chronic/forever disease and very expensive to treat. Diabetes is a horrible disease to suffer from; it leads to deadly and deforming complications (amputations, blindness, heart disease) and individual distress. Diabetics are twice as likely to be depressed as people without the disease. Even if you do not have diabetes, your insurance is costed to reflect the increase in cost to treat of those who do. I personally feel it is in everyone’s best interest to regulate food labels, force food menus to post calories, and control available food offerings to captive populations (schools, airports, workplace cafeterias).

    1. Robert dudek

      Calories are irrelevant. What is needed is extensive education about nutrients, as well as how dangerous sugar and refined flour are.

  7. Charles Yaker

    Simpler reason although related to dumbing down of public. 24 hour news cycle. The weather “men” always have overhyped coming storms. There is nothing new there. Now however every action or inaction is “Benghazi”. Look back to what they did to Bloomberg a few years ago. Not to mention reaction to Sandy. So now it’s better for politians to over react then under react. They seem to get less flack. Throw in the falling dominoes what politician is not going to over react when the “guy” next door does it. The public which has lost the ability to reason feeds on this “Bengazi effect” and refuses to give Pol’s any “benifit of the doubt”. Thus round and round we go more security and less freedom. “Be afraid be very afraid”

    1. AQ

      Isn’t it interesting that we seem to have upfront overreaction as it were by Strong Father (per MartyH) and yet on many levels complete or perhaps high levels of incompetence by said Strong Father (I’m thinking Katina and Sandy for natural disasters. The Appalachian water contimation, “saltwater” spill in the Bakkens, oil spill in Montana, aquifer contamination injection in California from fracking, etc.)

      Looking at these, I do have to wonder where the rulers of our nation think they are going to (airstrips in the middle of nowhere notwithstanding per links yesterday) that someone on a major level hasn’t contaminated or actually destroyed. Fiat money is great and all that but if the system crashes, those zeros and ones in a computer system are worth nothing.

      What I am struck by is the need for the theatre of preparedness and the pointing and heckling of calling people idiots. Then the complete disappearance of actual accountability and follow-through by “Stong Father” either real or types.

      1. Moneta

        They can’t see bubbles or want to prick them but they don’t mind believing weather forecasts and accepting the worst case scenario. Go figure.

      2. ogee

        what you are describing;
        the over inflated precautionary decisions for the masses to follow;in juxtaposition to the hopelessly irresponsible policies the “few” decide for themselves are acceptable. Is what falls into the ,” It’s a feature, not a bug” category.
        It is ok for Obama to open the middle atlantic seaboard up to drilling, AGAIN(the last time he tried was three weeks before deepwater horizon in the gulf) a policy announcement , quickly whisked from the lexicon so as not to telegraph the notion to the public,that the powers that be promote reckless endangerment of the world .It is what they do. And getting people used to the idea of “listening”, when told by whatever “fuhrer” is in the driver’s seat,is the point. The masses need more docility, so the leaders can have greater flexibility.

  8. Larry

    I’m in Eastern Massachusetts near Boston. To me it seems prudent to close roads and businesses at least for a day during a major storm. This gives work crews the ability to clear roadways and walkways efficiently, and let’s safety personnel focus their efforts on areas of significant need. We had two tractor trailer trucks jack knife on route 495 BEFORE the travel ban here, and that causes serious headaches and delays. Penalizing some driver is the only way to keep them off the road.

    And finally, a storm like this seems to be the only thing that breaks the dreary routine of constant work. Families get a surprise day off from work that doesn’t dig into their vacation time (if they have it) to be together. One woman interviewed here on local TV said she loves these big storms because it’s one of the few times in the winter when you can count on all your neighbors being out on the street shoveling out.

    So I’m all for the leisure and safety aspects of shutting everything down when a major storm hits. And we only need look at the recent major disaster that happened in Atlanta when officials didn’t play the weather forecasting conservatively enough. Better to be cautious than cause a traffic nightmare with kids trapped on school buses and people freezing on stuck commuter trains.

    1. jrs

      I hear you on the time off work. Of course in California it’s not going to happen until that big one starts to rumble and then we’ll have bigger problems on our hands.

