The roof of a three-story building in Middletown, not far from where I live, collapsed today under the weight of all the snow on its roof. Apparently this is happening in several places around the state, according to this article and my friend Hollie R. At the same time, the main east-west highway, I-95, was closed due to flooding earlier today.
At my school, our dedicated maintenance director and some hired and volunteer help shoveled the roofs clear a few days ago, and apparently it was a good thing they did. Otherwise this story from Windsor High School about their Auditorium roof damage might have been us.
Let’s say this is an unusually severe storm year. It is, after all. My girlfriend reports that this is the snowiest winter in the Berkshire Mountains in recorded history. Admittedly, it’s a relatively short recorded history — only 200 years at the outside, counting even the spottiest records in late colonial/early Federalist times. It certainly seems like an unusually severe storm year.
Yet the reason these storms have been slamming us so hard this year seems to be a combination of major storms blowing over the Appalachian and Adirondack Mountains and slamming into New England from the west; and coastal rainstorms not blowing themselves out over the Carolinas and Virginia before passing over New York and catching us ‘unawares’ — where ‘unawares’ suggests merely that these storms are stronger than usual, not that we don’t know enough to go to the grocery store and stock up on food, water, etc.
Say this isn’t unusual. Say this is the shape of things to come. Say that every winter will be about this severe from this point on. What would change?
The first thing that wouldn’t change is that we would continue to treat it as unusually severe weather for several years. So there would be no substantial changes in how we construct buildings or conduct business or manage school for at least five years. After five years, there might be enough changes in politics or social norms that we would change how we behaved in winter.
In the meantime, there will be building collapses, and winter accidents, and street closures, and flooding. Repairs, and the insurance to cover against such accidents, will cost money and drain resources — from cities, towns, schools and institutions. And what happens when all this snow melts? Widespread flooding and water damage.
Humans make changes to society slowly, perhaps too slowly.
My school has begun internal discussions about how to resolve the conflicts between our “hard end date” in early-middle June, and the fact that we’ve lost more than a week of school. It’s a complex discussion, because parents want kids to have extra time, and teachers want to have extra time… but everyone has vacations and summer employment and summer camp. And the school itself runs summer school, and we need to keep the start dates of those events in mind. So the questions arise: Will we add snow make-up days to our calendar this year on an ad hoc basis, and risk riling up our parents, students and teachers right away? Or will we linger over the decision for several years while the number of days lost to winter weather rack up over the long haul?
And if you have a long-enough stretch of disruptions to your school program, and shift teaching resources online as we’re discussing, at what point is the school community compromised by winter? Not easy questions, and not ones we’ll answer today or tomorrow or even next month, but worth thinking about.
When you add in economic uncertainties, dicey contract negotiations for public school teachers, town bankruptcy potential, and days in the summer when it may be too incredibly hot for school to take place, you realize that there are a host of factors that can traumatize the whole “180 days in school” model we currently have in this country.
Disruption is going to become the new normal.