DEAR READER: 'Snowpocalypse' is history. Was it historic?

Sunday, February 6, 2011 | 4:20 p.m. CST

Dear Reader,

Was this week’s storm historic? Or just historical?

Historic means important. Momentous. Really big. The stuff that will be remembered two generations from now.

Historical is, well, everything. It’s history. Literally.

The argument broke out on the copy desk Thursday. For editors, a debate over words is as irresistible as a puddle to a small boy in rubber boots.

Editors Scott Swafford and Greg Bowers asserted the negative.

It wasn’t the biggest snow on record. A mere 17.7 inches, in fact, second to the near 20 inches of ’95. (Who remembers the team that lost last year’s Super Bowl?)

Bowers said “historic” is overused these days and should be held closer to the vest.

The Civil War Battle of Gettysburg is OK, he said. The first moon landing works.

Maggie Walter argued the affirmative.

Walter spent years in New Hampshire and Maine, where I’m quite certain an 18-inch snow doesn’t qualify.

Any blizzard (or near-blizzard) qualifies, Walter said, when you’re in Missouri.

I chimed in by noting that MU closed for three days – as many times as in the past century combined.

Speaking of centuries: The next closest snowfall, at 13.9 inches, came in 1900. It was another February storm.

What say you, dear reader?



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John Sparks February 6, 2011 | 6:52 p.m.

We have had 3 major snowstorms in 16 years. 95,06,11.

(Report Comment)
Tom Warhover February 7, 2011 | 12:21 p.m.

So, John, does three storms in 16 years make this one historic or just another in a series?

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger February 7, 2011 | 12:54 p.m.

Paul Krugman in today's NYT offers an explanation:
Don’t let the snow fool you: globally, 2010 was tied with 2005 for warmest year on record, even though we were at a solar minimum and La Niña was a cooling factor in the second half of the year. Temperature records were set not just in Russia but in no fewer than 19 countries, covering a fifth of the world’s land area. And both droughts and floods are natural consequences of a warming world: droughts because it’s hotter, floods because warm oceans release more water vapor.

As always, you can’t attribute any one weather event to greenhouse gases. But the pattern we’re seeing, with extreme highs and extreme weather in general becoming much more common, is just what you’d expect from climate change.

I suspect that such extremes will become more of the norm. Invest in a snow-blower.

As for the campus being close for more days since 1900, back then all the students lived within a stone's throw of their first class. Now, of course, they engage in lengthy commutes.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley February 7, 2011 | 1:41 p.m.

Tom Warhover February 7, 2011 | 12:21 p.m. So, John, does three storms in 16 years make this one historic or just another in a series?

Why can't this storm be both, Tom? Historic AND another storm in a series of "Historic Storms"?

Ricky Gurley.

(Report Comment)
Gerald Shelnutt February 7, 2011 | 5:01 p.m.

Nobody has convinced me that we had anywhere close to 18 inches of snow. I rate it as merely interesting but not as interesting as the media makes it out to be. I wonder if whom ever measured the snow used the same ruler they measure their fish with.

(Report Comment)
James Terry February 7, 2011 | 7:20 p.m.

First, I have to say I'm delighted that Missourian editors care so much about accuracy in language! I'm with Mssrs. Bowers and Swafford on this one (sorry, Maggie). "Historic" is overused, which is unfortunate because the impact of the word is diminished (see "tragedy"). Sputnik launch? Historic. Rosa Parks' refusal? Historic. But who today cares about the blizzards of the 1950s? I'd suggest that natural phenomena should only be characterized as "historic" when they affect human lives in a very significant way. Katrina? Historic. Dustbowl? Historic. Shoveling some show and missing some college classes? Not. I don't think even the '95 snowstorm should be characterized as historic. "Record-breaking" says all that needs to be said.

(Report Comment)

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