It’s winter in Vermont, and it’s snowing. Is that news?
Yes, it is, but why? It has always seemed that many weather stories — throughout the media landscape — are stating the obvious.
Snow in Colorado. Heat in Texas. Sun in Los Angeles. We remember the weatherman played by Steve Martin in the movie “L.A. Story” who had a plentiful stash of small suns to post on his weather map to describe the endless skein of sunny days.
Was it always thus? Or has the hyped-up atmosphere of today’s news made a practice of magnifying the obvious?
For the purposes of a nonscientific and noncomprehensive look back, we grabbed a random January from the Rutland Herald’s dusty past, and we opened up the bound volume to Jan. 2, 1935.
There on page one was the following:
“New England Lashed by New Year Storm.
“70-mile Gale Whips Small Ships; Vermont and N.H. Get 2 Feet of Snow.
“TRAFFIC IS DELAYED.”
The AP report came from Boston, dated Jan. 1. It said:
“New England learned today that the infant it greeted with wild outbursts at the midnight hour last night, was not such an infant after all.
“From the tip of Cape Cod, where a 70-mile northeaster whirled small craft helter skelter in Provincetown harbor, to the northern section of Vermont and New Hampshire, where two feet of snow buried the countryside, the little Miss 1935 made it known she was here with teeth.”
It turns out a storm in 1935 was big news, though it may be that a winter without storms would be even bigger. It’s true the story was telling readers something they already knew, but it was telling them something more. It was letting them know they were part of something larger and that the human community was experiencing something like they were experiencing.
A traveler to Asia has reported that people in northern Afghanistan say that when the clouds resemble the tail of a horse, rain will follow in two days. It is not exactly a weather satellite, but it is a bit of folk wisdom that sometimes works.
With our advanced technology — satellites and Internet, among other innovations — our eye on the sky is much more sophisticated. As the latest storm has barreled into New England, we heard first how it was wracking Ohio. We have been introduced to complex discussions of weather fronts, low pressure, high pressure and even such colorfully described phenomena as the Alberta clipper. If we were to make a study of satellite photos, we might even be able to identify, at certain times of year, the tail of the horse to determine if it is a predictor of rain to follow.
When we hear of adverse weather shared by people in other places, it creates the sense of a larger community and of human solidarity, even if Vermonters become smug when we hear how 2 inches of snow have paralyzed Washington, D.C. (Washingtonians can grow smug at cherry blossom time as Vermonters shiver through April.)
In 1935, the Herald reported, 5,000 men went to work in Boston to “keep abreast of the snow, if possible.” Other trouble was reported in Provincetown, where the gale swept two tons of coal from the deck of the Coast Guard patrol boat, the Harriett Lane, forcing the boat to return to port for more fuel.
The present storm will not be the worst to hit Vermont; it was expected to batter Massachusetts far more severely. But we know what it’s like. A few years ago, we had our Valentine Day’s storm, when we got 30 inches, followed by the St. Patrick’s Day storm, also severe.
Indeed, all across the nation people have become aware that the weather, the most commonplace topic of all, has a way of becoming anything but commonplace. Climate change is part of it. As Mark Twain said, “Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.” These days we don’t even know what to expect from the climate.