How to Live in New England: Winter Edition

By , December 21, 2011 9:08 am

Following “Storm Alfred,” it became clear that these coping-with-living-on-Earth editions are necessary. In the aftermath, so many were quick to criticize CL&P, the governor, the mayor, and pretty much anyone who was thought to be remotely responsible for the power not being on right this very instant, and frankly, Connecticutians sounded like spoiled brats.

Some of this, no doubt, was to mask real anxieties — like funding a replacement roof after the existing one was tackled by an Oak — but some of this was because many Americans feel entitled. So, when people in one of the wealthiest states in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet are upset because they are temporarily living without the amenities that their poor brothers and sisters go without daily (there are schools around the world that operate without ever having electricity), it’s hard to feel very sympathetic; moreover, it points to something else: a need for people to check on their emotional health. Of course, if you tell someone who is clearly experiencing emotional unwellness that you think this might be the case, they freak out.

Let it be known, this is not something that those with power have invented to mock those without. The Red Cross has literature on keeping emotionally healthy during disasters. Read it, particularly if the way you coped with the power outage was to whine via social media because you did not get your electricity turned back on within twelve hours during a time when it was not even cold enough to require turning up the thermostat.

Some people are really skilled at making a stressful situation unbearable for themselves and for all in earshot. The Red Cross also has useful information about “sheltering-in-place” and how individuals should try to remain informed, but be careful not to allow themselves to be over-saturated with information. Obsessively watching the news or clicking “refresh” on an outage map are unhelpful things for a person to do during an emergency situation.

Losing power does not need to mean losing perspective on the reality of the situation. And, the reality is that we can plan, but nature is powerful. The reality is also that when over 800,000 people in the state lose power, someone has to be the last to get it back, and that might be you. Growing up in a town where we lost power during almost every storm, and where we were never a priority, going days without a reliable power source was something with which we learned how to cope. A lot of the needs that we think we have are not needs at all.

Here is some perspective: About 4300 people were homeless in Connecticut in 2010 at any given time. Although some were in shelters or crashing on the couches of family or friends, some were also without shelter. In any of those situations, the homeless person does not have the security of knowing where she will be sleeping from day-to-day, whether or not she will be in a facility with electricity, when she will get to shower next, or even where her next meal is coming from. Of those who are homeless, 18% will experience what Ending Homelessness calls “chronic long-term homelessness.” Nationwide, it is expected that 74,000 people who have not experienced homelessness before will in the next three years. If you were one of the people to lose power during Hurricane Irene, Storm Alfred, or any other incident in recent years when people have seemed more prone to quick complaint, acknowledge that it is likely you are coming from a place of privilege; you might be miserable for a few days, or even a few weeks, but almost every single person will be returning to the almost-indulgent degree of comfort that has become the norm in first world countries.

For this edition, I have placed emotional wellness up front because that is as much of a concern as physical wellness.

Now, for the other stuff:

Sidewalks

You must clear the sidewalk in front of any property you own. This is not optional. It is not up for discussion. By not removing snow and ice, by not putting down salt or sand, what you are doing is inviting a lawsuit, inviting a fine, and asking pedestrians to choose between two dangers: walking in the street or risking a fall. And some of those you are putting in danger are not just the hipsters eschewing automobiles; some are regular folks out trying to walk their dogs. Some are the elderly, the very young, and those with disabilities.

A city is not suburbia. People do not use the sidewalks here simply for recreation. Many Hartford residents do not own private motorized transportation. This means they must carpool, bike, walk, or take the bus. Others opt to reduce their impact on the earth as much as possible. Even if you own a gas guzzler and believe it is your God-given right to do so…even if you think people who don’t are commies, it does not matter. You still have to take care of the sidewalk. And if you don’t like that, move to a rural area where sidewalks do not exist because everyone chooses to live in isolation from one another.

Snow should not get shoveled out into the street. That transfers the problem from pedestrians to motorists. Put it in the yard. There is an app for SeeClickFix now. If you don’t want to see photos of your property there, do the right thing.

Driveway

Stop complaining when the plows push snow back in front of your driveway. It would be a logistical nightmare for them to ensure this never happened to anyone, which would mean that a few streets would be pristine and the rest would still be waiting for service in June.

The snow goes on either side of your driveway, or perhaps into your yard. Do not put it on the street. To do so is to make your problem everyone else’s. Being sore and frustrated is not an excuse for being a jerk.

Parking

Parking bans are announced by the City of Hartford when considerable accumulation is expected. Again, stop the whining. It’s really not a big deal. You would be moving your car off the street and into an actual parking space where it’s less likely to get sideswiped by a speeding late model Honda Civic. Usually, this means parking at a nearby school. If you talk to your neighbors, they might let you use one of their spaces for the 24-48 hours that these bans are usually in place.

If you leave your car on the street, you may get ticketed and towed.

