Column: Locals Give 'Passable' a Failing Grade

When an unusual blizzard shut them down, communities showed their true class.


That's a word we've heard a lot in the past week as we dug out from three feet of snow that shut down much of Suffolk County, trapped people in their cars on major highways, and exposed a host of local government logjams that made clearing area roads seem much harder than locals ever thought it could be.

But as road crews pushed old plows to their limits against the snow, officials were very careful not to promise cleared, plowed or unblocked streets. Instead, they pledged "passable" roads just cleared enough to get a car down them. Often the clearing was one-car wide, and rather than plowed to the asphalt the roads were coated in a tamped down, slushy layer of snow that would make any front-wheel-drive commuter car's wheels spin.

In Suffolk, this lowered expectation was acceptable, since the bigger problem was the host of impassable roadways not touched by plows for days.

It's true that plow drivers worked grueling shifts after the storm, in equipment that wasn't up to the task. But time and again officials made sure not to promise anything more than passable in the early days after the blizzard.

That has us thinking. What if passable was the bar set by everybody? What if the St. James firefighters who found an elderly man about to be buried alive by snow, instead of shoveling a path in front of him for an hour and a half so he could make it home like they did, just walked behind him, tapped him on the shoulder every five minutes and said, "Hey there, you can do it?"

And when fire departments from across the region rushed to Route 347 in Lake Grove, where dozens of motorists had to spend the night in their cold and snowed-in cars, what if rescuers handed out lozenges and snow pants and pointed them in the direction home instead of digging them out of the cold and bringing them to warming shelters to shake off the ordeal?

What if instead of banding together and shoveling out their own unplowed streets so people could get out and go to work, neighbors decided to use that time to watch a few more episodes of Lost in their Netflix queues?

What if people only shoveled their own driveways?

The truth is, the spirit of Long Island in the wake of two hurricanes and a blizzard is anything but passable. While flaws in our infrastructure and municipal services have been exposed by the elements, our communities showed their hearts, rising against conventional wisdom that says the suburbs are all about me, me, me and instead made the safety and the recovery of their neighbors just as much of a priority as taking care of themselves.

These stories of community don't take the sting out of unplowed roads and powerless homes, but they do give us the hope to endure these disasters, and make the wait for relief so much more passable.

Below are a few more stories of those who showed great spirit through the blizzard. If you'd like to share a story about how the your community heroes helped you to endure the storms of the past year, email it to henry@patch.com and we'll display your tale on your hometown Patch.

  • St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center Employee Walks to Work Through Blizzard
  • Couple Braves Blizzard to Deliver 'Baby Nemo' at St. Catherine of Siena
  • PHOTOS: Don't Forget to Feed Our Feathered Friends
  • Commack Lanes Lends Space to Smithtown AMF After Roof Collapse
  • Snow Stories: Stony Brook Family Makes It Through the Blizzard
  • Resident's Twitter Account Looks for the Humor in Nemo
  • Nesconset Chief: 20 Route 347 Motorists Brought to Safety
  • Port Jefferson Station Photographer Finds Beauty in a Blizzard
  • 100-Year-Old Weather Observer: Plenty of Winter Left for Another Blizzard
  • PHOTOS: HarborFrost Lives Up to Its Name
  • UPDATED: Woman Rescued from Sinking Boat in Springs

Henry Powderly is a regional editor for Patch.com covering Northern Suffolk County and the East End of Long Island. Follow him on Twitter at @HenryPowderly.

forward thinking February 18, 2013 at 09:53 PM
you are no t ready to pay what it takes to make the snow be "handled" as you want... it would mean capitol expenditures and stand by personel who would be doing mindless tasks when it is not snowing or storming... if everone who critiques would put their labor where their mouths are it would be handled. in fact does not hot air make snow melt...
Annie Gurl February 19, 2013 at 12:36 AM
Thank you for the terrific article. In big ways and small, Long Islanders pull together to make things better. This is in no way an excuse for those in charge who failed in their responsibilities to us, but it says a lot about our residents and their values.
EG February 19, 2013 at 04:21 AM
I saw this car on Route 83. I'm still wondering how it got into the gully between both guard rails without any damage to the rails
pat February 19, 2013 at 12:31 PM
It is nice to be sentimental and act as if communities were run like high schools dependent on "team spirit," but the fact is that when government fails, it fails, and it needs to be fixed.
Barry February 19, 2013 at 01:45 PM
plowing was bad enough during the storm,but after the storm and untill know I have not seen any trucks claring the corners of the streets at all !!! just look at Indian Head Rd and Old Northport Rd rite by the Town yard ware all the Highway Department trucks drive past !! Shamefull is all I can say !!
Marie G Lavin February 19, 2013 at 04:08 PM
It seems to me there use to be many independent small plows that would come through our neighborhood. What happen to those guys, Brookhaven dumped them??
rob carey February 19, 2013 at 07:44 PM
'forward thinking' is correct. there are some winters where we get a total of 12 inches of snow. so we cannot afford to have the equipment on hand to handle 30 inches at once. it is a once every 20 years storm. life is not set up to make humans as comfy as possible. prepare your family for the possibilities, and deal with it. or you can just move south.
Barry February 19, 2013 at 09:54 PM
sounds like Rob works for the Highway Dept. and is proud of the job he DIDN'T do on the roads ! Or he lives with MOM and dosn't pay the Taxes I do !!


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