Tonawanda News — BUFFALO — I’ve always taken some measure of pride in leading a newsroom during big weather events, overcoming all the other obstacles most people treat as a good excuse to stay home.
The Blizzard of 2014 — with an assist from 21st century technology — has relegated me to the realm of ordinary Buffalonians.
For the first time ever, I’m covering a major Western New York weather event from home.
We’ve had storms before, most notably the 2009 October Storm, which left tens of thousands without power for days. I made it in to work that day. And the next four or five while my coworkers were stranded on streets with downed trees and dangerous power lines. Luckily, somehow my Allentown apartment back then never lost power and other than a large snow bank surrounding my car there was little preventing me from driving up to Niagara Falls where we had staged operations because both the Tonawanda News and Lockport Journal offices were powerless (which was our headline on Day One, written by yours truly after strenuous newsroom debate).
Last year’s predicted “snow-pocalypse” never materialized — headline “Sno-what?” — but I heeded the warnings and slept at my father’s house in the City of Tonawanda that night, figuring it would be easier to get into work from there than my home in Buffalo. I spent the afternoon updating a running story with all the things everybody else in the Northeast was dealing with instead of us. Best snow day ever!
There have been any number of other bad weather days lost to memory spent white-knuckling it up I-190 into the Tonawandas, winding through side streets when main drags slowed to a crawl.
I’ve spun out at least twice on Military Road, my preferred route when it gets really bad out.
(Aside: I’ve never understood why people prefer the highways in snow. There’s always some ridiculous person in a four-wheel-drive truck trying to do 65 like it’s the middle of summer. That guy is far more likely to get you killed than someone who accidentally slides through a red light going 10 mph.)
And so it’s come to this. The digital age.
I didn’t have to go into work today. Of course, some of our staff did. Reporter Mike Regan and photographer Don Heupel braved the elements. When I conferred with them by mid-afternoon just as things were hitting their worst in Ken-Ton both these guys — and neither is some rookie when it comes to covering bad winter weather in these parts — strongly urged me not to attempt the drive. Don called it some of the worst driving of his life. Mike was blunt: “Don’t do it, man.”
The fact of the matter is, this is a much worse storm than any we’ve endured in the recent past. It’s our first actual blizzard in 20 years. It’s more than risking a fender bender. Getting stuck somewhere in this kind of cold is flat-out deadly. Getting into an accident puts first responders needlessly at risk to bail out my dumb self. When I think about it that way, this is clearly the right decision.
Besides, this is the 21st century. Years ago, before cellphones and a web-based editorial system that allow all of us to access our needed files and interact with one another mostly as normal, I would have been cut off from work and desperate to drive through inch-an-hour snow to get to the office and put out the paper.
It’s not like that anymore.
What’s the world coming to when snow coverage in Western New York of all places can simply be done from home?
Even as I hear the wind howling outside my window and a massive snow cloud temporarily obscures from view all but the first few feet of my front porch, I’m more than a little sad this is how it’s going to go tonight. This just doesn’t feel right.
It certainly isn’t going to father any of those great stories we newspaper people like to tell about overcoming Mother Nature in search of a story.
Today’s paper won’t read any different to you because I edited it from home. In fact, if I hadn’t written this, you would never have known the difference.
Still, it doesn’t feel the same for me sitting home. This is the way the world works now, I guess.
Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.