The reason for parking bans is so that plows can clear the roads well. This way, there aren’t huge snow mounds left all over the streets. If you ignore the bans, don’t expect your neighbors to help you when you are using a dustpan to remove your car from the mountain of snow pushed around it by the plows. We’ll be inside, drinking hot chocolate, and mocking your stupidity.

Bus Schedule

If the roads are crappy — which you can find out about by listening to the radio or a scanner — they are not miraculously awesome for buses. This means that there will be delays. There are a few ways to cope with this:

  • whine and bother everyone around you
  • suck it up, bundle up, and be prepared to wait a few minutes longer
  • walk. It’s better for you anyway.
  • bike. You can do this with snow and ice on the ground. Sometimes it’s easier to bike than walk in the winter.
  • call out from work
  • move to some place that lacks cold weather but instead has tropical diseases and venomous snakes. Have fun with that.

You can also check in with the CT Transit website to see if any particular sections are experiencing delays.

Driving

During the recent October snowstorm, there were needless automobile accidents due to people driving far too fast for conditions, then swerving to avoid debris.

Slow down and don’t hit the brakes hard. Keep your lights on. Leave earlier than usual or be okay with arriving late.

Cycling

Winter riding is far superior to summer riding. The sweating is kept to a minimal.

The main issue is with bad plowing. Sometimes those in the plows don’t think anything of dumping snow piles in the bike lanes. Other times, the property owners throw snow into the street.

You really do not need special gear for winter riding. Dress in layers, put lights on the bike, and add fenders. Just like if you are driving a car on snow or ice, with a bike, you don’t want to jam on the brakes, unless your intent is to spin out.

Walking

No special tips here other than dress appropriately. Are open-toed heels appropriate when there is a foot of snow on the ground? Only if you promise not to whine about your frozen toes later.

Space Heaters

These come with all kinds of warnings, which can be boiled down to the obvious– don’t put sources of heat too close to particularly flammable materials. You can burn your house down if you are not careful; another vacant lot was formed this past year in my neighborhood because a space heater set a mattress on fire, which spread to the rest of the building.

Emergency Supplies

It’s easy to not think about this when living in a city. We can walk quite easily to about a dozen bodegas and a few larger markets. These tend to be open even when the weather is hellish. We also don’t lose power as often as those in the sticks. If you can afford to have extra non-perishable items on hand year round, it’s not a bad idea. Even when not an emergency, having food in the house means avoiding trips out for fast food or trying to shop for groceries on an empty stomach.

Checking in on your Neighbors, Elders, and the Sick

Nobody likes a busybody, but if you know that a neighbor is quite old or not doing so well, make a special effort to check in so that if she needs medical assistance, she can get it, or at least so her corpse is not found months later. The general population does not need to panic during extreme temperatures; we can just take it easy, dress warmly, and stay hydrated. But those who are already frail are the ones who are most likely to be affected.

It’s not a bad idea to get to know your neighbors, anyhow.

Emergency Shelters

If conditions are severe enough, the City opens emergency shelters, primarily in community centers. Before taking dumb risks, like trying to heat your house with the oven, see where you can go for temporary shelter while waiting for your heating system — or whatever — to be serviced. If the idea of being in a shelter makes you uncomfortable, then ask friends or neighbors if you can stay overnight, or go to a motel. This goes back to emotional wellness. You are not going to get a reward for “sticking it out” if by doing so you are taking physical risks or irritating all around you with complaining about your living situation.

During Storm Alfred, listening to people fuss and whine was almost as painful as having one’s routine altered. They’d complain about not having heat, on a day when nobody even needs to turn up the thermostat anyway, and then they’d go out to charge their phones and order gelato. Seriously.

People causing traffic jams to get gas for generators because they have no ability to plan ahead and because they need to run the television. True story. Overheard a woman talk about how much money she spent on gas so that her daughter could watch cartoons.

People causing traffic jams to get gas for generators because they have no ability to plan ahead and because they need to run the television. True story: overheard a woman talk about how much money she spent on gas so that her daughter could watch cartoons. How much? Let's just say she spent more than pennies a day.

But for those who really needed shelter, they were hesitant to go to it. Emergency shelters exist for a reason: to be used by those who may suffer without. The two structures typically used for shelter include Pope Park Recreation Center (in Pope Park) and the Parker Memorial Community Center (2126 Main Street). If possible, you should bring your own pillow and bedding, along with any medicines you need. There’s no shame in using these places if you have to, and it sure beats freezing to death or getting carbon monoxide poisoning from trying to use a generator inside of your house.

The City of Hartford tends to publish information on its website when the emergency shelters are open.

Summary

What all this boils down to is use good judgement and don’t subject others to your penchant for complaining about the small stuff. If that stuff is big enough, get off of Twitter and Facebook, and go take action instead.

Archival Survival Guides

How to Live in New England: Autumn Edition

Disclaimer: I am not a meteorologist, but I have lived in New England for my entire life. Determine for yourself if that makes me more or less qualified. This article is intended for entertainment purposes only, just as the dramatic weather reports on television should be.

