Sunday, December 26, 2010

Bleeping Blizzards!

As I write this, New York City is in the early hours of a blizzard. The sun has just set and the snowflakes are creating temporary constellations in the sky. The image above is what the flashbulb revealed when I tried to take a photo. The forecasters say we could get 10 to 15 inches, which would make this a substantial but not paralyzing storm. Then again, wetness, wind and the vagaries of nature have the power change every detail. We'll just have to see what's out there in the morning.

Strange sights tend to pop up before one's eyes in a New York City blizzard. I've certainly seen my share of them. I wish I could show you photos, but I'll just have to describe a few for you. At least I've found some photos other people have taken during New York blizzards in the past.

Snowbound in Harlem, 1899.

One night in 1978 a blizzard blew through the Northeast and left 18 inches of fresh snow on top of snow already on the ground in New York City. The next morning I walked to the subway, which was running, and came upon a Cadillac so new it probably still had its showroom smell when it was abandoned in a snowdrift; the driver's door was left wide open and snow had drifted into the car and onto the seat. In Manhattan, people were cross-country skiing down the middle of the streets while those of us on the sidewalk walked uptown backwards because of the lashing winds.

Strolling past the shoveled snow, 1905.

The blizzard most New Yorkers remember best is the one that dropped over 20 inches of snow on the city in February 1996. Two sights I will never forget:
  • The city straps huge snow blades on the front of sanitation trucks and sends them out to plow. While passing by a side street in the East 50s, I saw something I've never seen before or since: a sanitation truck-snowplow wedged in a drift and abandoned.
  • On East 48th Street at the corner of Second Avenue, a huge mass of plowed snow — it was at least 10 feet high — was piled on the corner at a bus stop. On top of the snow pile was an armchair. In the armchair was a man. He was reading the New York Times, presumably waiting for a bus.
1969, the year of the miniskirt.

Don't you love this photo? It was taken in midtown Manhattan by an unnamed photographer working for the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) "in the course of an employee's official duties." That must have been some job description.

One last photo and a poem by Wallace Stevens.

Trinity Church, 2006.

The Snow Man     

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Want to see more New York City snow? Have a look at Life magazine's photos of the storm we had last February.


  1. Beautiful. I'm longing to be in your blizzard instead of my sunshine. The picture of Trinity Church and graveyard in snow transported me back to my Chicago days. I used to love to walk at the University of Chicago when it snowed. Such quiet, old beauty.

    The Stevens' poem is a perfect complement to your storm. I'd forgotten this lovely poem about "the nothing that is."

    Stay warm, Michele.

  2. Thank you, Katherine. I love snow, but I'm not going out until morning. Too c-c-c-cold!

  3. Your post captures the mood perfectly. Snowstorms are magical, and we tend to forgive the hassle and inconvenience as we marvel at the mass of whiteness, stand in awe of nature's power, and delight in the temporary suspension of rules and transformation of our universe from the ordinary to the sublime.

  4. This is so great, and I only WISH I could have been there to see the man in the armchair atop the snow pile! We've just come back in from dinner with a friend—just three blocks away, but the most memorable I've ever walked, since it was my first in a New York blizzard! Loved it (and my brand-new knee-high rainboots arrived just in time).

  5. Thank you, Tom. You are exactly right about the transformation. Well said.

    Susan, when you've live here long enough you get accustomed to seeing things that make no sense in a normal world but somehow seem perfectly natural in this crazy city. Even so, the armchair guy was pretty special. If that happened now, there would be a million photos of the guy all over the Internet.

  6. Wow! Great post, Michele. As always, your observations make me feel like I have seen wonderful things.

    Stay warm and dry and upright on the ice!

  7. Thanks, Caissie. Warm, dry and upright — my goal for the day.

  8. I love this! I so wish you had a picture of the man in the armchair atop of the pile of plowed snow. I'm just in love with that image. (Lucky for me you paint with words.)

  9. I wish I had that photo, too, J. But the image is burned in my memory.