      But it’s pretty messed up we have to have a weather emergency to get more time off. WHICH THE ENTIRE REST OF THE WORLD (yes pretty much the entire rest of the world gets more paid time off than Americans) gets without that. But that would require a culture that values more in life than work so …. I guess we take what we can get. But I still think “be afraid, be very very afraid, shelter in place, hide in your shelters” is a pretty lame weapon to have to use against the equally bad: “you can rest when your dead” culture.

    2. Carol Sterritt

      Despite the two decades i have been in Calfiornia, I still msis the big snowstorms, when you could stay at home, and maybe occcasionally venture out to help a neighbor with their driveway.

      That said, it is sad that so many in the news have become hucksters, regarding the continual hype of how badly some storm system is going to be. I remember Chicago newscasters during one winter in late 1960’s when a blizzard hit and the snow buried most of the city, but there was none of this frantic-ness.

  9. NotTimothyGeithner

    Part of me thinks this is an excuse not to devote resources to rescuing idiots and avoid law suits. I know it’s hypothetical, but I would rather see rescue workers helping people out of a snow drift that hit their house than hear about an emt worker suffering hypothermia after rescuing a drunk playing on a frozen river.

    Two, there are plenty of people who think driving in bad weather proves they are tough. The obvious example is noted blow hard Ed Rendell’s famous complaint about the NFL moving a game because of winter weather. Personally, I don’t want any rescue worker responding to someone being an tough guy.

  10. Brooklin Bridge

    Not just fools are entitled to basic rights. I can easily imagine cases where being able to travel would save lives. It’s not always easy, financially or otherwise, to arrange for contingencies ahead of time. People can, through no fault of their own, be caught in situations where evacuation becomes critical. Waiting for official channels to send someone to get you can be impractical, impossible or absurd as in the case of Katrina. It’s also true as Yves points out that much of purpose of these restrictions is for the convenience of authorities (to touch only on the less dark sides of the motivations) and only ostensibly for the protection of citizens.

    For the time being, I suspect that given the right circumstances, (such as being white and moderately affluent), one could escape penalty with a compelling story. Indeed, I have heard officials say quietly that they would not enforce the non travel orders for legitimate cases. But that only puts a veneer of legitimacy over what’s happening; freedom of movement -like so many other things- is fast loosing it’s status as a basic right.

    And there are kids almost in their twenties now who basically assume this is perfectly normal and that it has always been this way.

  11. JerryN

    I would put the driving restrictions in a separate bucket from shutting down mass transit. Frankly, I think the MTA and Gov. Cuomo overreacted – maybe suspend bus service, but shutting down the subways without a clear threat of flooding seems misguided. Based on the reactions from some NYC officials I saw last night, I suspect that the Mayor’s office was not happy with the decision, either.

    I blame the driving restrictions on our own stupidity, however. Back in the day, most of us drove cars and most of those cars were rear wheel drive. We knew damned well that we were likely to get stuck or spin out if there were more that 5 or 6 inches of snow on the roads. By and large, we only went out if we had to and we also knew that we had to go slow if we did. Fast forward to today and all it takes is a few morons with 4 wheel drive in their family sedans that think they’re bulletproof and you have a nightmare for road crews and first responders. I suspect that without the driving bans the volume of cars on the road in bad conditions would be much higher than in the past and the risks much greater.

  12. Eureka Springs

    Just watch people run from their car to the entrance of a supermarket in a light rain. Deep frown, head down, body language of complete fear. I’m not talking about the woman with a fresh hairdo and half a can of hairspray that could be ruined… but everyone. Because the nanny channels told them to be afraid.

    Be bold, hold your head up as you walk in the rain or snow. Let it touch your face. Stop voting for nanny state of fear mongering. And shoot your television! The weather channel people have had a long run of no significant events this winter, they needed revenue. Suckers. Quit watching them at all. Now go shop til you drop (stock up on everything) and then hide in a fetal position under the bed until they tell you it’s okay. In fact you should just sleep under your bed for the rest of your life… or until they discover the deadly nature of dust bunnies.

    Seems like the more we keep treating each other like idiots, the more we become the idiots we feared. File it all under a new category of crapification. What shall we call it?