14 Responses to “How to Live in New England: Winter Edition”

  1. Joanna says:

    I have one suggestion to add: If you are a walker… try to get some of those accessories that attach on to the bottom of your shows and have either little spikes of spirally metal things that give you traction in snowy and icy conditions. And, above all, walk slowly, and look at the ground, especially since Hartford tends to have A WHOLE LOT of massive cracks and pits in sidewalks.

    • I think you’re thinking of crampons, but maybe not. For fun, I did some snowshoeing last year. Not really practical, but those definitely added traction.

      I agree that we should be looking a bit at the ground when we walk. In well-meaning (but sort of cracked) advice to women in the form of self-defense, I’ve heard ridicule about people looking at the ground when they walk…and I get that we need to be aware of our surroundings, but our surroundings also include the uneven sidewalks, debris like glass on the ground, and piles of dog poop.

    • Rich H. says:

      Don’t forget to be on the lookout for the nefarious black ice (why hasn’t anyone used that as a rap name?) which can make for treacherous walking. (and driving. and biking…you get the idea) Slow down, and think about taking your steps more vertically instead of horizontally when encountering extra-slippery spots.

      • Thanks. Seriously, how did I forget black ice? I almost bit it so many times last year because of it. And I’ve found no footwear that works well on it. I think Joanna might be onto something with her suggestion of traction spikes.

  2. Richard says:

    Yes Joanna and Kerri. The YakTraks are wonderful. Tim and I have pairs and we walk around quite a bit. Just remember don’t try wearing them on tile, or marble floors or you will take a spill. We got them at the sporting goods store in Blue Back Sq.

    This posting is wonderful. More times than not we hate this time of the year only because fools do not clear out their sidewalks and nobody shovels the bus stops. Other than that I say let it snow. OHHH Black Ice, one year I fell in front of City Hall.

    • The black ice that nearly did me in was on a sidewalk along an elementary school. It’s on a hill, so tricky to stay on top of that situation…but they probably could do a better job of clearing snow and ice chunks than they have.

      Last year some of us cleared out a good stretch of sidewalk in front of a house that was basically abandoned because the owner passed away. Hoping there is someone else to maintain that this year.

    • Joanna says:

      I actually gave my yaktraks to my sister because they were too hard to get on and off of my shoes (as a fat person , the easy ability to put these things on and off has to be considered), and they are REALLY not good to wear on indoor floors. So, my sister gave me her grippy shoe add ons that are little metal nubs instead, and are MUCH easier to install and remove.

      • Richard says:

        Oh Yeah Joanna, I do huff and puff getting my track on but then my socks are getting to be a problem too. Oh well I like meat on my bones and so doesn’t my two boy friends.

  3. Chris says:

    If homeowners lose power in their house for an extended period of sub-freezing weather, they should shut off their water and drain their pipes to avoid the costly, messy damage of pipes freezing and bursting.

    The main interior shut-off valve is usually close to where the water enters the basement near the water meter. Shut that off first.

    Water heaters and boilers (if you have hot-water heat) have a drain fitting that will fit a standard garden hose, which can be routed to a drain or sump. Once you have closed the main valve, you can open the drain valve and the water will begin to drain. Next, go upstairs and open the faucets (if you are draining the water heater) or bleeder valves on your radiators or baseboards (if you are draining the boiler). You’ll hear and feel the suction as the flow increases dramatically. It takes a while for all the pipes to drain.

    Turning everything on again is a basic reversal of the process, though you will need to purge a lot of trapped air from the radiators or baseboards. The little keys for the bleeder valves are $1.29 at Park Hardware– I just happen to know that because I bought a couple last week. Bleeding the air out is a minor bother, but it’s still loads better than a burst pipe.

    • Thanks for the advice.

    • Steve says:

      But keep in mind that these somewhat drastic measures need not be taken unless you are without heat for several days in very cold weather. Your interior pipes aren’t going to freeze unless your interior is in the mid 20′s or so for at least a day or two. NOTE: pipes along your exterior walls, of course, will freeze much sooner if it’s below freezing outside and near freezing inside.

      Also, YakTrax are “just okay” and are probably suitable for jaunts to the bodega. But if you really need to walk about in icy conditions, you should think about stepping up to some kickass Kahtoola Microspikes. (sort of in between YakTrax and full on crampons).

      Of course, I’m the idiot who hikes all winter long and the difference between YakTrax and the Kahtoolas are like night and day, stability/grip-wise.

      And I swear to god, if I see you talking on your phone while driving in snow/ice, I will destroy you.

      • For those who don’t know, frozen pipes are not the problem…it’s when they thaw, burst, and dump water on friggin everything that’s the problem.

        “And I swear to god, if I see you talking on your phone while driving in snow/ice, I will destroy you.”
        Amen.

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