Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Perspective, let's have some

So I live on the East Coast, and I have lived in Virginia my entire life.

While the weather is kind of different now than it was when I was a kid, the basics are still the same. We have four seasons (though Spring and Fall are fading fast) and the summer is very hot and very humid and prone to thunderstorms. The winter is very cold, and we're prone to snowstorms.

None of these weather events are extremes of their type. So when I say we get snowstorms, I mean "we get a few inches of snow." So people in Maine and Canada can laugh wholeheartedly at our snowstorms, that's cool.

The thing with weather is that it's impact on your life is all about what you're prepared for. When I was a kid, we were always pretty ready for the various things that came through, including thunderstorms, hurricanes, snowstorms, and ice storms and even a couple blizzards. My parents weren't crazy survivalists or anything, they just knew what needed doing so that you could bunker down for a couple days and then just go about your life when you were done.

Which is why the last year or so here in Northern Virginia has been driving me so crazy. Yes, the weather has been a bit abnormal, and it's been a lot of extremes one after the other. But for the most part, there's been an overwhelming sense that the people in the Northern Virginia/DC/Maryland area have forgotten everything about preparedness. And I'm not entirely talking about individuals, there's been a failure of governments and corporations too.

Why is it that whenever there's a strong windstorm, the power is out for at least two or three days in DC? If it was just this one time, I would say that people are probably working as hard as they can, etc. etc.

But the people I know who live in DC are constantly complaining about their power company, and every time I hear about a major outage I also hear a report that it will be two or three days to get it back. So they apparently can't handle a small outage, when millions of people's power failed because of the storm last weekend they were in over their heads and that's SHAMEFUL. Power companies have monopolies, and since they don't have direct competition I thought they were held to standards of service. I read a quote where someone said that this was like a repairing after a hurricane only with no warning.

I'm sorry, but I think that the power company should be prepared for a hurricane at all times. There should be policies in place, and they should know exactly how to implement them in order to restore power because lack of electricity can KILL PEOPLE. Especially in the heat we've got right now. Besides the fact that if you're prepared for a hurricane (the time to prepare is not when the weather channel is waving graphics in your face it's when there's nothing going on) then you're prepared for smaller storms or most things that might be thrown your way.

The government isn't doing much better, but at least I can give them the excuse that everybody wants tax cuts so their budgets are slashed repeatedly until they're mostly ineffective. But the departments of transportation around here did not come out of this looking very good, and the fact that the entire 911 system for my county went down in the storm is a big, big problem.

Yes, this was a "derecho." This was a "land hurricane." This was unexpected and there was a lot of powerful wind.

But you know what? We get hurricanes here. We get thunderstorms. We get windstorms. We should have been more prepared for this. We should have been ready and this should NOT have paralyzed everything the way it did. When we got hit with tornadoes last year, I completely understood that people didn't know what to do because Virginia doesn't get tornadoes. But my hometown, which was hit with an F3 and an F2 within an hour of each other, still rallied and got everything together and did an amazing job recovering. Meanwhile, we have a windstorm and can't even get the traffic lights working four days later.

Part of the problem is that people here on the East Coast LOVE to exaggerate their weather, probably because it is relatively mild. Like I said, when I say we get snow I mean a few inches. The two worst storms I can remember were the Blizzard of '93 and Snowmageddon (which refers to a specific set of storms, no matter what the stupid people are walking around saying about every tiny little snowfall). Both of those were the kind of thing Michigan just calls "Tuesday."

My town had a 500 year flood last year and the biggest damage was that a commuter parking lot got flooded and trashed a bunch of cars. Meanwhile in the Midwest, houses are floating down rivers. We had an earthquake last year, and while it was an interesting geological event it was a 5.something. The same week, California had a 5.something and I don't think people even looked up from their iPads. And all of these things I mentioned became HUGE news stories, people talked about them for weeks and months. The "derecho" has brought out all of the "where were you" type posts and videos and photos of the damage.

In some cases, the damage is severe. I'm not going to lie, this storm was bad. But in a few cases the "damage" is a few branches torn out of trees that landed on a sidewalk or a yard. And people expect sympathy? Over a dozen people DIED and you want me to feel sad because a little bit of siding blew off?

The weather is getting worse than it was five or ten years ago. But it's not worse than it was twenty or thirty years ago, as far as I can tell. We still have some of the mildest weather in the country, we just get each type and other places have more extremes of one thing or another. So there's no real reason for our government and service companies not to be prepared for this, and people shouldn't be surprised that we get a bad storm now and again. This shouldn't be news because we had a storm, it should be news that we were so ill equipped to handle it.

And your trampoline getting blown over isn't worth any sympathy points.