January 31, 2022

It got very quiet that night. Kind of like Christmas Eve, if a little less twinkly. The supermarket parking lots were empty. It was so still that I could hear the click and buzz of streetlights going red to green. Every passing car was an event.

It was the overture to the Blizzard of 2022, quiet and beautiful as a snow globe.

That was followed by the universal hushing sound we use to help babies fall asleep. Sometimes, when it’s icy, it sounds like a hiss — like butter on a hot skillet, or (if you hate snow no matter what) like Voldemort slithering down a long corridor.

On Friday night, I was counting on a sleepy weekend, swaddled in a deep silence. I didn’t mind. I was reading a long novel, and my husband and I were re-watching all of the Harry Potter movies — because at this point in the pandemic, I’m happy to regress to my 10-year-old self.

I knew we were in for a big storm but having lived in New England for most of my life, I do not panic when the local newscasters start hyperventilating three days in advance. I’ve been fooled by forecasts of Snowmageddon before. And anyway, the fridge was stocked and we have a generator should the power go down. I thought I was prepared.

I went to bed, blankets piled high, hoping for that lovely sleep that comes from the cotton-wool-wrapped quiet of falling snow. I thought I’d wake up to the sound of snowplows scraping and spraying salt, maybe a few hardy souls determined to get a start on a long day of shoveling, kids jumping into snowbanks.

I planned to spend the day moving from couch to kettle to desk to couch and enjoy the pause. I would be like that horse who stopped in the snowy woods, though in my case, I’d be choosing between hot chocolate or another cup of tea. I might even take a nap.

But I was woken in the middle of the night by King Lear’s howling wind: raging and blowing and cracking its cheeks. I was riding over Kansas with Dorothy in that deafening tornado. I was on the high seas in a sinking schooner.

The powerful blasts were punctuated at random intervals by loud, echoing thuds. That was scary, tree branches, no doubt. Or Deatheaters, the fiends that can break into a place as fortified as Azkaban prison and suck the life out of you.

It snowed all morning, and it snowed all afternoon, but how much it snowed was hard to tell because of the wind. And the wind was in charge, howling, whistling and moaning; loud as an airliner in flight, which is about 80 decibels. By late afternoon, the roaring was the only sound. It pressed against my ears; it was a little like being underwater.

I wasn’t in any real danger from storm Kenan, though it was dangerous and deadly. People didn’t get to the hospital in time. Homes and businesses were flooded and smashed to bits. As of Sunday morning, 55,000 Massachusetts residents were still without power, in frigid temperatures. There will be millions of dollars in damage and countless lives upended. My neighbors, my city, my state will pay a high price.

But maybe it was just our turn.

New England has been relatively lucky in the no-win game of climate change roulette. We’ve been spared the worst wildfires, droughts, disastrous water shortages and killer hurricanes suffered by the rest of our hemisphere, the rest of our world.

The science explains how our warming climate raises surface temperatures. How, in turn, that creates additional water vapor, which can increase the frequency of extreme snowstorms. And then there’s the reality of our melting icecaps, which contribute to sea level rise, and flooding. Maybe you saw the photos of Long Wharf in Boston, already underwater by high tide early Saturday morning.

The Weather Channel’s ratings go through the roof during bad storms; we tune in for the smart maps and hour-to-hour forecasts. But we pay less attention to the Weather Channel’s warnings about the inevitable climate consequences of warming oceans, melting ice, fossil fuel emissions, deforestation and the rest of the ways we’re bringing this upon ourselves.


First publication WBUR Cognoscenti

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