By Alan S. Chartock | January 27, 2019

Snow is political. “What?” you say. “Snow is political? That’s ridiculous! Really? How can snow be political?”

If snow falls and clogs the streets and traffic can’t move and there are rats underneath the garbage that hasn’t been picked up, guess who gets the blame? Yes, indeed, the politicians. And what if there is a severe weather event like a lot of rain on Election Day? Will one party be more likely to turn out than another? I won’t leave you in suspense. In most situations, the Republicans are most likely to do the rain dance and pray for low voter turnout in an election.

But back to snow. Just travel back in time to February of 1969 and talk to the late John V. Lindsay. He was mayor of New York when a massive snowstorm hit and put the evil eye on the borough of Queens. The storm ended up killing 42 people and injuring lots of others. New York City has five boroughs, each of which jealousy watches the others to see who is most favored. As a result, the political fortunes of Mayor Lindsay were forever changed. Yes, it was a mess in Queens but regardless of whose responsibility it was, Lindsay got the blame. Some stories are told around the campfire forever and in political history, the Lindsay snowstorm is legend. It is one of those political truths that wear into the brains of the politicians.

The politicians are not the only ones who have learned the hard way. Weather forecasters know what they have to do. If they under predict the weather and things get out of hand and chaos ensues, they will end up with considerable egg on their faces. As a result, I have noticed lately that there is a tendency to over predict and when that happens, all hell breaks loose in the media. At the absolutely most exciting part of the television show which you have been watching for what seems like hours, that cursed red crawl across the bottom of the screen warns us about the impending storm which, of course, we have been warned about all day and all night. The newspapers also know on which side is buttered and correctly, they don’t want to mess up either.

It doesn’t stop there. All you’ll hear from your friends and neighbors is talk about the approaching storm and generators and stocking up on bread and milk. Then the school and event cancellations start coming, proving once again that there is no utility underplaying the coming weather.

On the other hand, sometimes the predications are correct in some geographical areas but not others. So now members of the political class step in and cover their own behinds. In New York, Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo, fierce political rivals, both issue dire warnings and in some cases, sternly advise people to stay home and NOT go out unless it is a matter of absolute necessity and maybe not even then. Cuomo, of course, has a statewide audience as well as a huge constituency in New York City where he is more popular than the unpopular mayor who certainly must have visions of the aforementioned John V. Lindsay and his dire warning to all future politicians.

Let me be clear. Even if the weather doesn’t live up to the advance hype, it is still possible for the politicians to be held responsible. I mean someone has to take the blame, right? You understand that there are certain rules that HAVE to be followed. Just a while back, Mayor de Blasio was slated to go visit his aunt out of state but he wisely cancelled the trip rather than take the blame for deserting New York City in its time of need. Smart move. Now do you see? The weather is political.


Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at [email protected].