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Getting snowed

Posted in: Environment and recreation   *Gabrielle Gurley
Tags: DownloadEnvironment



Every winter, the Blizzard of 1978 gets trotted out as the yardstick against which all other winter storms are measured. On the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the monster event, there are photo galleries to click through, the Duke’s sweater to trot out, and personal recollections to unpack.

In a Boston Globe essay, Michael Goldman, who worked for the Metropolitan District Commission (predecessor of the Department of Conservation and Recreation) back then, recalled spending six days in his office dealing with the impacts of the storm.

He pointed out a little-remembered fact that contributed to the storm’s devastation and that hasn’t happened much since: About 20 inches of frozen snow pack was already on the ground courtesy of a late January blizzard.

The storm’s magnitude took most people by surprise. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency’s account noted that the original forecast called for six inches of snow and warming temperatures. With a “record-breaking nor’easter” just the month before, and as meteorologist David Epstein reported, several “busted forecasts” in the days leading up to the blizzard, the public was blasé about the approaching snow.

But the atmosphere is a fickle thing, and forecasts are based on a host of variables from the amount of moisture in the air to temperature and wind speed. Massachusetts borders the Atlantic, of course, and ocean influences make forecasting even more difficult. By the time, forecasters figured out what was up and the mother of all storms subsided nearly 33 hours later, 27 inches of snow had blown into Boston. About 54 inches piled up in areas to the south, with drifts as high 15 feet.

The Bay State has learned to take winter storms more seriously. But perhaps the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Some think Boston area residents are getting soft. Today every storm has the potential to be another Blizzard of ’78, causing a region-wide freak out. Apocalyptic television weather reports persuade people to swarm into supermarkets and hardware stores, giddy with the knowledge that that civilization as we know is about to end.

Weather forecast modeling has made great strides since 1978.  But with another storm bearing down on the state, forecasting remains difficult. Meteorologists rely on a number of different computer models; they are most accurate in the short term, under 48 hours, and less so in the longer term, 72 hours or more.

Epstein noted that the several models are “beginning to agree” (translation: start paying attention now) about a major winter storm on Friday.  The National Weather Service warns that  “everyone in southern New England should be prepared for the potential of a very significant winter storm Friday into Saturday.”

How much snow (there’s some rain in the forecast, too) is literally still up in the air, but state officials are probably already wringing their hands.  Snow costs MassDOT about $1.2 million per inch of the white stuff to remove, and the department has already plowed through most of its $45 million snow removal budget.

                                                    --GABRIELLE GURLEY


BEACON HILL

House Speaker Robert DeLeo says he is hearing “grave concerns” about Gov. Deval Patrick’s plan to hike tax revenues by $1.9 billion, the State House News reports (via Lowell Sun). Rep. James Miceli tells the Herald his constituents are “really ticked off.”

Surprise inspections at 37 specialty compounding labs in the state show that most are not complying with some aspect of industry safety standards, state officials announced.

A Superior Court judge says Secretary of State William Galvin’s interpretation of the state lobbying law makes “absolutely no sense,” State House News reports (via CommonWealth).

David Bernstein was on vacation when Patrick tapped Mo Cowan as interim senator, so he’s only now getting around to publishing his list of the “Top 10 Franks With More Of A Chance At Being Named Interim Senator Than Barney.”

The state pension fund records a strong year in 2012.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua, in his State of the City address, says he has made progress on balancing budgets, fighting crime, improving schools, and attracting economic development, the Eagle-Tribune reports. Lantigua had to endure some scoldings before taking the podium. Howie Carr has his own take on the speech.

Revere is receiving $2.7 million from the state’s Gateway Cities Parks Program to rehab and update Della Russo Stadium, the Item reports.

The Plymouth police captain who lost his gun in a courthouse bathroom has been suspended for 20 days without pay and lost his position as the department’s internal affairs officer as a result of the incident.

Lowell Mayor Patrick Murphy says he won’t seek reelection, the Sun reports.

The Braintree Town Council approved a $20,000 pay hike for the mayor, bringing the annual salary to $125,000.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The Congressional Budget Office predicts the deficit for fiscal 2013 will be $845 billion, about half what it was in 2009 and the first time in five years it has been under $1 trillion.

The US Postal Service says it is preparing to stop delivering mail on Saturdays, the Associated Press reports.

Rep. Eric Cantor urges Republicans to broaden their focus past spending cuts.

Rep. Darrell Issa tips his hand on his upcoming date with US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, telling a crowd at a memorial for Aaron Swartz that federal prosecutors “should care about disposing of small cases quickly and big cases properly. And this is not a big case.”

ELECTIONS

On Greater Boston, Republican state Rep. Dan Winslow touts his bipartisan bona fides as he continues to explore a run for the US Senate. Daniel Fishman, a Libertarian from Beverly who ran an intelligent campaign against US Rep. John Tierney last year, says he plans to run for the Senate seat. Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr is also considering a run, the State House News reports (via Salem News). Keller@Large lampoons the game of floating names for the Senate race.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The New York Times digs into the emails at the center of the Justice Department’s $5 billion housing lawsuit against Standard & Poor’s. The Wall Street Journal reports that both sides are digging in for a long, expensive battle. The Journal editorial page paints the suit as payback for last year’s US credit downgrade. It’s notable that the lawsuit paints the ratings agency as one that chose to pursue fraud; Michael Lewis has argued that the agencies were full of analysts too dumb to make it on Wall Street, and thus had no idea what they were doing. Meanwhile, Attorney General Martha Coakley says her office is also looking into allegations that Standard & Poor’s played a role in fueling the mortgage meltdown.

Good news, bad news: Robots won’t steal your jobs, but they will devour your raise.


HEALTH CARE

The National Review turns its guns on Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the latest Republican governor to break ranks and accept federal money for Obamacare.

The books are not healthy at Roxbury Comprehensive Health Center.

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA launches a courtesy critters campaign, NECN reports.

The Wall Street Journal rounds up efforts by several states to raise new revenues for transportation in the face of falling federal funds. In addition to Massachusetts, the story touches on efforts in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Michigan.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Researchers call climate changes in New England dramatic, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The White House readies an initiative to curb emissions without going to Congress first.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Boston Municipal Court Judge Raymond Dougan, who was cleared on allegations of bias toward defendants, is facing a new investigation over whether he improperly received free legal assistance in fending off the bias charges.

MEDIA

Talk radio free agents Jim Braude and Margery Eagan have landed at Boston Public Radio on WGBH, taking over as hosts of the two-hour midday show. WGBH says Emily Rooney and Callie Crossley will continue to contribute but it’s unclear in what capacity.

Dan Kennedy explains why Cambridge-based Latitude News, run by a former Nieman Fellow who helps relate international news to people’s everyday lives, deserves support.

Boston magazine argues that the city’s sports media has grown fat and happy, and would rather collect lucrative television and radio fees than rock the boat with tough reporting. Related: Here’s a Globe story about John Lackey rehabilitating his image.

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