Here are 20 story ideas for covering the blizzard

Anybody who needs these ideas will be really busy for the next several days, so I am going to write sparsely to avoid taking up their time.

-Craigslist helps you find "Blizzard Boyfriends or Girlfriends?" You know this just seems like a bad idea, but it seems that people are going to CL to find winter warmth. Be careful clicking on the photos, some are NSFW. Who knows if this is a bunch of noise, a cover for escort services or if it really results in snowbound hookups? Color me skeptical, but it is getting some press.

-Is it REALLY true that you can expect a baby boom nine months after a blizzard? The answer is no. It seems so plausible, but the numbers just don't bear it out. But another study that looks at hurricanes and birth rates seems to show that "low severity" storms may be related to "higher fertility rates" whereas severe storms do not. The most conceptions, this second study said, were from couples who already had at least one child.

-How to get your car unstuck in the snow. I found this delightful tutorial from KATU TV Portland, Oregon. Think CATS:

C: Clear a path. Give your tires some room to roll and get as much as you can from underneath the vehicle. It is especially important to clear the exhaust so the car doesn't fill with backed up fumes. If you happen to be carrying antifreeze or wiper fluid, you can pour a little of that in the path of the tire. (not the most environmentally friendly solution.)

A: Add traction. If you are going to be driving in this stuff, carry kitty litter or sand and spread it in front and behind the tires. If you don't have that, twigs, sticks and even (love this one) your car's rubber floormats can be your traction. Remember to place the traction in the direction you want to go.

T: Tires. You can also get more traction if you deflate your tires a little.

S: Straighten your wheels. Rock the vehicle back and forth, do not gun it. Go lightly. If your tires get too hot you might just dig yourself deeper.

-Celebrate helpful neighbors. Last year when a winter storm hit Atlanta and people were stranded on interstates, one of the best stories to emerge was the remarkable number of really nice people who stepped up and helped others. Ask people to share stories of "snow angels" who pitched in to help others. You can map them, create a photo gallery, and continuing coverage can even invite callers or set up an answering machine for people to leave their stories. Stories of good work probably encourage more good work.

-Where does all of that road salt go? Smithsonian.com says:

It's estimated that more than 22 million tons of salt are scattered on the roads of the U.S. annually—about 137 pounds of salt for every American.

But all that salt has to go somewhere. After it dissolves—and is split into sodium and chloride ions—it gets carried away via runoff and deposited into both surface water (streams, lakes and rivers) and the groundwater under our feet.

Obviously that isn't good for the environment. So, the story says, "Elsewhere, municipalities are trying out alternate de-icing compounds. Over the past few years, beet juice, sugarcane molasses and cheese brine, among other substances, have been mixed in with salt to reduce the overall chloride load on the environment."

-Don't get so caught up in the emergency that you forget the beauty and fun side of snow.

-Why do people become irrational hoarders in weather emergencies? A consumer psychologist tries to explain. In short, it is herd mentality.

-Bird lovers serve an important function in the winter. Water and food can be difficult for birds to find in winter, especially in a heavy snowfall. Just remember that if you start feeding birds, you are saying "this is a place you can count on as a food source," so if you stop when the weather turns tough, you could be really letting your feathered pals down when they need you most. See the best places to place feeders.

-How to take better photos in the snow. Your point-and-shoot camera may have a snow setting. See why. Low-light photography in the snow can be wonderful. 

-Tools to track social media reports of snow. Here is a site that collects social media posts. You can also try Hootsuite, which allows you to track social media posts by geolocation, or ban.jo, which combs through social media posts to find the most interesting ones by topic. It is curated by humans, which holds down the junk factor. MiseryMap shows the tough travel conditions at airports around the country.

-AA meetings online. I got to thinking, what do people who depend on Alcoholic Anonymous or other such 12-step meetings do when the weather turns bad? I imagine it would be especially tough to be holed up in your house or apartment and have not much to do or not be able to make a meeting to get support help. It turns out, there are lots of AA meetings live online in both text and live chat formats. I would like to know if they work for the people who use them and whether your local meetings offer online support.

-Is it true that no two snowflakes are alike? PBS explains that snowflakes come in many shapes according to the temperature. By the way, the traditional snowflake shape you usually think of is called a dendrite, defined as "a crystal or crystalline mass with a branching, treelike structure." But snow also comes in tubes, cylinders, columns and plates. 

-Weather through history. You can check claims about weather on any particular date back to 1945. Search by zip code, city, date and year.

-The blizzards through history. One of the worst East Coast storms was the storm of 1888, which actually occurred in March. This historic NOAA site also documents historic storms in the Midwest, the South and The Plains. These facts will be useful when you start hearing, "you think THAT is a storm. Let me tell you about a REAL storm."

-A lesson on common sense. Years ago I was covering some big ice storm. Live coverage went on and on. We were sort of out of ideas. Somebody came up with the idea of "ask the viewers" in which people told us the problems they were having and we asked other viewers to call in with advice on how they fixed the same problem. I was at a house where a family had lost electricity and they worried about the food in the fridge that was in danger of spoiling. One old guy called in and said, "Now Mr. Tompkins, use your common sense. If the problem is the ice storm knocked out their power, why don't they go gather up some of that ice and stick it in the fridge to keep things cold?" Brilliant, and I felt like an idiot. Works especially well for midday or morning shows where you have a ton of time.

-Broadcastify is a live emergency scanner online. Listen to thousands of emergency two-way radio traffic.

-Get 360-degree panoramic interactive photos. I like Google's Photosphere and also Bubb.li. Let me tell you about both. Google allows you to map the 360's, which could be excellent for team coverage.

-Snow on the roof. How much is too much for your roof to handle? Popular Mechanics takes on the question. You could check your local building codes, but generally roofs should be built withstand to 30 pounds per square foot. The Hartford Courant said that it would take "four feet of fluffy snow, 2 feet of dense snow or about six inches of water, to weight that much. The trick is determining the weight per square foot of whatever combination of snow, ice, slush and water has piled onto your roof. If it's more than 30 pounds, the roof could collapse." Here is an insurance company website that explains ice dams and more ways to prevent snow buildup on roofs for people who are so inclined.

 -How to dress warmly. Here is specific advice from The Outdoor Gear Lab.
What do those warmth ratings mean for coats, boots and such? I often see warm weather gear advertised as being tested to 30 below or some such claim. I do not see what those ratings actually mean. Does anybody enforce the claims?

-What to do when you lose power in the winter. Some of the more important points to stress (from Consumerenergycenter.org):

    • Unplug some of your major appliances. When the power comes back on, all of those appliances can create a drain or power surge. This can harm sensitive equipment. To avoid a power surge when the electricity returns, turn off computers, TVs, stereos and other unnecessary electronic equipment at the power source. Leave a light on so you'll know when the power is restored.
    • If you have a generator, do not connect it to your home's power system unless it has been properly installed and disconnects you from the main power grid when it is operating. If you do not disconnect from the power grid, you can be sending electricity back down the lines; not just to your home. That could be deadly for power company workers.
    • If you have a regular wood stove or fireplace, you can use it for heat. However, DO NOT USE kerosene heaters, BBQs, or any outdoor type heater inside. Such devices create poisonous gases such as carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas given off by combustion and could kill.

-Maybe I don't have to say this, but I am going to anyway. Be safe, not stupid. Recently I asked a bunch of photographer friends how they work in cold weather.

 

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.

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