Six inches of snow, even in November, should not immobilize the metropolitan area. And yet, that’s what happened Thursday afternoon and evening.
City officials were caught flat-footed. They blamed incorrect forecasts and the storm’s evening rush — legitimate complications. But it’s time to stop saying it was an unusually worse or poorly predicted winter storm. There are lessons to be learned, changes to be made.
Such storms are becoming more frequent, more intense and less predictable. Emergency management officials, and those in schools, transportation departments and public transit, should prepare for the unpredictable and respond to the unexpected. They were not ready last week.
A cascade of horrific delays occurred after a series of accidents, including ones that shut multiple lanes of the George Washington Bridge and Gowanus Expressway. But political, sanitation and transportation officials must do better. That means warning residents when more snow is possible — and when a larger storm becomes apparent, saying so. It means positioning more equipment so it can be out in force as the storm’s breadth becomes clear, sending out police to make way for salt spreaders and plows, and putting chains on city bus tires.
Then there are the schools — perhaps the worst offenders. Children in school buses were stranded or delayed for up to a horrifying 12 hours. In many cases, parents had no idea where their children were, because most school buses lack GPS tracking devices. That has to change — quickly. The Department of Education this year started a transportation Twitter account, supposedly to communicate with parents. Yet during the storm, it was barely used. On the day after, education officials unacceptably waited until after the school and work day began to announce the cancellation of all after-school programs in school buildings, even ones staffed by private or nonprofit entities. They said busing staffs were spread too thin. It was a poor decision, badly timed, with little care to parents’ needs.
Put it all together, and you get a perfect storm of bad predictions, bad weather and bad choices. City leaders can correct one of those three — and they must start now.