Like most New Yorkers, I woke up this morning to lift my blind and see if the snow forecast had busted or not. Unlike in recent years, the reveal did not disappoint.
Outside my window, snow was piled on the scaffolding that workers put up to do facade work. The piles of black garbage bags full of building detritus were barely peeking out, jagged black edges jutting through pillows of white. It’s been a hot minute since a good snowstorm in the city. With 10 inches (25 centimeters) of snow on the ground in Central Park as of 7 a.m. on Thursday, this storm more than doubled the snowfall total for all of last year.
Sorry, I shouldn’t be so city-centric. In reality, New York isn’t even in the epicenter of the storm that turned out to be a blockbuster for parts of Pennsylvania and central New York, where more than 40 inches (102 centimeters) fell as of Thursday morning. That includes a staggering 44 inches (112 centimeters) of snow outside Binghamton, New York. It’s not inconceivable that some locations could top 50 inches (127 centimeters) before the storm finally lifts away to the north. Parts of Vermont and New Hampshire also saw upwards of 40 inches, including numerous ski resorts that snagged a foot or more of snow, indicating they could be a nice place to socially distance.
Eye-popping snowfall totals like this are usually reserved for lake-effect snowstorms in upstate New York. Those storms gain steam while rolling over Lake Erie or Lake Ontario and send bands of snow streaming over parts of upstate New York and western Pennsylvania. This storm, though, came from over the ocean as a nor’easter, sending spiraling bands of precipitation inland where it was cold enough to lead to monster snowfall totals. They also led to wild snowfall rates normally seen only with lake-effect storms. In New Hampshire, weather stations reported 7 inches (18 centimeters) of snow in an hour.
Though New York didn’t get that level of blockbuster snow, it was still at once a welcome reprieve from the year from hell and a reminder of said year from hell. After waking up, I decided to take a walk because there’s no better time to experience snow in New York than when it’s still coming down, before taxis, city buses, and Ubers turn it into a slurry of brown slush. But this year, the snow may remain pure longer than usual. Traffic was nonexistent. Most kids, normally roaming the park with this much snow on a school day, were trapped inside doing distance learning due to coronavirus and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s inexplicable decision to not just grant kids a damn snow day. I couldn’t also help thinking of the more than 3,400 people who died from covid-19 yesterday or the fact that New York is now considered a subtropical climate due to rapid warming.
It’s a tough year to tap into pure joy when death and malfeasance are a backdrop along with the slow drip of the climate crisis dread. But as the skies cleared and pale light spread over the snow-strewn trash bags on the scaffolding while the scrape of shovels on the sidewalk below echoed upward, as weird as it sounds, I couldn’t help but at least find a shred of hope that better times are ahead.
Update, 12/17/2020, 12:58 p.m.: The wild snowfall rates in New Hampshire have been added to this post.