Blizzard 2013 storm prep sharpened by experience in Katrina and Sandy
Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, American storm response has changed dramatically. The blizzard that swept across nine states in the Northeast US this weekend in many ways showed how.
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Yet the Blizzard of 2013, though not nearly as powerful as Sandy, also showed that governments and citizens continue to learn and adapt to what’s become a parade of big storms, including the importance of signing preemptive, sometimes Draconian, executive orders to keep people safe.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures The blizzard of 2013
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In the case of Massachusetts, the most controversial, and potentially life-saving, change came from the reaction of Gov. Deval Patrick, who instituted a preemptive no-drive order at 4 p.m. Friday, punishable by up to a year in jail. The last time a no-drive order was issued was during the Blizzard of ’78, but Gov. Patrick’s decision to use it preemptively pointed to an advancement in both thinking and weather prognosis.
The order confused police, taxi drivers and delivery drivers, and some libertarians called it “tyrannical,” but enforcement wasn’t the point: The fewer cars on the road, the fewer problems.
“We’re very happy this morning that we’re not dealing with clogged arteries, clogged secondary roads, and we can focus where we need to focus,” said Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency director Kurt Schwartz. The order remained in effect Saturday morning, but authorities said they were reviewing it by the hour.
While the media sometimes cries wolf over storms that peter out without much ado, the breathless storm run-up, fueled by new meteorological advancements that help forecasters pinpoint likely landfalls, snowfalls and flooding, also help to get people into survival mode when the prospects of no power or heat become real for millions. That was not necessarily the case in 1978, an already snowy winter in an era when forecasting accuracy was sometimes poor.
“No doubt the Blizzard of ’78 was an enormous storm, but the context in which it arrived made it that much worse,” writes blogger Matt Bowling, who runs the Blizzard of ’78 website. “It is safe to say that by the time February 6th, 1978 came along, New Englanders had been pretty-well trained to not pay much attention to the weathermen.”
Disasters like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina have also given rise to a booming “prepper” movement that helps people prepare for practical post-disaster details, in part by creating “bugout” kits with water purifiers and fish hooks to help survive after an apocalypse.
“The Earth isn’t going to crash into Planet X and the Mayan thing never happened” New York City firefighter and prepper group leader Jason Charles told the New York Times last month. “But I’ll tell you this: People here definitely used their preps during Sandy.”
Hurricane Katrina has played a large part in preparing for several big storms, including hurricanes Irene and, just last fall, hurricane Sandy, primarily by forcing dramatic reforms at FEMA that have led to better morale and a quicker, more preemptive response by the federal agency.