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      Good observations. There is certainly room for argument about shutting down roads, but I suspect the same effect could be achieved without this sort of creeping marshal law. A partial travel restriction with exception for legitimate emergencies would be more along the lines of respecting people’s rights and thereby getting them to respect their own responsibilities, than outright bans and would probably be as effective or close to as far as keeping the roads clear goes.

  13. JerryN

    Following up, it seems that the decision to shut down the subways was grandstanding by our beloved governor. According to The Brooklyn Paper, the MTA was as surprised as the rest of us when Cuomo announced the decision. They ended up running empty trains all night to keep the tracks clear. Looks like it’s still legal for public officials to be idiots.

  14. Vince in MN

    Snow day: one less day of forced labor making money for your corporate boss. Stay home, play with the kids, read a book.

  15. Anarcissie

    I think a lot of people enjoy disasters as long as they, themselves, are not too severely affected. Their lives are boring, their work is boring, their school is boring, the stores are full of boring crap, every neighborhood is like every other, they got an iPhone and spend their time reading boring ads on it. I imagine even their dreams are boring. By transforming an ordinary snowstorm into an eye-rolling dreadful emergency (but not too big of one!) the boredom is alleviated a little. Mr. de Blasio should be thanked for turning this particular molehill into a mountain. So, what’s on TV?

  16. McMike

    There are a lot of factors steering officials to this. Including trade off of doing too much versus not doing enough versus basing your choice on a forecast that is wrong. I have a little sympathy here, but just a little, because officials have set themselves as Gods.

    On the other hand, I have watched truck drivers chain up at the base of ice mountain passes, only when forced by threat of steep fines, while wearing shorts and flip flops in a blizzard.

    Officials have learned that closing things is the best way to control the outcomes, control the masses, and control the message. We see it in the west after snowstorms where they don’t hesitate, they just close the highway for hours, until the worst of it has passed and the roads are sanded, it’s the simplest really, and to hell with the tens of thousands of people stuck in their cars for an extra eight hours. I have seen it with wildfires and plane crashes, they shut down a massive perimeter, spend as much energy patrolling the perimeter and fighting the fire, and don’t even let journalists in. We of course saw this in Boston with Martial Law after the bombing.

    There are of course arguments for public safety, and firefighter safety in this, but it’s a lowest common denominator argument. It’s really about control. And it’s clearly simpler for them to just shut it down and shut us out. That it allows them to control the message and filter outside eyes out, that’s a bonus.

    They tell themselves that their jobs are of critical importance, so some eggs will be broken. In a way they are right, they are held to a high standard, and no one wants to spend their time saving people from a wildfire two hours after they refused the chance to evacuate, and if someone dies, despite being told to evac, their will be scandal and lawsuits, and the media is all over them looking for something salacious to report, and demanding immediate full perfect information despite the chaos.

    But underlying it is a shift in values. They value their convenience and safety more than they value whatever it is the rest of us are concerned with. And they place no value on our right to see what is happening, to see what they are doing, or the right for us to make our own choices.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      But underlying it is a shift in values.

      Exactly. A shift towards authority and control. And travel bans due to extreme weather (likely caused by the policies of governments seeking “to protect us” by the bans) are a particularly good way of acclimatising people to that shift since the arguments for the bans are so persuasive on the face of it and the arguments of erosion of rights seem so far flung by comparison.

    2. Jeff W

      They value their convenience and safety more than they value whatever it is the rest of us are concerned with.

      [emphasis added]

      I think that’s where the problem lies—officials are not seen as making those policy choices in the public interest (which is what regulating health and safety are supposed to be about) but primarily in their own. It’s not that citizens are no longer “deemed competent to make prudent choices” but that, if officials are acting in their own interests rather than in the public’s, they’re not all that concerned about what the public can or cannot do.

  17. Dr Duh

    We’ve become a nation of cowards, huddling in our luxurious cells, bound with our own mental chains of fear.
    This is not a bug, it’s a feature.

  18. Rosario

    Coddling (or fear-rearing depending on the parent) is bad for adults as well. This further confirms for me that the poorest of the world will be the only ones left standing if everything goes to hell.

