When Did We Give Up on Dealing With Winter?

I am trying to find the date where the United States gave up on dealing with winter. I seem to recall a tipping point in the early/mid-2000s in a storm that hit the East Coast.

The mentality shifted from trying to push through storms and only shut down when absolutely necessary, to preemptive cancellations taken to absurd levels in the name of safety.

Growing up in Minnesota we would cling to the radio hoping for a school closure announcement while our parents hoped for the opposite because they were going to work; sometimes we went years in between closures and only then typically for extreme cold in the -30 F range. Each time was a last-minute call. Everyone got on with it, and I don’t think that mentality was limited to cold weather states.

Now we have a culture to winter weather where businesses take any opportunity to shutter. We have not had one flake of snow in NY yet. It has been a beautiful, sunny, chilly day. Yet my gym has already shut down for Saturday, and even Citi Bike is shutting down. Why does a self-service bike share program need to shut down for snow?

CitiBike Winter Weather

I like the flexibility airline winter weather waivers now provide to customers, and can see the arguments for some preemptive flight cancellations when the likely alternatives are many hours of delay and eventual cancellations. Those waivers can even benefit irrepressible tricksters with no intention to travel.

Yet as an overall approach to life, is ‘can’t win, don’t try’ really the approach we should take? How long before we end up like the jumping at their own shadow English who need to wear hi-vis to cross the street?

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  • Stephan

    Just symptomatic of the “can’t do” attitude now pervasive in our society. Everything is too much trouble. We’re all becoming lazy and spoiled beyond belief.

  • We’ve become a country full of patsies. Or as my late uncle would say, “candy a**es.”

  • Paul

    Why? Why the hell should we trudge through dangerous road condition, so the corporation we work for can post 1/40th more profit for the quarter?

    I work to live, I do not live to work.

  • RoloT

    It coincides with the rise of “weathertainment” foisted on us by the reality-tv channel, TWC. Today, any amount of snow producing system is a ” storm” and gets a name. During winter, it seems at least two times a week the talking heads on the weather Channel are telling people to stay home. I wonder if you’re permitted to miss work, school etc because TWC told you to stay home?

  • Tom

    I think it happened after 9/11.

    Now we live in the era of fear and trembling. Democrats fear the gun owners. Republicans fear the Muslims. Politicians and the news media constantly reinforce the idea that we should all be terrified, every single day because America is about to collapse.

    Give me a break! All in all, we’re doing pretty well. I believe that members of the Greatest Generation would call us a bunch of wimps and cowards.

  • I can see why citibike shut down. What if someone got injured due to the conditions and sued CItibike.

  • Bob

    Cool story grandpa!

  • P T

    The University of Minnesota never closed when I was a student in the early ’70’s, much to my chagrin.

  • Jeff

    I think the pivotal moment you are looking for is Katrina.

    Way too many angles to go any deeper in a simple blog response, but from my perspective Katrina was the point where it became cool to be overly cautious about the weather.

  • wln

    The National Weather Service is forecasting 10-18 inches of snow in New York City. Meanwhile, the Minnesota state government tells me that Minneapolis has gotten more that 13 inches just 18 times in 130+ years. http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/climate/journal/top_twenty_snowfalls.html. Maybe people were never as good at double digit snows as you think they were?

  • chasgoose

    When the airlines became so consolidated and large that a massive storm covering most of the Eastern seaboard could devastate their operations. All three airlines have massive hubs on the East Coast. None of them want to risk their planes getting stuck there and not being able to be used in the rest of the country where the weather is fine. Better to proactively cancel than have the storm reverberate throughout your entire domestic network…

  • Matt

    When did we get so soft!

  • dubaych

    The answer is obvious and you’ve consciously disregarded it to … what’s the phrase? … get people to read this post.
    Sigh.
    A known threat is an avoidable threat.
    An avoidable threat ignored is negligence.
    Negligence is fault.
    Ergo, if you fail to act to avoid a known threat, then you are at fault.
    The origin of this is probably more traceable to transparency than anything. Since there is — either as a matter of policy or as a matter of leak — a time-stamped data trail of everything the decision-makers know and say, we are empowered to analyze their actions after the fact. And we are justifiably intolerant of decisions that appear negligent, by either ignoring the vast amount of statistical data now available or by prioritizing expedience, convenience or cost over even a single life.
    PS — get your own shovel and get to work

  • JEM

    I remember my first winter in Washington, DC back in the mid-90s when 4 inches of snow was forecast for evening. Having grown up in Michigan, I was flabbergasted when the city was nearly evacuated by noon, and the stores were stripped of bread, milk, and for some reason toilet paper! Who doesn’t have enough toilet paper to ride out a little snowstorm?

  • DavidB

    While I generally agree with the premise that the US is being overwhelmed by irrational “threats” of all sorts particularly from the Republican party (sorry to go political but…). This weather threat has been somewhat overstated, but nonetheless I do think the airlines have responded rationally given their experience with past winter storms. Best to shut down the east coast than end up with too many airplanes located in too many disparate airports which hampers getting the system up and running again. Also, I suspect airports like CLT may have some facilities to deal with cold winters (like de-icing fluid and spay units) but certainly not enough to sustain operations through a major storm as was predicted and is currently under way. Even YYZ ran short of these necessities a couple of years back due to a sustained cold spell. As for the Republicans, this storm will further reinforce their believe that Global Warming is a myth!

  • Jamie

    We have school cancelled pretty often here in our school district in Chicagoland. When I was in college in Green Bay, WI we never had school cancelled, even with -60 windchills. That was 95-98. The school nurse at the local high school treats kids for frostbite because they walk to school with only a sweatshirt on wmduring single digit temps.
    I don’t know if it’s part of a larger trend of laziness, but people start complaining about winter here in November sometimes. Basically as soon as you get any real winter weather (and this is by Illinois standards, not MN, northern WI, etc standards).
    I kinda think that you either keep living your life through winter, by adopting some winter pastimes and/or some warmer clothes (snow pants on adults are cool!!) or move somewhere warmer. How much of our lives are we going to wish away by longing for springtime for 5 months?!

  • Jamie

    PS – love JEM’s comment about the toilet paper!

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Jamie – the kids in Oslo do it well, they have parents pulling them around by sled.

  • Jamie

    @RTC – I love that idea! In Copenhagen they are blessed with all of that water surrounding them, so the high temp for the day may be around 30, but then the low temp is only a couple of degrees cooler. You can sit outside in the evening at a cafe with one of the blankets they provide throughout the winter.
    Also heard of adult sized snow suits. Like a one piece zip up thing like kids wear. I’m sure they’re very expensive ski wear or something, but I love the idea of getting dressed in your nice clothes for a dinner out, then putting your snowsuit on and walking downtown to meet your friends. Arrive at restaurant, remove snowsuit… voila! fabulous outfit underneath.

  • Farnorthtrader

    I, too, thought Americans were winter wimps until last night. Apparently, all it takes is the right event to get them to deal with the cold. Last night, I attended the Monster Truck Jam in Orlando along with 60,000 fellow Floridians. Now, 40 degrees with wind is not cold for most of the country, but for Floridians, it is the bitterest of winter, but 60,000 braved the elements for Monster Trucks!
    On the other hand, 3 ICE hockey games have been postponed? What the heck?

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Farnorthtrader – USA! USA! USA!