Posted by: Mike Cornelius | February 19, 2015

A Brutal Winter; A Proven Cure

It has been a winter to remember in New England, which is to say that it’s been a season all of us who live here would love to forget. It started benignly enough. Through the third week in January Boston recorded just 5.5 inches of snow, most of that from a single storm. But from Stamford to Pawtucket, from Portsmouth to Portland, from the Green Mountains to the Berkshires and eastward to the densely populated Route 128 ring around the region’s largest city, just when we citizens began to think that fate had dealt us the winning hand of a mild winter, everything changed. It was the favorite saw of the stereotypical Yankee, “if you don’t like the weather just wait a minute,” writ large.

The numbers are staggering. From that half foot less than one month ago, Boston’s snowfall total now tops eight feet. February still has more than a week left to run, but already more snow has fallen than in any single month since records were first kept in 1891; in fact the total for this month is more than 34% greater than the previous record-holder, January of 2005. For that matter, Boston’s February total of 58.5 inches and counting is more snow than fell during the entire winter in more than three-quarters of all those years. Light snow fell along the coast from Cape Cod to Maine today, meaning that just 5 of the previous 25 days have been snow-free. It’s the second snowiest winter ever, and since it’s is not uncommon for precipitation of the frozen variety to fall in the region into April, it’s only a matter of time before we are all living in the winner and new champion winter.

If record snowfall alone isn’t enough to crush the human spirit, New England has also been visited by the coldest temperatures in more than a decade. Each morning’s commute starts with the thermometer hovering in the low single digits. Since the waves of successive storms that have visited the area since late January have been invariably accompanied by high winds, the feel on exposed flesh is of a temperature far colder. The phrase “dangerous wind chills” are as much a standard part of every weather report as the times of sunrise and the tides.

Yet numbers alone cannot fully tell the tale of the misery wrought by this winter’s sudden and unremitting fury. While state crews have done a generally admirable job of clearing the major highways, any portion of that aforementioned commute that is on city or town streets or side roads is reminiscent of the amusement park bumper car rides of one’s youth. Two lane roads are reduced to a single travel corridor. Towering snowbanks turn every intersection into a crap shoot, as it is impossible to see any traffic that might be coming from the adjoining street.

Still drivers have it lucky. In greater Boston in particular, the mass transit system, popularly known as the T, has utterly failed. Years of neglected maintenance to subway and commuter rail lines have produced frozen third rails and broken down locomotives. Rider used to commutes of an hour have seen their daily trek to work turn into two and even three-hour marathons, assuming that the trains are running at all.

In the cities pedestrians have it the worst of all. Whole sections of sidewalks are closed off, as massive icicles hang off the edges of buildings overhead, like so many Damoclean swords waiting to fall. Wednesday evening five walkers were literally buried when a huge sheet of snow slid off the sloping roof of the Simoni Ice Rink in Cambridge as they were passing below. Meanwhile the flat roofs that have collapsed, unable to sustain the weight of their snow load, now numbers in the hundreds.

The forecast for the coming days? Does one really need to ask? More record cold to end the work week followed by another snow storm in the midst of the weekend. Yet surrounded by the evidence of the dead season’s brutal force, some of us are light-hearted and cheerful. No, we have not taken leave of our senses, finally driven over the edge by one drift too many. Rather we are buoyed by the certain knowledge that all of this but a passing misery; spring is coming, and coming soon.

For the equipment truck that only days ago pulled out of the Bronx has completed its journey south. Its functional twin, having departed Yawkey Way in the Fenway section of Boston 24 hours later, has similarly arrived at its own destination. From Tampa to Fort Myers on the Gulf Coast, from Port St. Lucie to Viera on the Atlantic, in ten other Florida communities and at the collection of complexes scattered about the Phoenix metropolitan area the locker rooms are open and the players are answering the annual call. Spring is coming, and coming soon.

As at every season’s nascent stage, boundless hopes are matched with endless questions. Will this be the year that the Washington Nationals, who have led their league in wins two of the last three years, finally get past the first round of the playoffs? The Nats are a popular pick to go all the way, but the longest season still stands between February predictions and October glory. In Gotham’s five boroughs, will the team with the best record this season be the one that calls Queens home? As a Yankee fan that would be tough to swallow, but there are more than a few pundits who foresee just such an outcome. Months from now, when the postseason finally begins, who will be this year’s Royals, the participant that no one saw coming? By definition we don’t know now, but history reminds us that despite all the detailed analytics sabermetrics has wrought, come October the question will asked and answered to the amazement of all. For now it is enough to know that spring is coming, and coming soon.

In the depths of an unrelenting winter, in the moment when it seems like the pelting snow will never stop and the bone-chilling cold will never end, we fans are warmed by the familiar flame of the old traditions and the first routines of every season. The Great Game returns. It takes but four words for all to know that spring is coming, and coming soon: pitchers and catchers report!

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