Love it or hate it, snow brings joy and misery

The white stuff: Washington and New York had nearly three inches. London up to five inches.

Is snow the best or worst type of weather? The great debate swept social media yesterday as heavy falls swept through the UK while the east coast of the USA had its first major winter storm.

Those hoping for a white Christmas had their wish fulfilled a little prematurely this weekend as a “snow bomb” battered the UK. Some areas saw 12 inches of snowfall, along with subzero temperatures and 80mph winds.

The result: chaos. Hundreds of trains and flights were cancelled, and roads were choked with traffic jams — many caused by cars crashing in the icy conditions.

It was a similar scene in America. Last Friday a snowstorm ravaged the Southern states leaving 334,000 homes without power. In Atlanta a man was killed by a power line brought down by the snow.

But in spite of this distress and disorder, many people are extremely excited — whether by the prospect of fun and games, or a break from the daily grind. In fact, snow could be seen as unique in its ability to bring both joy and misery in equal measure.

This duality is captured in the very stuff itself. The purity and sheer whiteness of a fresh snowfall has a rich symbolic power. Writer John Burnside claims that snow “cleanses our world and our senses”, while poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox calls it a “white mantle of repentance”. For both, snow brings spiritual and mental renewal.

But where there is snow, soon comes slush. Landscapes once pristine and pure, become sick with grey sludge.

This tension between the good and bad is also felt in the effects snow has on our lives. While commuters curse the cancelled trains and choc-a-block traffic, schoolchildren gleefully fling snowballs, and sledge down hills of ice.

But there are also deeper psychological processes at work. Psychologist John Mayer claims that snowstorms are so thrilling because they make us face potentially dangerous situations which are “out of our control”.

Many of our lives are structured around the routines of work, travel, and school. But an unexpected snow day makes people stop, reflect, and focus on essential things like warmth, shelter, and companionship.

So, if you had to choose, is snow the best weather, or the worst?

Snow laughing matter

There is nothing else like it, some argue. From winter sports to building snowmen, snow is the foundation of cultures and traditions that bring millions of people nothing short of joy. The disruption caused by snow merely shows how bad some societies are at preparing for it — snow itself is the most wonderful weather.

We should not be sentimental, others say. Snow may be good for games, but that is overshadowed by its deadliness. And it is society’s most vulnerable who pay — from the elderly trapped in their homes to the homeless people freezing to death on our streets. Only those able to protect themselves from winter’s cruelties have the luxury to enjoy it.

You Decide

  1. Is snow the best type of weather?
  2. Can danger be pleasurable?

Activities

  1. “Snow is the best weather.” Write down three reasons why you might agree with this statement, and three reasons why you might disagree with it. Which side would you personally take? Take a class vote. Do most people agree or disagree?
  2. Do some research to find out three interesting facts about snow. They could be about how other cultures interact with it, how snowflakes form, or how snow has been represented in art. When you have found them, share your facts with the class. Which did you find the most interesting?

Some People Say...

“There is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”

John Ruskin

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
As a result of the snowstorm in Britain, the Met Office (which is an executive agency of the government’s Department for Business) issued an amber weather warning. This means that people should be prepared to change their travel plans in order to protect themselves and their families. The snowstorm in America has moved to the east coast with New York City already experiencing some snowfall.
What do we not know?
It is unclear how severe snowfall will be in other parts of the USA. Likewise, the levels of snowfall predicted in the UK this week vary depending on the region.

Word Watch

Snow bomb
A weather bomb is a rapidly developing storm in which air pressure drops by a certain amount within 24 hours. This leads to strong winds and high levels of precipitation (ie, rain, show sleet or hail).
Duality
The contrast between two opposite characteristics, for example: good vs evil.
John Burnside
Scottish poet born in 1955. His poetry frequently explores themes connected to nature and the environment.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox
American poet who lived from 1850 to 1919. Her best known poem is Solitude which contains these famous lines: “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; / Weep, and you weep alone.”
Mantle of repentance
“Mantle” means a sleeveless cloak usually worn by women. “Repentance” refers to the act of showing remorse and regret for your sins.
Winter sports
Includes activities such as skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and bobsleigh. South Korea will host the Winter Olympics next year.

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