LORI NITSCHKE: The Rural Urbanite — Cold Enough For Ya? How Northeast And Upper Midwest Blizzards Differ

Few things point out the differences between Northeasterners (below Rhode Island) and Upper Midwesterners (above Iowa and Nebraska) more than the winter storm, such as the #snowzilla or #jonasblizzard that has just occurred.

For those of us who live in one but grew up in the other, the differences can be perplexing. In general, the conclusion is that the Northeast storm has no true comparison to the Upper Midwest blizzard (witness the photo above from the North Dakota in 1966 ― extreme by any standard yet so fascinating in its Mad Men-era beauty that it must be shared).

Central Park West, Manhattan, New York.
Central Park West, Manhattan, New York.

However, I must note that Blizzard Jonas was a certified blizzard ― confirmed by this North Dakota native. I walked in it and froze in it and had to come home to binge eat and take a hot bath. We would have considered it a blizzard in the Upper Midwest.

But that aside, pondering how Northeasterns approach a winter storm versus how Upper Midwesterners approach one is an interesting exercise. Consider how the Northeastern blizzard differs:

It’s an event. In the Upper Midwest, it’s such a regular occurrence that no one pays much attention. It’s just another reason to joke about becoming a snowbird.  But it’s important to point out that in the Northeast, it’s often a media event — and there are just a lot more people who will watch media focused on the Northeast than on the Upper Midwest.

Central Park West, Manhattan, New York.
Central Park West, Manhattan, New York.

Dangerously cold means something different.  Even in the current storm, the lowest temperature has been 16 degrees Fahrenheit in New York City. That is not a bad winter day in the Upper Midwest — blizzard or no. One of the hardest things I have had to get used to in the Northeast is that when the weatherperson says “dangerously cold,” that does not mean to wear your thermal underwear under your wool pants and cashmere sweater and top off with another sweater plus down coat and infinity scarf and hat with ear flaps and fur-lined mittens. Because if you do, you will be late for work; you will have returned home to take another shower.

Stocking up. This is one of the more annoying things about a Northeast blizzard — the crazy rush on “essential” items — you know, Greek yogurt, hummus, kale chips, Starbucks cold brew. In Northeasterners’ defense, there are space and cultural reasons they do not stockpile food normally. I know for Upper Midwesterners this comes as a shock — to think that people do not have a chest-type freezer filled with a side of beef and half of Uncle Jerry’s deer is unthinkable. Much less pantries lined with 500 cans of vegetables and cream of mushroom soup and evaporated milk and beer. But really, they do not. And, as a result of this and their proclivity for things like kale chips, they do not often have as much of what I will call a “personal stockpile” either. As a result, there is a real possibility they will starve to death if they do not eat for a day or two. This is not a likely cause of death for most Upper Midwesterners (including us expats).

Driving. This one is so frustrating I can’t write much about it. Leave it at this: Winter storms are the only times I’d recommend the mayors of New York City and Washington, D.C., ban all citizens from driving and import North Dakotans to man taxis, buses, garbage trucks and all other essential motor vehicles. We would all be happier.

I have interrupted this severe weather warning to give you a little fodder for thought when you hear about the Big Snow out East.  It is real but, as with everything, it’s all relative. And nothing tops that North Dakota blizzard of ’66.

3 thoughts on “LORI NITSCHKE: The Rural Urbanite — Cold Enough For Ya? How Northeast And Upper Midwest Blizzards Differ”

  • Dale Stensgaard January 24, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    A great column, Lori. I’m glad to see you’re doing so well. I am happily retired from the Grand Forks Herald. No more blizzard stories for me!

    1. Lori Nitschke January 24, 2016 at 3:29 pm

      Thanks, Dale. I appreciate it and I had actually forgotten about naming all those blizzards and trying to write something new about each one coming through. “Cold Arctic air….”

  • Kevin Bonham February 15, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    What a nice breath of fresh air. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I actually can relate. I spent 10 years in southcentral Pennsylvania before returning to North Dakota and settling in or near Grand Forks.


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