Let’s talk cold.
Think the recent blanket of winter that swept the country with wind, snow and frigid temperatures.
It disrupted life for millions – from traffic to retail to business to travel to schools – every normal routine.
We’re so spoiled, we expect to control “mother nature” and are surprised when society doesn’t recover from such natural events within 48 hours.
Anything more than that, politicians get blamed.
Think George Bush and Katrina.
Consider Chris Christie and Barack Obama after Hurricane Sandy.
People think politicians can correct natural disasters with a flick of the wrist!
With the avalanche of weather coverage in every media outlet, the one phrase that’s no doubt embedded in our brains – polar vortex – is what we’ll remember and tell our grandkids about.
The only problem is that the “polar vortex” is neither new nor unusual. It happens when there’s a perfect confluence of weather – air masses and movement, temperature and pressure variances, solar radiation, the earth’s movement, the polar jet, the jet stream – in fact, everything that meteorologists deal with daily, except that when that confluence takes place, it can be catastrophic.
As difficult as what we’ve just experienced was, it was nothing compared to what happened in this country in 1888. In fact, there was a double whammy of catastrophic proportions.
I was lucky; I grew up when children were taught a good deal of American history, and one of the events we learned about was the “Blizzard of ’88.”
I’d wager the average youngster today never heard of it, but it was a massive storm that enveloped the East Coast from Chesapeake Bay to Canada. It began March 11 and raged for four days, leaving people trapped in their homes for another 10 days.
According to the Farmer’s Almanac, as much as 50 inches of snow fell, temperatures were in the single digits with winds more than 45 mph and gusts reaching 80 mph.
More than 400 people died. A quarter of them were sailors, trapped on their boats. Half the death toll was from New York.
Everything stopped. There were snowdrifts 50 feet deep. Fires raged because fire trucks couldn’t respond due to impassable roads. Those blazes caused $25 million in damage – that would be more than $26 billion today!
Ironically, as the cleanup proceeded and snow began melting, the next disaster occurred: massive flooding.
But, unbelievably, there was another blizzard in 1888 that we weren’t taught about.
It began Jan. 12, 1888, when the storm blew in from Canada.
It was horrific because of the speed of the weather change, the intensity of the storm – think the worst polar vortex you can imagine – and the death toll totaling 235, most of them children.
It’s called “The Children’s Blizzard.” I Iearned about it from the book of the same name by David Laskin (HarperCollins, 2004). I also interviewed him on my KSFO radio program.
It’s the only history book that had me in tears, as Laskin described children trapped and killed in the storm, the adults who died searching for their family or trying to save their livestock and how the survivors coped.
Weather the day before and the morning of the 12th was mild and spring like. Children went to school without coats, hats, gloves or boots, and farmers were doing chores and tending to animals.
But as Laskin described, “Out of nowhere, a soot gray cloud appeared over the northwest horizon. The air grew still for a long, eerie measure, and then the sky began to roar and a wall of ice dust blasted the prairie.
He said the ice crystals were “blinding, smothering, suffocating and burying anything exposed to the wind.” At 6 a.m., it was over Montana; by early morning, the Dakota Territory. Then, Nebraska and Minnesota and Iowa and Kansas and Missouri and farther south.
The gale moved so fast that temperatures dropped 18 degrees in three minutes and kept dropping. By evening, it was 40 below zero.
By the next morning, hundreds lay dead on the prairie … “many of them children who had fled – or been dismissed from – country schools at the moment when the wind shifted and the sky exploded.”
Bodies were found huddled together in the snow. In some cases, teachers died trying to help the children; in others, they were heroes. Adults died within feet of their homes because visibility was zero, and thousands of farm animals were killed on the spot.
Laskin said one of the major tragedies of that day was “the failure of weather forecasters, compounded by faulty science, primitive technology, human error, narrow-mindedness and sheer ignorance.”
Add to that arrogance and political infighting – yes, politics reared its ugly head then, too.
It illustrates that while the technology of the day was primitive compared to today, the human failings are no different and we suffer similar consequences.
As he wrote of the weather forecasters:
“When it came to ‘great disasters,’ they knew far less than they thought they knew.”
“It was the age of confidence. Arrogance was epidemic.”
That sounds like today.
Our “polar vortex” wasn’t predicted – just reported.
Now we have “climate change” advocates who are arrogantly confident they’re absolutely correct and demand everyone change to suit their whims, regardless of the consequences.
They, and the media, ignore that the IPPC just cut its global-warming predictions, from 0.4 to 1.0 degrees C over 30 years down to 0.3 to 0.7-degrees C.
At that rate, by the year 2100, global warming would be only 1.3 degrees C.
I want my light bulbs back, gas for my SUV and a fire in my fireplace.
The whole thing is a farce.
Media wishing to interview Barbara Simpson, please contact [email protected].