Is the Chicago snowpocalypse all hype?

January 31, 2011

It’s been called everything from potentially life threatening to possibly historic. There has been speculation, news conferences, and special reports about it. People are talking about booking hotels near work, wondering if schools will be canceled, and betting on just how many inches we will get when it’s all over. I’m talking about the Chicago blizzard of 2011. A storm so epic that it’s presence is being felt even before its arrival.

I was late to find out about the storm. I was too busy being ill to watch the news this past weekend. It wasn’t until a friend brought me up to speed during a Sunday night call that I was briefed on the situation.

Still, I refuse to believe that snowpocalypse will be hitting Chicago this week. 

Photo by Charlie Didrickson

Despite being a high school student during the infamous blizzard of 1999, I can’t help but wonder if this is another hype story. Seriously.  How many times over the past winters have we had doom forecasts predicting things like “potentially white-out conditions,” and “travel at a stand still,” only to have the sun come out the next day? You know it’s true.
 
Oh, and I love how the news keeps showing stock video of people buying shovels and snow blowers and standing in long lines at the grocery store, just to build up panic of what may (or may not) come.
 
Yeah, right!
 
That’s not to say I’m not a little worried.
 
Big blizzards can and do happen in Chicago. We have both the big blizzards of 1967 and 1979 to prove that. I wasn’t around for either of those, but I do remember the storm of 1999.
 
It was New Years Weekend, the final stretch of winter break before thousands of Chicago public school students like myself had to return to school. I was not looking forward to going back to school, so the threat of a huge snowstorm had me hopeful. But as the snow began to fall I quickly began to loose hope. It fell softly, slowly, not in a downpour that I was convinced would cancel school the following Monday.
 
I remember getting up during the night just to check how much snow had fallen.  It wasn’t much. My hopes dashed, I went back to bed.
 
The next day, however, things had changed. For the first time in my life I understood what ‘white out’ conditions meant. When I say I couldn’t see an inch in front of my face, I mean I couldn’t see an inch in front of my face. It was unbelievable. But what I remember the most was the walk I took with my aunt to the local shoe store. My aunt needed boots and for some reason she believed the shoe store would be open. So we decided to take a walk up the street to find out. I went with her, for the sheer adventure of walking in all that snow.
 
And I’ll never forget what I saw: streets completely empty of traffic! I live a block up from a very busy avenue. This street is so busy that city buses routinely run every 3 to 5 minutes during morning rush hour, but that afternoon my aunt and I stumped up the street in 1999, there was not a car in the street. Not one. We walked directly down the middle of the avenue without any trouble. Only once do I remember having to move out of the way for a vehicle and it was for a slow moving city bus. 
 
When we finally made it to the shoe store it was closed, but the thrill of walking in the middle of that once busy avenue was worth the disappointment.  Needless to say it was fun and exciting and a memory I love to share with people who have never had the experience. In the end school was cancelled, but not because of the snow. After the downpour, Chicago was gripped in a cold snap and the powers that be thought it best that city school student’s stay home for their own safety. We were out for two days.
 
It was a rare event, as Chicago rarely cancels classes due to weather related issues. I suspect most CPS students have never even experienced such a thing. I know my niece hasn’t and she’s 13. 
 
But this week she might get that chance. That is, if you believe the hype.
 
As an adult I’m wishing against the storm. Sure, I’ve read the forecasts and seen the satellite images and listened to the expert predictions, but I’m sincerely hoping it's hype and nothing more. Blizzards don’t bring snow days for workers like me. They bring headaches, like worrying about how you’re going to get to and from work, what to do about the car (I live on a street that has parking time limits), and of course, digging out. I won’t get the simple joy of staying in with a hot mug of cocoa and fuzzy robe and slippers. I’ll be out swearing: at the snow for being so high, at the wind for stinging my face, at the bus for being late, and at Mother Nature in general.
 
So let the city have its news conferences and let my co-workers speculate. I’m hopeful that the worst will pass us by. Let it dump some more snow on the East coast. They can handle it. It’s all hype and nothing more. I refuse to believe anything else.
 
Then again, I remembering thinking the 1999 storm prediction was just hype too….
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