Monday, January 25, 2016

Winter Storm Jonas: Anatomy of a NYC Blizzard

January 23, 2016
New York City, NY

Following the ban on vehicular traffic in NYC, Scott pauses for a selfie in the middle of 5th Avenue
Over the weekend, we survived our first honest-to-goodness NYC blizzard.  With any luck, it will also be the last, but let's be real here; it's still only January, after all.  The winter storm warnings began by late Thursday afternoon.  All the jokes about making sure to stock up on bread and milk followed shortly thereafter on Facebook, and probably on other social media sites that I know nothing about, as well.  I find this whole concept especially ridiculous since I can't remember the last time I bought bread or milk for any reason.  So why on earth would I do it now?  But I digress...

On Saturday morning, we awoke to discover that the weather forecasters were, for once, correct in their prediction.  The snow was blowing and swirling outside our windows, already accumulating on the streets and sidewalks below.  

2nd Avenue on Saturday morning
Outside of our apartment walls, conditions appeared to be in a state of semi-white-out.

It was a little disorienting to experience such limited visibility out our windows
A bit unique in non-luxury NYC apartments, our corner unit has two floor-to-ceiling walls of windows.  As the snow swirled and eddied outside them, I had the distinct sensation of living in an over-sized snow globe.  And while I would typically have preferred to wake up to a warm, sunny day, it was exciting to witness this unusual, if rather violent, event occurring right outside our windows. Furthermore, it was oddly gratifying to see that the weather people were not lying this time.  Winter Storm Jonas had officially arrived.

The view up 39th Street. By early morning, the snow and ice had already begun sticking to the windows fronting our west-facing wall and drifts were forming on the sills below.
It was 8:15 AM when I saw this first evidence of the storm.  I decided to get back in bed.

Eventually, we decided we should get out of bed even if we clearly weren't going anywhere.  The storm continued, unabated, as the morning wore on.

The snow continued to fall and blow with no signs of letting up, but at mid-morning there were still plenty of cars on the road.
As early as the previous weekend and long before they were making noises about Jonas's arrival, I already knew from my incessant checking of my favorite online weather source that this weekend was predicted to be very cold and possibly a little snowy.  So I had planned ahead and purchased not only our favorite brunch supplies of frozen hash browns and Brown-n-Serve sausages (no judging, please!), but also all the ingredients to make one of our favorite soup recipes as well.  We were prepared.

We spent the first part of the day enjoying our brunch and then settling in for some Netflix diversions, including an enjoyable little film called People, Places,Things that I stumbled upon on Facebook in the last couple of days on one of those annoying lists of "little-known movies that you haven't seen but should" (several of which we actually had seen).  It starred Jemaine Clement (whom we loved in the Flight of the Conchords series) as a bumbling-yet-lovably-charming, newly divorced dad named Will.  We conjectured that he may just have been playing himself in this role.

In between our chosen programming, we continued to monitor the situation outside our windows.  At noon, the buses stopped running.  The sidewalks were beginning to appear somewhat impassable and we noticed pedestrians walking down the middle of 39th Street just to the west of our building.  A bit later, it was announced that beginning at 2:30 there would be a travel ban in effect in all of NYC and Long Island, prohibiting any non-emergency vehicles from driving on city streets.  Slowly, slowly, car traffic began to fade and disappear as the snow continued to accumulate.  By 3:00 PM pedestrians were already beginning to walk down the middle of 2nd Avenue.

Pedestrians making their way down the middle of 2nd Avenue on Saturday afternoon
Typically very clogged and congested, 2nd Avenue is a multi-lane, north-south artery running down the east side of Manhattan.  On an average day, it is frequently challenging to get across the street even at the traffic lights, let alone walk right down the middle of it.  

2nd Avenue at mid-morning on a typical day
And the blizzard raged on.  As vehicle traffic dwindled and finally ceased, the delivery guys on their bicycles were still going about their business - after all, Manhattan must eat! - sometimes having to dismount at the intersections, the snow debris from the plows already too deep and wet to negotiate on their bikes.

By 3:30, our movie had ended and Scott was getting restless, having been cooped up in the apartment all day.  Apparently, he needed an adventure.  The snow had not stopped falling since it had begun early that morning and the winds continued to gust.  Despite the seriously blustery conditions, Scott donned all of his warmest winter gear and set out on foot to see what he could see.  I, on the other hand, was feeling perfectly happy to say at home, warm, safe and dry.  Dressed in my cozy,comfy, lounge clothes, I found myself continually drawn to the windows, mesmerized by the blizzard scene continuing to unfold below.  

I watched out the window as Scott headed out into the storm up 2nd Avenue 
During Scott's absence, I stayed by the computer, eagerly following along on his journey, as the photos from his iPhone automatically uploaded to our Dropbox account.  Sometimes, even I love technology!  He made it all the way to Times Square, which is probably close to two miles from our home, in the blowing, drifting snow and below-freezing temperatures.  He just might be insane.  Just like all the other New Yorkers and visitors who were out and about in the blizzard.

Here's what Scott saw:
The rooftop deck at our building.  The visibility was so poor there was nothing to see from the railings. 
Cross-country skiers on Lexington Avenue
The scene, taken from the middle of 5th Avenue, with the New York Public Library in view on the immediate left
5th Avenue Selfie!
Bryant Park, covered in snow
A photographer's dream: setting up his tripod in the middle of a normally busy street near Times Square
Times Square became a giant snow park, full of locals and tourists alike, sledding and making snowmen
The lone enterprising halal cart that braved the storm was doing a brisk business
Somehow, amazingly, Scott returned home, a little damp, but warm and basically unscathed.

The afternoon wore on, as the blizzard continued.  We made soup.  Eventually, miraculously the snow ceased to fall.  Saturday night revelers came out, despite the cold, walking down the quiet, empty streets, and pausing for an occasional snowball fight in the intersection.  

Saturday evening on 2nd Avenue
We spent a pleasant evening at home, enjoying a glass of wine or two (ok, maybe three) and the white-bean-with-garlic-spinach-and-rosemary soup we made earlier in the day followed by more Netflix-streaming selections.  To finish the evening, we played two rounds of Rummikub (at which Scott beat me handily, a first for him!), while relishing the calm of the traffic-free streets below.  As we retired to bed, we marveled at the solitude of the snow-blanketed streets below, enjoying the brief respite from the usual blaring horns and wailing sirens, the quiet punctuated only by the occasional pavement-scraping sounds of the plows coming by.  

We had survived the storm.

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