Weather Catastrophizing

Whoop-whoop-whoop!! Alarm bells are clanging, warnings proliferate, anxiety rises, and maybe I should call in sick?

What’s all this about? The notification that we’d be getting “major snow” starting Sunday evening. If you take a closer look at the above screenshot from The Weather Network (click to enlarge), you’ll see that Toronto was looking at the following:

Sunday afternoon: less than 1 cm
Sunday evening: 1-3 cm
Sunday overnight: close to 5 cm
Monday morning: 1-3 cm

In other words, my fair city would get a grand total of 8-12 cm. For those of you who only speak Imperial measurements, that’s 3-4.7 inches.

The media called it a “winter storm,” The Weather Network said going somewhere to watch the Super Bowl would not make for an easy drive “or a safe one.” Environment Canada suggested limiting travel to the essential kind. Because we were going to get “up to” 15 cm of snow.

When did 15 cm become “major snow”?

And this is where I’m going to sound like an old fart, because I’ll trot out my youth in this country and yes, we did walk to school uphill both ways. Winters were generally harsher back in the 1980s and 90s. I remember wind chills of -30 and -40, regular snowstorms dumping 20-30 cm on Toronto and most of us going to school and work anyway.

Well, I do remember classes being cancelled and my workplace sending people home when the storm became intense on its way to building up to a 30 cm snowfall, but at all other times, it didn’t stop anyone. Slowed us down, maybe, but didn’t stop. WheelTrans still ran, although the weather-induced delays had me watching the forecast and working from home on blizzard days.

These days, WheelTrans asks you to cancel your ride if 8 cm (3") or more is expected. Eight centimetres!

I should mention that part of the alarm for yesterday’s “storm” was due to high winds (30 km/hr) reducing visibility. I am not discounting that this makes for a less-than-easy drive, but we are Canadians. We know how to drive in snow. 

Don’t we?

I’d also like to point out that I am not talking about the areas of Ontario that were forecast to get upwards of 35 cm of snow. That’s major snow. You should stay home, if you can.

But 15 cm? Give me a break.

I blame the 24-hour news cycle. When you have to fill up 24 hours with news, things that were never news before gets trotted out as essential to know. When you are desperate to keep eyeballs on your station, as opposed to the competition, you start perhaps exaggerating a little. Because that’s going to catch someone’s attention. That’s going to keep them on your station just that little bit longer.
In other words, you catastrophize.

Right now, a whole bunch of people who have RA and who are reading this are laughing. Because catastrophize a is a term that is increasingly used in the rheumatology and fields that deal with chronic pain. When people report “exaggerated” emotional reactions to their disease or their pain, medical professionals call it catastrophize in and not surprisingly, I have plenty of opinions on the topic.

In this case, though, it truly seems to fit. Spending a lot of time talking about the impact the impending snowfall is going to have while you emphasize the danger is an appropriate reaction to  the kind of weather other areas of Ontario would experience. Or to the early December snowstorm in Buffalo that dumped up to 2 metres of snow. Just as depression and anxiety could be considered an appropriate reaction to the chronic pain of RA that has been compared to the pain of bone cancer, limiting travel to what is essential is an appropriate reaction to a major snowstorm.

But reacting this strongly to the weather equivalent of a sprained ankle is not. What little more than a decade ago used to be considered an inconvenience is now major snow and reason to freak out.

Just… chill… out. Remember that as a Canadian, you have the survival skills to deal with snow. Make soup, wear layers, make sure you have extra time to get where you’re going, and please drive carefully.

We’ll get through this.

PS the fact that this weather system evolved to giving us 22 cm with some truly nasty winds does not negate my point. This wasn't snowmageddon. It was snow. Quite a bit of it. 

PPS Thanks to Lynn M for this excellent link to another rant about the freaking out.


Diane said…
Not only that, but the last few years the Weather Channel has been naming winter "storms". Really?
We did get the amount of snow that they mentioned...15 inches...but there was minimal wind, so that was a good thing. That being said, it was a heavy snowfall, not a storm.
Diane said…
It was enough, that the dogs clearly appreciate the path around the house that Don just cleared for them.
Yes, yes and yes!

Did you see my Mirthful Monday post?
Cathryn said…
News stations are definitely getting people way too worked up about winter storms. They predicted a bad one for us two weeks ago (in Pennsylvania). We got about 3 inches. Other states got hit hard, but all the news stations were crying doom. And you aren't an old fart, Lene, I remember winters being much harsher in the 1980s and 1990s, when I was young. When it came time to make maple syrup, there was plenty of clean snow on the ground, back then, to make sugar on snow then. Now? Now you have to find clean snow in January or February, scoop it up, and save it in the freezer. Mmm, maple syrup over fresh johnnycake...