Washington, D.C., which managed to get through the entire 20th century without as much as three feet of the white stuff falling in a single February, had more than four feet come down in two storms that landed in the first half of this month. Parts of New Jersey had to give the kids three days off from school when a pair of storms dumped a combined total of more than 40 inches of snow in two successive weeks.
Like many of you, I found entertainment in teasing relatives in these suddenly Snow Belt communities. “How can you people live down there?” I asked my snowbound sister in New Jersey after she came back in from an hour of shoveling. Out of breath, she described how she had gone out at night to clear off her car and, incredibly enough, in the morning, the car was covered with snow once again. Imagine that.
It does seem as if the snow belts have flip-flopped this season, as a series of Nor’easters and a big storm coming in from the Plains dumped snow on the mid-Atlantic and even a good portion of the South, while we veteran snow warriors were practically sunbathing, our snow blowers all gassed up with nothing to blow.
In Washington, D.C., on Feb. 10, before the second storm began, they actually suspended snowplowing because it was too dangerous. Somebody who had obviously never stood on the shores of Lake Ontario in the winter described a snowstorm with 60-mph winds as “life-threatening.” Oh, please.
Down further south, in the Carolinas and even into the Texas panhandle, drivers more accustomed to dodging tumbleweeds and armadillos were forced to confront the wet white stuff on their roads, and they didn’t seem to like it very much. Judging from the pileups we saw on the TV screen, those folks need a lesson or two from experienced doughnut makers.
As the second storm set its sights on the nation’s capital, I ran into a guy named Eddie, who was determined to seize the day. With his capable 1995 red Chevy pickup outfitted with a rusty yellow plow, he set sights on the nation’s capital, eager to turn those piles of white fluff into green. There was some cold cash to be had, and this guy was ready to collect. “By the end of the weekend,” he said, “I’m gonna make $2,000.” The light changed and off he roared.
Which got me thinking—maybe the new economy for Syracuse isn’t green after all; maybe it’s white. Could it be that climate change could make Syracuse’s snowplowing prowess a cutting-edge service that we can market to the snow wimps of this world? After all, our snowplow crews are second to none. Don’t take it from me—check out the latest edition of Governing magazine online. You can find a link to it on the city’s Web site, www.syracuse.ny.us.
Whenever there’s a big storm here we always see utility trucks from around the country and Canada helping to restore power lines. Police and fire departments send their members to other areas when there’s a crisis. We even sent New Yorkers to Haiti to help with the rescue efforts there.
Can we find a way to turn our strength—snow removal—into a financial opportunity for our city and county? If these Nor’easters keep gumming up the works down the coast while the lake effect machine sleeps, we’ve got a pile of machinery just going to waste that is needed just to our south. We could do like Eddie, and cash in.
Pete O’Connor is the city’s newly installed commissioner of Public Works, which makes him our Plower-in-Chief. O’Connor has been with DPW for 10 years, although he’s never driven a plow truck, and he can remember only once when the department sent a couple of its 28 plows down the Thruway to help out Buffalo and Rochester. “That has to come as a special request to the mayor,” he says.
Engaging in this kind of trade would be tricky but not impossible, says O’Connor. “We wouldn’t do it out of the goodness of our heart,” he says. “We’d have to have something worked out ahead of time, to cover the costs, the insurance, what happens if a piece of equipment breaks down.”
So far none of those snow-blanketed towns have reached out to us, says Pete, but if this weather pattern continues, there could be gold in them there snowdrifts. We know snow.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times.