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How frightening to see the climate change before our eyes – is this the last New York snow I’ll see? – The Guardian

How frightening to see the climate change before our eyes – is this the last New York snow I’ll see? – The Guardian

I miss the mornings after a blizzard, when everything is transformed. It’s not a dramatic sign – but it’s certainly not normal
It hadn’t snowed in New York City for 701 days – a record – so when it started to come down on Tuesday, children’s jaws dropped like kids seeing bananas for the first time after the second world war. Older people, if they had lived in New York for more than a few years, promptly ruined the moment by pointing out it wasn’t real snow, there wasn’t enough for school to be cancelled, and it was unlikely to accumulate sufficiently for sledding. Ah, the magic of adulthood.
It is alarming to see the environment change in one’s lifetime, and this isn’t anything close to a lifetime. Even a decade ago, New Yorkers were used to the city shutting down for a week at a time when the latest massive snow storm came in. In February 2010, a total of 36in fell in the city, part of a winter of 51in of snow. In 2006, a blizzard dumped 26.9in of snow on the area, a record rivalled 10 years later when so much snow fell across the state that the governor briefly banned travel. The cold front on Tuesday, by contrast, dumped, or rather lightly dusted, Central Park with about an inch of snow, followed almost immediately by rain. By the time schools let out, grumbling parents forced to head to the park watched in amazement as their snow-deprived children screamed with joy at the grey chips of ice.
There have, of course, been countless other canary-in-the-coalmine weather moments around the world over the last few years, by which I mean less the dramatic rise in wildfires and flood water than the smaller ambient shifts of, for instance, finding oneself outside in a T-shirt on Christmas Day. These apparently minor fluctuations feel in some ways more sinister, more frogs-in-boiling water (if we want to stick with dead-animal alarm systems), than more seismic, newsworthy shifts. “It’s not normal,” we say to one another, like bad actors at the start of a disaster movie, and move on, wondering if it’s an anomalous blip.
The end of meaningful snow in New York, if that’s what this is, seems of a different magnitude altogether, not least because it interferes with the character of the city at a level that feels vaguely symbolic. From a practical point of view, the absence of large annual snowfall will save the city millions of dollars in snowploughing and general shut-down costs. Lives will probably be saved, although my second biggest New York death anxiety after an air-conditioner falling on my head – being killed by falling ice – won’t be affected by the absence of snow.
The loss, in the end, is sentimental. Inhabitants of any big city know the wonder of heavy snowfall, the experience of waking up after the blizzard and looking through one’s window at a place transformed. There is almost no quicker route back to the state of being a child, only with the deep added bonus of knowing you can cancel your obligations. Zoom was supposed to nix snow days, but as we all know, snow days are a state of mind; when there’s 6ft of snow outside, no one is doing any work. I miss that feeling of stolen time, and I miss the grandness of a big snow event that always seemed in keeping with New York’s general self-image. When I look at photos from six years ago of pulling my toddlers on a sled up the middle of the street, the cars round-shouldered with snow either side, I miss that particular quality of silence that only comes with heavy snowfall. What thin, miserable winters without it.
Maybe it’s a blip. Summers always seem hotter in one’s childhood memories, at least for those who grew up in the UK, when in reality they just got better at irrigating the grass on Centre Court at Wimbledon so it didn’t turn brown. Clearly, I’m romanticising the recent past. The last great snow drought in New York was 400 days long and broke on 21 March 1998, although what followed was proper snow, not this pitiful showing. The sun came out today, and it was one of those beautiful, Arctic days that often follow in the wake of a snow storm. It shone on grey, icy streets and we got on with our day.
Emma Brockes is a Guardian columnist

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