Saturday, February 9, 2013

Blizzard Report, from Somerville MA

Blizzard, Beacon St, Somerville MA
As you may have heard, we've had a little snow here in the Northeast. We were out of town in the days before it was expected to hit, and hurried to make it back before the travel ban went into effect. Yes: a motor vehicle travel ban for all of Massachusetts was declared, with violations punishable with a year of jail time. Still, here in Greater Boston many doubted the seriousness of the blizzard to come. We've been fooled before with promises of sensational snowstorms, only to receive a measly couple of inches.

Blizzard Front Door, Saturday AM
This time however, the universe followed through. Over 2 feet of snow had piled up outside our front door by morning, and that was after the stairs had been shoveled the night before. 

Blizzard Front Door, Saturday AM
Beyond the front door I could see an awkward heap of snow, which I realised was the neighbours' car. 

Blizzard, Beacon St, Somerville MA
Our street looked like this, after the plows had gone through it.

Blizzard, Beacon St, Somerville MA
The normally busy main road looked like this.

Blizzard, Beacon St, Somerville MA
And this. (Notice anything missing?)

Blizzard, Beacon St, Somerville MA
At around 9:30am I saw a procession of plows making their way down the road. 

Blizzard, Beacon St, Somerville MA
But it continued to snow until mid-morning, quickly covering any progress the plows made with another dusting.

Blizzard, Union Sq, Somerville MA
I encountered surreal scenes, such as this one. Any car that had been left out on the street had now turned into a giant snowbank.

Blizzard, Union Sq, Somerville MA
Once the snow stopped falling, vehicle excavations began.

Blizzard, Union Sq, Somerville MA
They would continue zealously until sunset.

Blizzard, Union Sq, Somerville MA
Clearing sidewalks was tricky, considering how much snow had fallen. Some dug trenches, which had to be navigated single file - the snow nearly waist-high. 

Blizzard, Union Sq, Somerville MA
But for the most part the sidewalks had not been cleared and pedestrians took to the roads.

Blizzard, Union Sq, Somerville MA
Mostly on foot, by sometimes on sleds, snowshoes, and skis.

Blizzard, Union Sq, Somerville MA
I was a little envious of the snowshoes I have to admit; I would love to try them. 

Blizzard, Union Sq, Somerville MA
In the first half of the day, I did not see any bikes being ridden. The road surface was too uneven and soft for most cyclists and bicycles, myself included. 

Blizzard, Beacon St, Somerville MA
At least in the first half of the day, the driving ban was enforced. A police SUV slowly circulated the neighbourhood shouting threats over the loudspeaker at anyone who attempted to drive, other than snow plow operators and city workers. 

Blizzard, Union Sq, Somerville MA
Pedestrian movement was not impeded, and soon people took over the roads. 

Blizzard, Union Sq, Somerville MA
At some point, word came that a party was being held in nearby Union Square. 

Union Square Snow Day, Somerville MA
Pretty soon, it seemed like the entire neihgbourhood headed that way (except those still digging out their cars!).

Union Square Snow Day, Somerville MA
There was music blaring and people dancing. Despite the potentially serious nature of a blizzard of this magnitude, the atmosphere in the entire neighbourhood was downright festive. Those out on the streets were saying hello to one another, and smiling ear to ear.

Union Square Snow Day, Somerville MA
Kids, adults, everyone looked happy to be outdoors, enjoying themselves.

Union Square Snow Day, Somerville MA
Some wore costumes. 

Union Square Snow Day, Somerville MA
Others came ready to fight.

Union Square Snow Day, Somerville MA
Which they did, to the sounds of dance music, with the Somerville Gateway mural as proud backdrop.

Blizzard, Union Sq, Somerville MA
As the afternoon waned and the snowplows laboured tirelessly, I began to see a few bikes here and there.

Union Square Snow Day, Somerville MA
But still mostly sleds.

Blizzard, Union Sq, Somerville MA
And toboggans.

