Thursday, February 18, 2010

COLUMN: Be prepared to panic, weather or not

Some years back I spent an entire Saturday running around my in-laws’ backyard chasing chickens, and not for any of the usual reasons. The forecast was for a foot of snow, and we, being humanitarians, didn’t want to spend the next day running over frozen chickens with the snowblower. Take that, Frank Perdue!

So you can imagine how I felt when we woke up to find just a razor-thin sheen of sleet on the ground. The forecast was a complete bust, even though the meteorologists had looked so sure of themselves when gesticulating wildly in front of their green screens. I guess it’s important to remember that these are very sophisticated and unpredictable weather patterns they’re interpreting, and also, their forecasts are mostly made up, like horoscopes and cattle futures.

I didn’t have any poultry to deal with last week, but I still looked fairly silly wearing my boots to work, my fists clenched tight around the barrel of my handy travel shovel, only to find a parking lot covered with a four to six inches of nothing. This, after hundreds of schools had canceled classes — you probably saw all the children out on their front lawns, throwing airballs at each other.

But even though last week’s storm didn’t materialize, it did get me thinking: Would I have been truly prepared if it had? Lord knows that as far as weather goes, Massachusetts residents seem to have convinced themselves that they’re actually in Florida and have to be concerned, at most, with a possible gecko pileup. If we don’t react to snowflakes like John Cusack reacted to Los Angeles disintegrating in “2012,” we’re not doing our jobs.

With that in mind, I’ve prepared the following “New England Storm Panic Checklist” to make sure you’re ready for the next (possibly real) storm with just the right level of abject alarm. I recommend you tick off these items the next time New England is expected to experience an onslaught of weather unlike any it’s ever seen before, except for all those other times:

1) Do you have enough milk and bread? If you don’t, it’s too late, the stores are sold out — all that’s left in the supermarket are a few bruised kiwis strewn around the prone forms of trampled stockboys. Time to resign yourself to the fact that you are going to starve to death, unless you’re lucky and happen to freeze first.

2) Is your snowblower in good, working order? It is? Well, why don’t you just move to Wisconsin, winter boy? We don’t need your kind around here.

3) Do you remember how to drive? If you do, there is something wrong with you: It’s not winter in New England unless you find yourself bereft of anything but the most rudimentary conception of what a car even is, much less how to drive it. But don’t worry, the minute you get behind the wheel your mind will become a complete blank, and you can immediately commence upon swearing and maneuvering other drivers into snow banks.

4) Remember that time a few weeks back, when you said to yourself that you really should get your wiper blades replaced before the next snowstorm? Um … no, me neither.

5) Do you live by the ocean? If so, proceed immediately to the nearest seawall with your rain slicker and handy point-and-shoot camera. Otherwise it will be very difficult for you to be washed out to sea by a wave the size of a Range Rover. (That’s a type of vehicle — see No. 3.)

6) Is your weatherperson gesticulating wildly? Don’t worry, he probably just got a tip on cattle futures.

That should do it, and just in time, too. There’s imaginary snow in the whimsical forecast again this week, so I recommend you begin panicking now, in case it blows out to sea before you get a chance to work up any real, mouth-foaming anxiety. And no need to thank me.

Just send milk and bread. I may need it for the chickens.

This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

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