When Chicago gets socked in by snow, it’s big national news and people get worried. If New York receives a blast, it’s reported far and wide as a serious event that could harm an important economy. Even a frost in Florida gets insane coverage about what it might do to the orange juice supply and everyone’s health.
But when Seattle closed down for three days last week from an unusual combination of snow and freezing rain, a lot of the media world’s reaction was …
“Snow wimps: Seattle is shut down by first real snow of the season,” read a post on the Los Angeles Times website (followed two days later by “Seattle heads back to what it knows best: rain“.) “Slippery in Seattle,” The Washington Post said. Sniffed a posting on Time magazine’s Website, “The totals that people are freaking out over are hardly impressive by Northeast standards.”
Media-wise, poor Seattle couldn’t catch many breaks, and certainly little sympathy.
Now, the follow-up news that nearly 400,000 households and businesses, almost none of them in Seattle proper, lost electricity due to falling ice-laden tree branches, and many might stay that way for days, was treated with a little more respect. Why? As someone New To Seattle, my thinking is that number and duration sounded more world class, like some flood in Bangladesh. Either that, or distant journalists, especially in colder climates, could better relate to days in the dark than snowfalls that would not close schools in a lot of places, including my native New Jersey.
Previously in this space I have described Seattle’s defensiveness about its weather, along with its lack of humor over local topical issues. But Seattle weather issues have been fodder for humorous commentary elsewhere. Word in October that a $20 million federal economic development grant to weatherize Seattle homes created only 14 jobs and benefited only three homes caught the attention of The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart. “You’re telling me we shouldn’t be able to weatherize Seattle bungalows?“ he asked in his trademark mock outrage.
It’s possible that Seattle’s national reputation for not being able to handle its own weather goes way back to something that didn’t even happen in Seattle. I’m referring to the 1940 collapse from bad engineering and high winds of the newly opened Tacoma Narrows Bridge. (Click here to watch newsreel footage of Galloping Gertie’s spectacular fall.) That’s a good 25 miles south of town, but from afar seems next door, especially if you’re using a tiny map of the Seattle area while scarfing down a bagel in New York City. (As luck would have it, the replacement spans were closed last week for six hours from the same source–falling ice–that knocked out all that power, but at least the bridge stayed up.)
Even Seattle’s immediate embrace of the word “Snowmageddon” seemed a little over the top. Despite the distress caused, local residents almost seemed proud of Snowmageddon, like no one anywhere else had been clever enough to think it up. Well, fellow Seattleites who ignored the legal requirement to shovel their sidewalks, allow me to document Snowmageddon Chicago, Snowmageddon Toronto, and even Snowmageddon Washington, D.C.–so named two years ago by none other than President Obama.
So he better watch his language the next time he swings through here campaigning from The Other Washington. Jokes about Mitt or Newt will be fine, but lay off cracks about Frosty.