Blizzard, Union Sq, Somerville MA
And skis.

Blizzard, Union Sq, Somerville MA
And various snowboard-like contraptions. 

Blizzard, Union Sq, Somerville MA
I did a lot of walking throughout the day. Many layers were donned to deal with the cold, but nothing out of the ordinary. 

Blizzard, Union Sq, Somerville MA
Others got creative with plastic bags, various DIY overshoes and blanket-capes. 

Union Square Snow Day, Somerville MA
To see our entire neighbourhood so active and energetic at a time when it was expected to be immobilised was quite something. By mid-afternoon a few local businesses opened their doors to meet the foot-traffic demand for coffee, alcohol and groceries. All of these places were packed. 

Blizzard, Union Sq, Somerville MA
It seems that Somerville, MA has weathered the storm well, and there have been no disasters. In the meantime, the snow plows are still at it. Excavations of vehicles continue. And although the motor vehicle ban is now lifted, along the largely unplowed side streets snowshoes continue to rule the roads. 

More pictures here - enjoy the rest of the weekend!

53 comments:

  1. Sorta makes you wonder what it would be like if there weren't any cars ever. I'm not radical enough to actually suggest that, but I spent some time in Europe 25 years ago and one of my fondest memories is of the walled cities that don't allow cars inside. It was truly magical.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Urban areas without cars are a delight.

      Delete
    2. I know,right?

      Just yesterday I was thinking of how cool it would be to simply ban cars altogether in the down-town core.

      Now that we have separated bike lanes, I avoid car thoroughfares. Wouldn't it be sweet if the cars had to stay away from the network of bike routes which lace the city grid, too? We've got it pretty good here in Vancouver, but most of our undifferentiated bike routes allow automobile traffic and car parking, and so you're never truly safe on a bike.

      Cities all over North America are moving in the right direction, though, so I have hope that one day soon people en masse will awaken from their petroleum fuelled trances and join us in our joyful way of life here in the bike lanes.

      Delete
    3. Here in Denver we have an absolutely wonderful system of bike paths & greenbelts along all of our rivers and creeks. It's like having a whole network of bike thoroughfares with no cars allowed - I truly love it. It's all paid for with lottery money, but seriously, I feel like I'm the one who's hit the jackpot!

      But I'm almost to the point where when someone gives me a street address, I'm totally lost and have to go look on a map to see where it corresponds to the bike paths because they are my main frame of reference!

      Still, there are sections of the city where there aren't any good trails, and I have this crazy little fantasy like yours, babble, that maybe they could set aside a few streets as bike only routes. I doubt it would ever really happen, but hey, a girl can dream!

      Delete
  2. I love seeing this! :O) I'm also glad that everyone (at least in your area) is safe and sound, and even enjoying what mother nature has thrust upon you all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Going by news reports, there have been a couple of injuries and casualties in nearby towns from carbon monoxide poisoning. Very sad. But the general atmosphere of locals is calm and upbeat. No blizzard panic, no one freezing or starving, no car crashes so far.

      Delete
  3. A good time to work on one's bicycles, while they are parked indoors!

    ReplyDelete
  4. What was so much different about this blizzard from the ones we had in previous years? We had that much snow before so why is this one so special?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The way I remember it, this blizzard is somewhat heavier than the last memorable one we had - which was in the winter of 2010/2011. But then I also remember that heavy, regular snow was just all around considered more normal at some point than it is now.

      Delete
    2. It was a near record amount of snow this time and, with all of the recent environmental disasters, gov'mints are getting people more tuned in, by law. We have had big storms recently but it was back in 2003 that I dug out of 30 inches of dry snow. 8 hours of manual labor.

      You should try snow shoes. Even my 4 year old loved it yesterday. There is a much bigger crossover from cyclists to cross country skiing, which I prefer over snow shoes.

      Delete
    3. Appears as though this will be the third or fourth largest snowstorm in Boston history.

      Interestingly, of the top 6 Boston storms, 4 happened since 1997, a period that otherwise saw milder winter weather overall.

