Distracted by the snow

Published 11:48 pm Friday, February 12, 2010

As much as I love newspapers (and after more than 20 years in the business, it’s either love or a medical condition), sometimes it becomes utterly clear to me that I’m in the wrong line of work.

Like most folks, I have been amazed during the past week or so at the snow that has smothered much of the Northeast. The white-blanketed landscapes are serenely beautiful. I have been enjoying the stories of neighbors pitching in to dig one another out, of bonfires held at the end of cul-de-sacs, of normal life being suspended for days at a time while communities tried to reopen roads that had been closed by snow and abandoned cars.

Like many in this area, however, I have been content to read those stories online and to watch the video on television. What I’ve come to realize is that Suffolk’s hour-long blizzard on Wednesday, with its near-whiteout conditions and snow accumulation of half an inch, was as close as I need to get to a real, paralyzing snowfall.

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As I see and hear about all those people shoveling sidewalks and building snowmen, I cannot get this one refrain out of my mind: “How would I get to work?”

Even when the federal government takes a snow day, the news doesn’t stop. And even the most understanding editors expect their news staffs eventually to show up when the weather is keeping the rest of the world at home. Show up with photos or notes from an interview with someone shoveling his driveway, and the reporter might be forgiven for getting to the office late. Failing that, he’d better have a pretty harrowing story to tell about the trip to the office if he wants the editor’s sympathy. And taking the day off just isn’t an option.

So while just about everyone else I know has been focused on the blizzards themselves, I’ve been in a bit of a quiet panic over the remote possibility that Hampton Roads could find itself in a similar situation. Would I head to the office with my camera and a couple of pillows or would I take the risk of being cut off and suffering the shame of not contributing to the storm coverage that everyone expects of the paper following such an event? And would my wife ever forgive me for making the choice that I know I’d wind up making?

On Friday afternoon, the eyes of weather-watchers across the nation were on the panhandle of Florida, waiting to see if that area would get the snow that had been predicted. If it did, a weather situation of exceedingly rare proportions will have developed: There would be snow on the ground somewhere in each of the 50 states, even in Texas, even in Hawaii.

And in each of those 50 states, I’ll bet, there’s at least one newspaper reporter or editor wondering, “How am I going to get to work today?”