No more bragging about upstate New York snow

I guess I can no longer brag to my friends back in Maryland how severe the winters are in upstate New York. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports that Washington, D.C., has had nearly 60 inches of snow this winter and Baltimore has had 80 inches, much of it during the big storm last week. In contrast, here in Rochester, N.Y., we’ve had only 65 inches and no severe blizzards (so far).

The great thing about Rochester is that the community is geared for snow and takes it in stride. Back home, it always came as an unexpected emergency.

When I was a little boy growing up in western Maryland, a snowfall of just 4 or 5 inches would have made me ecstatic. The county superintendent of schools would have been sure to call a “Snow Day” and I would have to day off from school.

Later, as a grown-up newspaperman covering mayor and council meetings in my home city of Hagerstown, Md., I got used to the annual ritual of “economizing” by turning down requests for new snowplows and eliminating contingency funds for snow emergencies.

Some winters, there was hardly any snow at all. And when there was, Bill Potter, the city street superintendent, and his team of mechanical geniuses could somehow get the city’s antique snowplowing equipment working. And if they couldn’t, well – snow will always melt.

All that was 45 or so years ago, and I don’t know how things are now. But it made me appreciate how the Rochester area, including the county and town governments, are organized for winter. Native Rochesterians take for granted the fact that, the morning after a snowstorm, the main roads and streets will be plowed and the side streets will be plowed not too long after. That is not a universal rule.

Here in Rochester, we even have sidewalk snowplowing, which I’d never heard of before I moved here. In Hagerstown, the standard method of keeping sidewalks free of snow and ice was to fine property owners who didn’t. If you were aged or infirm, you’d better be able to hire a teenager to do it for you.

We’ve had blizzards which knocked out electricity and telephone service, including a couple of ice storms over the decades in which service wasn’t restored for weeks. But for the most part, even after the worst storm, life was soon back to normal.

I came to appreciate, as the people in Washington, Baltimore and Hagerstown must, the efforts of the snowplow drivers, the telephone and electric company linemen and all the other people whose efforts make it possible for the rest of us to have food and water, stay warm and go about our daily lives. And it made me appreciate as well the importance of being prepared for the worst, and not gambling with false economies.

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