      Delete
    4. Here are the actual snowfall stats for this one.

      Delete
    5. Note that there's (allegedly) been a change in the measurement methodology at least at Boston Logan Airport. Once upon a time the snow was allowed to accumulate for some time, then measured, but now it is measured more frequently and removed between measurements. The (plausible) claim I heard was that this can inflate the totals somewhat because there is less time and weight applied to compressing the fallen snow.

      (But can I find a reference to support this claim? No, dammit.)

      Delete
  5. Jealous. Very jealous.
    In a way this reminds me of the unpronouncable Icelandic eruption a few years back. The first morning of the flight ban I was greeted by a crystal clear blue spring sky minus the usual contrail scars. It was an oh-so brief time when nature asserted her power and even the most powerful airline boss had to yield.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Is this what is known as the snowable streets movement?

    ReplyDelete
  7. I saw a guy riding a Pugsley down Hampshire Street. The grin on his face said, Yesssss, finally a chance for this bike to shine!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Now THAT"S the way to handle a blizzard! :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Beautiful to look at, but I prefer our 70 degree weather here in the Houston, TX area. I was riding my bike yesterday.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Funny how once the community sheds it's protective armor of cars then the people come out to recognize one another and smile.

    ReplyDelete
  11. This morning: sunshine, a balmy 32F, and streets full of hardened sparkly snow

    ReplyDelete
  12. Though he was a corporate executive, my Dad really loved to tinker in his home workshop. So one winter we sawed some old skis down and fabricated mounts for my Schwinn Stingray. Removed the wheels, removed the chain, affixed the skis. Braking was by putting my boots down. Total blast after the snowplows. Then we invented knee and elbow pads. This was in the 1970s.

    So yeah, I "get" the Yamaha Snowbike and such.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Really nice report. This is one of your best blog posts that I have read.

    Regarding the response to blizzards: There are two things I have noticed.

    First, the media culture tends to exaggerate the severity of events, weather-related or not. Every few days has to have its OJ news story, with its analysts, dire predictions, a team of lawyers to comment on it etc. Why not bring in Dr. Oz too.

    Second, it's inevitable that any weather event must be linked by the media to global warming, whether it be a storm, hot weather, cold weather. I think the next development is that a stretch of placid weather will be attributed to global warming. It gets a bit tedious.

    Too bad we can't have just a blizzard anymore, but it seems in Boston that is what happened. That is why I enjoyed your report and how the people there reacted to it.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I heard a report on NPR on Friday about how the Weather Channel has morphed into a reality TV show. Drama creates interest and generates millions of dollars of advertising revenue. It's also the Weather Channel that is behind naming Winter Storms this season. The National Weather Service chose not to go along with it. Why, more drama equals more advertising revenue.

    This is why I enjoyed this post so much. It shows that not every one is suffering through this mega-storm, but taking it in stride. People gathering together and enjoying the moments together are more precious than any storm coverage from the media.

    ReplyDelete
  15. That's what I love about big snowstorms -- it helps bring out the humanity and community spirit in people, once they are prevented from climbing into their steel cocoons. We caught some of that storm here in New Jersey, but not like it was in New England.

    ReplyDelete
  16. You should have tested a Fat Bike. I'll bet it would have been a ton of fun.

    ReplyDelete
  17. That is alot of snow! And what are those baby snow plows?! I think it is great that the government took it seriously and placed a driving ban. Growing up in Canada, we would drive in anything, have been caught in blizzards, never turned around. Never thought it might be unsafe and should stay home. Once my parents were going somewhere and the highway was actually closed due a major blizzard, but they just drove around the barrier and kept going. Not so smart. If anything happened, no rescue vehicles would have made it.
    It looks so beautiful! If it wasn't too cold much outdoor fun to be had obviously! I saw some photos of people skiing in Boston and I was so envious. Also, look how alive your neighbourhood became WITHOUT cars! People were quite happy to come out on foot, party, have fun and support local business too. Imagine if cars were kept out more often.