  19. TarheelDem

    I saw the coverage of folks rushing the grocery stores in NYC yesterday.

    It seems that with the Southernization of attitudes in politics (bet a few NYPD officers have Confederate flags in their dens), the southern wimpishness about snow and the budget reductions for snow removal are not far behind. Heck, the NYPD that used stand out in cold with full uniform hat and earmuffs now wears sock hats. You would think they were looking for a pickup game of hockey.

    So overspending on safety or liability suits against the City, that’s the political calculus that got most Southern cities to buy mountable blades and snow tires for their fleets and adopt school opening delays instead of school snow days. Did the NYC schools have snow days too because of the transit shutdown?

    When NYC gets wimpy, you just know that it’s another sign of imperial decline of the sort that Joni Ernst was bemoaning. So restart everything, and get out there and buy Wonder Bread for the bags (and because Buffalo Bob told you to). Don’t let “Real America” down.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Oh, that has LONG been one of my pet peeves!

      I tend to shop daily because I like fresh veggies and do everything on foot (as in no deliveries) so getting other supplies (cleaning stuff, beverages, and of course cat food) actually adds up to a decent amount of weight, so I meter it out into more frequent trips to the store, which I do coming back from my daily trip to the gym. Now even with my “shop small” habits and limited cabinet space, I pretty much always have enough food to go a few days if miss my daily foraging rounds.

      So I am really at a loss to understand this weather panic in the city proper. Manhattan is lousy with grocery stores and carry out food. You are at most going to have one day when it’s rough to get around due to weather. Yet you see people stocking up on water, eggs, bread, and whatever else they deem to be a staple as if this were Florida and they were choosing not to evacuate their home and the roads might be impassible for a week. I don’t get it.

      1. snow dancer

        There is only one time that I recall it being truly necessary to stock up for a large storm – the blizzard that struck eastern Massachusetts for about 2 full days and nights in February 1978. The roads throughout the greater Boston area were impassable for about a week. Governor Dukakis declared an emergency and banned non-essential travel in the eastern half of the state, but he declared the emergency after the storm hit the state.

        We walked to the local market (normally a 5 minute drive, but a 30 or 40 minute walk
        in heavy snow) and when we reached the market, most of the aisles were empty because the delivery
        trucks could not bring new supplies. In some areas there was quite a bit of price gouging for certain critical things. We survived and near the end of the week the National Guard finally plowed the streets in our neighborhood.

  20. Steve in Flyover

    Keep all of the idiots off the roads, and the following cleanup is done in half the time. At some point common sense comes into play. Take all your nanny-state arguments elsewhere.

    1. hunkerdown

      This is as good a time as any to point out that “common sense” means nothing more than “shared opinion”, leading Mark Twain to point out that it’s neither common nor sensible.

      The question you seem to be trying to avoid asking: why is the system more important than the public it supposedly serves?

    2. ogee

      I don’t know what you are talking about. I used to plow snow in new York ,on the island. There really aren’t a lot of people “just out there” in a snow storm, anyway. Cars are parked or some may have been abandoned, but really, traffic isn’t really an issue. after all, it’s snowing. and a lot of people are waiting for the roads to be cleared.
      This is all about nanny state. People can be “told”, and “asked”, they don’t need to be fined. people don’t want to damage their property.

  21. kj1313

    I see this another way. Before my company would watch the forecast and would be prudent to close the office to make sure their employees were safe. Recently they have been keeping the office open even as roads become impassable and force their employees to use their own time to ensure their safety. At least when the city or county declares roads are closed and services are suspended they are forced to do the right thing.

  22. c1ue

    Sadly, the Weather Channel is too busy flogging climate change instead of being good at what they’re supposed to be doing: predicting the weather.

    1. Lambert Strether

      It’s been a long time since the Weather Channel did weather prediction as opposed to fear-mongering. I think they jumped the shark when they started naming storms.

      I would recommend Weather Underground for your climate change needs. Actual scientists, ya know.

  23. Ben

    Officials see this as a one-way bet. They get to posture, to look after the “little people” etc and nobody calls them out on the opportunity cost borne of over-reaction. Idiocracy indeed.

