Outdoors: The new ‘norm of the century’

When we drove out to help a colleague of ours on the West End recently, his car was stuck in a deep icy rut at the bottom of his driveway. Clad in a light jacket and wearing no gloves, he was frantically trying to shovel his way down to the bottom of the tires with a small straight-handled snow shovel that might have passed for a child’s toy.

Outdoors folks with experience in snow country know a lot was wrong with the picture above. First and foremost, the rut shouldn’t have been there; the shoveling should have been performed before driving the car out. Second, serious snow removal calls for proper clothing — gloves, cap and perhaps serious Gore-Tex pants to cover corduroys or cotton slacks. Third, you don’t shovel frantically or angrily, lifting lots of snow or ice with every scoop, but instead you shovel slowly, limiting yourself to about six to 10 pounds per shovel load. And, finally, for serious shoveling, you get a good crooked-neck ergonomic shovel, the kind that’s been around for a decade or more, so that you need not bend with every scoop.

This kind of experience is, by now, all too familiar with those on the East End. While snow measured in inches is noticeable and expected, snow measured in feet has, up to now, been rare. However, the 2 1/2-footer that hit late last month produced countless situations like the one our friend faced — or worse. Incidentally, with a four-person crew, we rocked the car out of the rut (one of the crew also slipped a couple of boards under the driving wheels to give them traction, as well) before pushing it clear.

You best approach big drifts with care as a driver. Years ago when Herb Obser was the major Riverhead Volvo-Mazda-Jeep dealer in Riverhead on Route 58, John Adams ran the service department and liked to check out the new “4WD” Jeeps on snowy roads — the bigger the storm, the better. One time he confessed to pushing the envelope too far on an unplowed stretch of Roanoke Avenue, spinning off the road and having to call a tow truck with a chain to get out of a farm field.
This calls to mind the old adage that local farmers know all too well. The more robust your vehicle, the nastier the jam you get into, and the larger the tow vehicle necessary to pull you free. It takes a big SUV with a tow strap to rescue a compact or mid-size sedan, but it takes a big tow truck or a big tractor to rescue a big SUV. And when a tow truck or tractor gets stuck, well … don’t ask!

In the late 1970s when the LIRR only ran out on the North Fork on weekends, there was a regular daily bus link from the Babylon station. There were a couple of big storms one winter and the Greenport plows left a few mountains of snow off the turnarounds near the rail station. These huge piles stayed in place long after roads and streets were cleared. Robbie Robertaccio, the regular driver on the commuter run, loved to tell the story of the rookie driver who sliced into the side of the snow piles at the end of the run one night and got his 53-passenger bus hung up. The dispatcher, at first incredulous about anyone getting into a snowbank two weeks after any significant snowfall, eventually sent out a huge haul vehicle to pull the bus free.

Although many East Enders are, by now, tired of hearing about needing a “new” approach to winters, it’s actually good advice. By purchasing four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicles equipped with all-weather tires with good tread, and by respecting road conditions where speed is concerned (especially on ice!), you will stay on most roads. With some winter sports gear, you might enjoy getting out into the parks with cross-country skis once the roads are clear. We may even get to the point where seeing folks walking with snowshoes or traveling most trails with snowmobiles isn’t that uncommon.

What we saw last month is perhaps best regarded not as “the storm of the century” but as “the norm of the century.” Although weather patterns are only fluctuations based on a changing climate, the warming polar regions really do cause jet stream shifts that bring us colossal storms. In all likelihood, the events we see will get worse and more frequent in years ahead as atmospheric carbon continues to rise, heating the earth by three or four degrees Celsius, sending polar ice cascading into the sea, and raising ocean levels by six feet or more late in the century.

Throughout the coming years we may well adapt, but for our children and grandchildren to save the planet, they must achieve zero carbon emissions at some point soon. For this to occur it will become absolutely imperative to remove from office those decision-makers who waffle about or deny human-induced climate change!