Many of our conversations this winter have been about snow. The blizzard of February 8-9, when 31 inches of the heavy white stuff immobilized much of Long Island, reminded us how troublesome and dangerous life can be. Even though weather forecasters offered persistent warnings that a “big one” was on the way, few, including the Brookhaven Town Highway Department, took the warnings seriously. Caught by surprise, motorists were stranded on roadways. Trains and buses stopped running. Emergency workers were unable get to work.
The day after the storm the sky was clear; yet most roadways and sidewalks remained blocked. For several days almost all community activities, including school and church meetings, were cancelled. With muscles sore from shoveling, residents waited impatiently for electricity to be restored, streets to be plowed and life to return to normal. There were a few tragic deaths and some injuries attributed to the storm, but considering the population of Long Island, the blizzard, which was named, “Nemo”, was for the majority of us more of an inconvenience than a disaster.
Without doubt, the Blizzard of 2013 will long be remembered. Yet compared to other great storms of history, it pales in significance. Growing up on the Great Plains, for instance, I often heard accounts and saw old photographs of the blizzard of 1888. David Laskin in his book, The Children’s Blizzard, provides a dramatic account of the storm in which more than a hundred school children died. Exact records were not kept, but it is estimated that up to 500 individuals and thousands of cows, horses and other farmyard animals were killed. Of the innumerable hardships faced by those flatland pioneers, Laskin writes: “A thousand storms of dust and ice and poverty and despair have come and gone since then, but this is the one they remember. After that day, the sky never looked the same.”