I hail from a small town in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, where the snow falls pillowy and white and we merrily traverse it by all manner of ski, sleigh and waxed-fiberglass conveyance.
In this town — and those surrounding — we have a very symbiotic relationship with winter weather. It stimulates various microeconomies (ski resorts, snow-removal services, the guys who make those ingenious heated sidewalks); its traces are idyllic and picturesque; its spring runoff restores our waterways and the ecosystems that depend on them.
We are also incredibly well-prepared for it: from 1982 to 2008, my school district declared exactly zero snow days, despite the fact that we routinely accrue more than a foot of snow overnight. In short, I grew up not just tolerating but appreciating winter. Sure, it was cold, but we bundled up and overcame.
Fast forward to today, the 14th of March, 2017, a day attended by the (alleged) arrival of Winter Storm Stella in New York City, which I now call home. “A foot of snow overnight!” they promised. “Up to 24 inches by nightfall!” Schools closed. Public transport suspended. Roads cleared for emergency services. This was to be the Big One, just like the one we were promised in January 2015, when the city took similar precautions only to be greeted by halfhearted flurries that couldn’t knock over a house of cards.
But look outside and what do you see? Four measly f*cking inches. Hardly enough to bury your little brother’s mittens, much less the whimpering, defenseless git himself.
— NYCEM – Notify NYC (@NotifyNYC) March 14, 2017
Blizzard canceled?! What sorcery is this?! One does not simply cancel the beautiful, insouciant violence of nature.
And yet, here I am, observing the distinctly East Coast phenomenon known not as snow, but as something much more severe: Wintry Mix.
For the unacquainted (or those of you who — rightly — still reside in the West, land of pristine winters and the Instagram photos that come with them), Wintry Mix is a devilish bit of meteorological patois that was literally made up by East Coast weathermen, according to a New Yorker essay from 2015. Urban Dictionary defines it as “a gross messy mix of snow and rain … generally considered a bummer,” while the closest official weather-service analog is RASN, for “rain and snow.” For practical purposes, though, imagine Wintry Mix as something like shattered ice riding — Valkyrie-like — through the air on high-velocity gusts of wind. It sticks to the ground in cruel, jagged shapes that fell children and break hips. It exfoliates every inch of exposed skin sans invitation. Even dogs hate it, according to an InsideHook editor who braved the cold to walk one this morning.
What it most certainly is not is going-outside weather. And this is the real bane of East Coast blizzards: they strand you indoors. In the Coloradan academic calendar, the mythical Snow Day ranks somewhere between the first day of summer and the last day before winter break. Elementary schoolers man sleds and build forts, while their teen-aged counterparts pile into trucks and Jeeps and rush to the ski lifts to claim first tracks. It is something undeniably celebratory: cups are raised, toasts incanted, hot tubs overflowed.
But here in New York, it is the cruelest day, when children stare longingly from their windows at the promise of what could have been. It is not a Snow Day but a Wintry Mix Day, and that is a day of mourning.
May it die off forevermore.
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