    I do agree with the comment about media overhyping blizzards. If you live in the north, winter with cold and snow is expected. Even in Canada snow storms are being treated like major events, but growing up it was just the way it was, to be expected. With climate change, winter has become pretty lame for much of Canada and the US, with last year being a now show, so I guess you do have to take into account that people may have 'forgotten' what winter is like. I have read that some people did not even have winter coats and boots after the last few mild winters!
    I have ridden my bike in that kind of snow and it is fun.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Please keep in mind that this was not a blizzard, though there were moments of "blizzard conditions". Not that that changes what happened.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Union Square rocks, I love the scrappy spirit of Somerville. Didn't make it to Union square, but the neighborhood kids made it to our back yard to build tunnels and forts:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/8460081436

    ReplyDelete
  20. "Yes: a motor vehicle travel ban for all of Massachusetts was declared, with violations punishable with a year of jail time. "

    Wow.

    We just sort of ignored it (the snow I mean) and went about our daily business. Schools were closed, and many who could worked from home, but I still managed to get out on the bike for a slog in the snow and to run some errands. Some spots were not bad, and some spots were up to the hubs. Our back door window looked a lot like yours in your picture did, and the streets looked very similar. I think you got about double what we got (not a surprise really - right where we live is a bit of a dead spot JUST outside of the snow belt created by the lake effect areas caused by Lake Huron.) But, it is winter. There is snow. This is normal :)

    ReplyDelete
  21. report from south of the river in Boston: we got a little snow here. my order of digging out: Saturday: front door to street, sidewalk in front of house, path to garage to get bike. Sunday: cars in driveway.

    (garage was built for a model T - it doesn't fit modern cars)

    I fully intend on biking into work this week.

    ReplyDelete
  22. We went out to RSC by bike yesterday and found it just fine for riding. Minimal traffic due to the travel ban. Actually, I rode home on Friday evening in it and found it if anything an improvement over normal rush hour, all things considered. It was slow going, but no slower than wading through traffic and I had the road to myself.

    To answer previous questions, while we have certainly had this much snow on the ground at once in recent years, it came in multiple installments rather than all at once. And the news people haven't had a snowstorm to get excited about in two years, so they've got a lot of pent-up snowpocalypsism to vent. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  23. Everybody keep repeating: "Climate change is a hoax."

    ReplyDelete
  24. Ohh... that seems like a lot of fun! I love when people are so positive through things such as this. A snow storm could be thought of as negative but everyone took it as an opportunity to embrace the winter cold and enjoy themselves :)

    http://carlkatie.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
  25. Streets up here in P'land were already clear down to the pavement for the most part. Snow tires not needed.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I fear that this means that for the next week or so, bike lanes will filled with snow, salt, slush, and parked cars.

    ReplyDelete
  27. That image at top of post is really great. Wow!

    ReplyDelete
  28. Waiting for you to roll out your new blog: "Lovely Toboggan!"

    ReplyDelete
  29. I forgot to mention one thing I noticed from your pictures; it seems at least three quarters of people in Somerville have red hair? Looks like a fun place.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's our secret plot for red-head world domination!!!!

      Delete
  30. Y'all (Massachusettians) are wusses. Why, when I was a boy, etc etc etc. Seriously, when I lived in la Ville de Quebec, late '70s and early '80s doing my Master's and Doctorate, the city would function as per usual even during storms where a parked car would be buried in a drift within a couple of hours. They claimed an average of 13 feet of snow/year. School went on, people went to work, and the city basically scooped and trucked all the snow out of at least the older part of the city, with a huge array of machines ranging from telephone booths on tracks for the sidewalks, relays of 10-wheel dumptrucks, and huge plows that would move down the freeways at 40 mph. There were snow mountains where they dumped the snow that would last through the summer into the next cold season. In really bad blizzards, so I was told, people were known to get lost and die from exposure walking the few, well-known blocks to their homes. Me, I was a runner back then, but I'd run in all but the coldest and windiest weather (coldest run: -17F, but sunny and just a light wind). I did read of a die hard who commuted by bike some 10-15 miles even during the heaviest snows.

