It was a potentially deadly blizzard roaring toward Utah on Tuesday. Everyone had plenty of warning, and many made preparations and got home early.
Did our saturation of information help save the day? Or was the Blizzard of Death an oversold blind date with a disappointing unibrow? It is an interesting topic.
People on Facebook, Twitter, TV and radio news, websites and newspapers, quoting the National Weather Service, put out constant warning of the storm. It was impossible to ignore. The weather people labeled it a “deadly” storm, to which the paranoid and rational alike could not have been faulted for asking, “Am I going to die tonight?”
Faceplant. Tuesday afternoon and evening’s storm was indistinguishable from a hundred other storms I’ve lived through in northern Utah. It’s nowhere close to the top 50 even.
Here are a couple of representative Twitter posts today:
@kris247 Kris Lander – Very cute, weather forecasters. I’ll expect your resignations on my desk by morning. #snOMG
@msbutah Matt Blank – #SnOMG was more like #SnoMeh
So how did this happen? OK, the best-laid plans of weather forecasters are easy to mock, before and after. It’s not the snow’s fault the meteorological community collectively fumbled on the goal line. Really, this was reminiscent of many other predicted mega-storms in our area during my lifetime. The call was wrong. Hence, the mocking in the hours before the storm. “Ha ha, look, the sun is shining!” Nothing different here.
Which brings me back to Facebook and Twitter and smart phones and frequently updated websites. Everyone was talking about the killer storm all day Tuesday, pinged every few seconds by another post or tweet. People speculated, advised, complained, reported their personal preparations, etc. Lots of schools quickly announced closures. It was driven to the top of all minds. Everyone grappled with the anticipation.
With the benefit of decades of dealing with snow along the Wasatch Front, it’s easy for me to conclude that this storm was different. Actually, the storm wasn’t, but perceptions were. The storm was predicted to be bad and ended up being a washout, but both occurrences were run-of-the-mill. In pre-Internet times, most people heard or read a storm forecast or two and went about their business, then dealt with the snow when it came. Big deal.
Tuesday’s information explosion amplified perceptions. It’s probable that many people took precautionary measures they might not have done in earlier times. But it’s also a certainty that in general we got suckered into a mass freakout.