By Robert E. Macdonald
Mayor of Lewiston
Calmness reigned as our coffee group sat around in Tim Horton’s last Thursday, waiting for the fulfillment of this week’s latest prophesy from the hallowed heights of Mt. Washington’s abode of the Gods of meteorology. Snow was coming!
Conversation turned to a walk down memory lane of winters past. Winters without the Weather Channel. Winters reported by three TV channels that ceased to broadcast after 1 a.m. It was a time when the weathermen were plain looking and the least important members of the news staff. The accuracy of their forecast was slightly more accurate than a coin toss.
We had all grown up in the 1950s when a foot of snow was considered an average storm. On snowy days, there were no buses to chauffeur us back and forth from school. Foot power was the only mode of transportation.
During the winter months, you participated in the time-honored ritual of having Mom dress you for school. The beginning was laborless: underwear and socks, followed by either shirts or pants/blouses and skirts, a sweater and shoes. Then the intensity grew.
You were crammed into snowpants. Next came the snug winter jacket, followed finally by winter rubber boots that always seemed at least two sizes smaller than the shoes you were wearing. Add a hat, gloves and a scarf, and you were ready to commence your journey to school.
Upon arriving at school, your teacher helped most of your classmates to shed their outer clothing. Later in the day, the dismissal ritual made a great argument for smaller class sizes.
After school and on weekends, the snow and cold weather provided many outdoor activities, such as sledding, tobogganing, saucers, skiing and ice skating. Large mounds of snow were perfect for making forts from which many a snowball-throwing group of neighborhood rowdies were fiercely repelled.
Sidewalks were bordered with a wall of snow on each side, creating the appearance of trenches found on the Western Front during the First World War. These conditions created an imagination not found in today’s XBox generation.
Many today would be horrified upon realizing there were no snow blowers. When the snow fell, whether it was one inch or 24 inches, you got out the snow shovels and put your backs into clearing sidewalks, driveways and stairs. This helped create a generation of lean children, rarely found in today’s generation.
The intensity of snow and wind produced by the storms of the ’50s occasionally blocked the means of egress from one’s home. Drifts caused by the intense snow and wind sometimes covered entrances with several inches of snow. Thus a person would have to find a way out of their house in order to shovel the snow blocking the home’s entrance.
Boy, have times changed. Today’s weather forecasters and the stations they work for have developed a flair for the dramatic. This not only increases the station’s ratings, but causes panicky grocery shopping among the population. The current forecast accuracy usually is right on the money. This creates a problem: How do you keep people glued to your station with the prediction of four to six inches of snow?
Visuals! Creative visuals. Have your reporter stand outside in the swirling snow, recreating a visual on the screen that can be seen just as easily by looking out one’s window. Reporters stand by roads and major highways, warning us to stay off them because of their treacherous conditions. This while in the background, vehicles zip by at excessive speed.
Reporters employ rulers, sticking them in to the newly fallen snow to show us it’s going to be several hours before the current falling snow covers the tip of our boots. They build snowmen, make snow angels in the fallen snow and repeatedly play to the younger audience, informing them whether the texture of the snow is good for making snowballs.
All this begs two questions: Has our ability to comprehend what’s going on around us diminished to the point that these visuals are necessary? Have we really lost the ability to look out our window and realize what’s going on outside without being told? Time will tell.