Bill Brownstein: It wouldn't hurt to overreact to weather warnings

Bill Brownstein: It wouldn't hurt to overreact to weather warnings
Bill Brownstein: It wouldn't hurt to overreact to weather warnings

After the storm: snow-clearing operations on 4th Ave. in Verdun on March 20. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette

Oh, how Montrealers snickered some 18 years back when former Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman conscripted the Canadian army to wage war against a most stubborn enemy, Mother Nature. Yup, tanks rolled through the streets of T.O. to deal with the ravages of two heavy snowstorms. 

Regardless, chaos was largely averted, and no shots were fired — other than a few errant snowballs. And, far from being shamed, Lastman has since stuck by his decision and said he would do same all over again.

And, oh, how some Montrealers — this cynic, anyway — snickered last Monday when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency, on the basis of reports that the Big Apple could be inundated with the blizzard of the century and receive up to 60 centimetres of snow. Schools were cancelled for the following day and above-ground train transport was shut down. CNN had bundled-up reporters stationed in the heart of Central Park, ready to take a weather beating for the greater good.

Alas, somewhere between 10 to 15 centimetres fell in New York, and one CNN reporter claimed the freezing rain was hard on his face and getting into his eyes. Sad. But chaos was averted in New York, as it was in Philadelphia and Boston, whose mayors made similar choices in keeping citizens off the streets last week.

Of course, here in Montreal, we never overreact. We’re tough. We live to smite the snow. Or we used to. Not so much any more.

Perhaps we should have overreacted to weather reports, because we were utterly unprepared to deal with what transpired last Tuesday. CNN may not have reported that Montreal was on the verge of getting hit with the storm of the winter and century, but local weathercasters were aware and were letting inhabitants know. Apparently, our transport officials and police were on a different frequency, perhaps catching Seinfeld re-runs.

If 300 vehicles had been stranded on New York City’s Franklin D. Roosevelt East River Drive — as was the case on Highway 13 — why CNN top-dog Wolf Blitzer himself would have been parachuted onto the scene to report first-hand and even cease commenting on alleged wire-taps of the Tower or Ivanka’s line of shmatas.

It’s worth noting that de Blasio had 2,400 sanitation workers and 1,600 snow plows at the ready last Monday to deal with the storm that never really was.

So how is it that after all these years Montreal could be so caught with its long johns down? How is it that a couple of stuck trucks can cripple a major highway for 12 hours? How is it that the cops can’t take definitive action? Miraculously, no one perished, but that was due to sheer good fortune and nothing more.

The excuses are classic. Apparently, politicians and transport officials claim they knew nothing about the Highway 13 catastrophe until the following morning. This highway falls under the jurisdiction of the provincial government, yet Transport Minister Laurent Lessard and Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux admitted to being unaware of the situation. Really?

I happened to have been thousands of kilometres out of the country last Tuesday, but thanks to that Internet machine, I was brought instantly up to speed on weather conditions and the parking lot that was Highway 13. Social media was abuzz with horror stories, and yet our transport minister — and CNN — were out of the loop. Hmmm…

So what about taking this tack the next time we hear about a storm threatening to come our way: have the salt spreaders and snowplows at the start line as the first flakes begin to fly; have the cops out in force to take charge; have the schools cancelled; and, oh yeah, have someone send wake-up calls to our transport and public security ministers.

And so what if they snicker in Toronto or New York about how Montreal has over-reacted to a potential snowstorm. It beats the alternative all to hell.

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