  24. Brooklin Bridge

    You just can’t win. Gubment protecting us from extreme weather that is likely due to climate change brought about by insouciant policies of gubment protecting it’s sugar daddy oil conglomerates who are probably mad as hell that we aren’t all out there guzzling fuel.

  25. Susan the other

    Very funny. The Onion News Network. Is that on basic cable? Of course it will be if they start hawking Onion survival gear.

  26. bob

    People don’t realize how much traffic helps melt snow. Keeping people off the roads only helps the plows move the snow, if they have somewhere to move it. Cars, trucks and people all help MELT the snow by moving and churning it.

    Yes, there are instances where the snow comes too fast, but afterward, traffic clears as much snow as the plows do.

    I bet King Andy is aboard his helicopter, high above NYC, making sure everyone is safe. Maybe Silver joined him, seeing as he is no longer needed in the assembly. The king loves his air force, and what better reason to use it than a “disaster”.

    In truth, Cuomo was made jealous by the Mass gov and Boston Mayor flying around in Blackhawk’s (1 a piece!) during the manhunt for the marathon bombers.

    I do wonder if white phosphorus could be used to clear snow. Try it!

  27. Ed

    I agree mostly with Yves, but the two commentators who raised the issue of employers keeping their offices open and forcing employees to come into work during periods of extreme weather have a point. Employers have become more idiotic in the last few decades too. We may need more nanny state intervention to keep the offices closed when they should be closed.

  28. Min

    “citizens used to be deemed competent to make prudent choices.”

    Big mistake right there. ;) Maybe people in European cultures were prudent in the late 19th century, but now prudence is not only a neglected virtue, being prudent when the crowd is not can mean that you get left behind or left out. The recent financial crisis provides an example. A lot of people acted imprudently because everybody else was doing so.

    If my safety depends upon other people acting prudently, you bet I am not going to rely upon their competence to do so.

    1. hunkerdown

      If you’re left out, then by definition you’re not part of the crowd.

      I like the way you try to sell the market as a team effort, by the way. Telling.

  29. duffolonious

    Could this just be a cold political calculation?

    That it’s better to come down as hard as you can, because the political cost of loss of freedom is less than some people dying in accidents.

    And yeah, post 9/11 – this is exactly the way Bush. If it happened again while Bush was prez he was toast. I think the idea here is to come down hard to not get the critizism that Bloomberg got for not reacting enough (as well as other majors throughout history).

    I think of a quote from the Simpsons:

    Sideshow Bob: Because you need me, Springfield. Your guilty conscience may move you to vote Democratic, but deep down you long for a cold-hearted Republican to lower taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king. That’s why I did this, to save you from yourselves. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a city to run.

  30. Antifa

    Ah, if only your headline could be true! Anywhere in this world would do!

    This kind of handling of the public as a bunch of wandering morons is all part of the continuing infantilization of America. It’s most easily found in corporate settings and in our schools. Everyone is expected to get an adult’s permission for everything they do beforehand, usually under the rubric of “teamwork.” And when things go wrong no one is responsible, since it was a group consensus. It’s policy. It’s orders. It’s what we do.

    No worries. Nowadays you can hire a Life Coach or Business Consultant or “Lifehacker” to help you do grownup stuff like clean your closet, write down an orderly list of all the things you shoulda done already, get some exercise, stop dressing like a refugee from JC Penney’s, put your finances in order, learn how to speak to humans of the opposite sex in a public setting, stop whatever bad habit you can’t currently stop, fix your credit rating, plan your vacation so you don’t waste a minute or miss a single local attraction while you’re there, hand in a guaranteed A+ term paper, get more Likes on Facebook or whatev, dude . . .

    It’s the Age of Experts, and you can’t seriously hope to make it without their help, their lists of the right way to do grownup stuff, which is beyond everybody’s grasp. You’ve gotta at least read their blogs if you can’t afford to hire them. How else will you know if you’ve cleaned your closet right? What if you take a selfie in front of your super organized closet afterwards and everyone on Instagram laughs at you for not color-sorting your socks?

    You have to get permission and approval from a pro before you pull that kind of stunt. Instagram goes on your permanent record, just like everything else you do or say.

    “An expert is someone from fifty miles away with a briefcase.”

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