    Youth today --- sheesh.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How much snow removal equipment a city might have is related to the climate. If you use it all of the time then it is worth it to pay the cost. If these kinds of weather events are once or twice a decade, then it doesn't make financial sense to own so much equipment. Personally, I would favor more sophisticated equipment for narrower spaces like sidewalks and bike lanes but not to the point of bankrupting cities. My town requires snow removal on sidewalks by the abutters and, of course, I comply with that rule.

      Delete
    2. There's a lot to be said for being acclimated to conditions. People up here freak out about "hot" summer days that would have seemed downright pleasant in the first 25 years of my life (living near Tampa and in Houston). We'd go out and ride bikes and mow lawns and play soccer in that stuff.

      But an inch of snow shuts down Houston. I've seen it happen.

      Delete
  31. Great pictures. Thank You!!

    ReplyDelete
  32. In early 1996, NYC experienced a blizzard of the magnitude of the one you just had. I was living in Park Slope then, and it was almost surreal to see Flatbush Avenue, Eastern Parkway and Seventh Avenue completely free of traffic for an entire day.

    I had just recently bought the Bontrager Race Lite I've described in today's post on my blog. Talk about good timing!

    ReplyDelete
  33. The snow storms get different reactions from people. After the big snow storm 2 years ago, I passed a number of cars stuck on ice. (This was one of the days when studded MTB tires were worth it).

    When I explained that the bicycle was much easier to dig out of the snow than the cars various people were digging out, many laughed, while a few still said I was crazy.

    AD

    ReplyDelete
  34. I have had the experience where as a lone walker (and cyclist) I was the only one of my neighbours to be regularly seen on the street. Then comes a good snow fall. Few cars are out and since the sidewalks are snowed over, lots of people just stroll along in the street. The occasional car is being driven at a walking pace and carefully, patiently weaves between people on foot, (sled or bike). The minute you witness this you realize that's how it ought to be all the time. Streets are for people, only some of whom, some of the time, will be in cars.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Thank you for all the photos!

    ReplyDelete
  36. Just a short distance away, the South Shore and the Cape got a BLIZZARD...with hurricane force winds. There are whole towns without power still, and places underwater. We are freezing and devastated. It is for real. Wish I lived in the city and had power....and a fat bike! The roads that are clear are full of vehicles, rushing to go somewhere else and find a place that is open. No bikes on these roads....drivers are even more aggressive than usual. Things are very, very wrong here......you in the city have it right! I am envious.

    ReplyDelete
  37. And unfortunately, the cars are back now, zooming around on relatively well-cleared streets, even though (in our town) the sidewalks are not uniformly passable and thus pedestrians must use the streets. I'm not riding to work till I see how the (randomly bike-unfriendly) town of Burlington dealt with their snow; it can either be very good (car lane converted to bike lane by excess snow) or very bad (car lane converted to narrow car lane, or car lane removed altogether).

    ReplyDelete
  38. I was also walking around with a friend between Inman and Union and also reveling in the sudden pedestrian nirvana of the blizzard. We caught the tail end of the Artisan's snowball war (did you see the huge head with long tongue sculpted out of snow?) and then retired to Backbar for tasty cocktails and ice cream sandwiches (like one does in a blizzard in New England)

    so, yes, heartily agreed. The neighborhood rocks.

    ReplyDelete
  39. I prefer cross-country skiing to snowshoes... It 's more close to biking imho... With all the snow we have here in Montreal during winter it's what I use to don't miss my bike to much... Unfortunately I cannot commute whit it :(

    Marco

    ReplyDelete
  40. Thanks so much for a look at what I do not regret leaving behind... much. It would be fun to experience one more time the snowy sharing of the sun after a blizzard if you could beam me up for just a day and promise to beam me back.

    ReplyDelete