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Manhattan's winter that wasn't

Anyone looking out on the city in the early morning saw a deceptively large number of white surfaces, writes Pramit Pal Chaudhuri.
None | By Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
PUBLISHED ON JAN 23, 2007 07:13 PM IST

Last Friday morning, Jack Frost made his winter premiere in New York City. Anyone looking out on the city in the early morning saw a deceptively large number of white surfaces. It was only about a half-centimeter deep even on the cold earth of Central Park and by noontime most of it had gone.

That the white stuff should take nearly half the winter to make even a token appearance is a reminder of how freakish weather has been in the US and other parts of the world this winter.

On one Saturday in early January, the mercury went into the early 20s in centigrade terms and some New Yorkers broke out their shorts and T-shirts. It was not only warmer than New Delhi, but as one Bengali tech worker said, "New York is hotter than Calcutta."
Great Brown North

Some New York families had run off to Canada during the holiday break, dreaming of a white Christmas in the Great White North. Faced with the prospect of the first Christmas in their lifetimes where the only precipitation was rain, many Canadians vainly went to ski resorts in Northeastern US states like Maine looking for downhill opportunities.

The irony was that Rocky Mountain states like Colorado who have branded themselves as the Slopes of Eden had too much of the stuff. Denver airport became isolated from the rest of the planet a few times each week thanks to wrathful ice and snowstorms, with soup kitchens being set up to feed stranded air travelers. One Colorado couple offered some of their snow on eBay to, presumably, winter-worshippers in New York at a "mere 99 cents a sample."
Excitable Truth

All this has got Al Gore and the climate change mob all heated up. However, calmer meteorological heads noted that global warming reveals itself in temperature shifts of a fraction of a degree every few years. When a season seems to suffer a full-blown identity crisis, they say, it is more about the fact weather has always had a throw-of-the-dice nature. One scientist argued on radio that El Nino, a temperamental ocean current famous for its malice towards the monsoon, "was responsible for a third of what's happening this winter."

The last time the Big Apple went through November and December without a snowflake from the sky was 1877. Presumably carbon emissions weren't a problem then. However, it would be a lucrative time to release a digitally remastered director's cut of the Day After tomorrow at double the price.
Winter profits

Warm winter has thrown local businessmen and economists for a six. Ski resorts weren't half as empty as the cash tills of Manhattan clothes shops which had stocked up on designer overcoats, snowshoes and the like. Discounting and bargain sales for winter wear have been rampant. And just when some storefronts were switching to autumn clothes - the thermometer fell below zero.
On the other hand, with record easy winters in the five US states that consume 80% of the country's heating oil, the rest of the world escaped what energy experts had feared in the summer: triple digit dollar prices for a barrel of oil. The perspective of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and may be Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chavez is not known.

The smart fellows were the Bangladeshis who man most of the newspaper kiosks on Manhattan's corner streets. When it was warm and rainy, they stocked umbrellas for a few dollars a piece. When it turned slightly chilly they put out hats, mitts and scarves for the same. Because no one could predict the weather, they always had customers for their Chinese-made wears.

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