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Brad Flory:  “We’ve Seen Worse”

By Brad Flory

Now that we’ve survived the recent state of emergency, I confess that I failed to fully embrace the spirit of catastrophe.

For the first time in my memory, a governor declared an emergency where I live. Mail delivery stopped for two days. Restrictions on nonessential travel were decreed by some mayors. Libraries, courthouses, city halls, and other government offices closed.

Our emergency was not a tornado, flash flood, mudslide, wildfire, or even a lousy blizzard. It was two sunny but very cold winter days, with low temperatures of 15 degrees below zero on Jan. 30 and 16-below on Jan. 31.

“So what?” I sputtered. “It’s cold in January. We’ve seen worse.”

When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared the emergency, I honestly did not know what emergency existed. A wind-chill warning was in effect, and wind chill is usually described by TV forecasters like a deranged killer ready to destroy anyone in its path. But wind chill danger applies to exposed skin. Anyone who wanders outdoors in January with a lot of exposed skin has deeper problems than the climate.

Consulting the Lansing newspaper, I learned that Gov. Whitmer or her office clarified the situation by saying “declaring an emergency was meant to encourage Michigan residents to take cold weather warnings seriously.”

So instead of declaring an emergency because we face an emergency, our government now declares an emergency to catch our attention.

Here’s a news flash: Michigan people know how to bundle up, hunker down, and soldier on when it gets very cold. We’re not wimps.

Crazy as it sounds, some people enjoy skiing, ice fishing, or snowmobiling on even the coldest days. They know how to protect themselves from the elements.

When the dreaded “polar vortex” strikes, most of us prefer to stay indoors as much as possible, and we  bundle up when we go out. We travel in heated cars to heated buildings. I see no reason why grown-ups should be treated as if we’re not smart enough or strong enough to be allowed outdoors.  And I don’t see how public servants make us any safer by taking two days off work.

To be clear, I agree that schools should close when it is extremely cold, because children must wait outdoors for buses. But since when are adults not  free to decide if they want to brave the cold to pursue the“nonessential” business of their lives?

Perhaps I overreact, like a grouchy old man denied my senior discount, to what amounts to excess caution. Still, I suspect our rugged Michigan forbears would be astonished to see our idea of an emergency in the 21st Century.

  “Fear not,” I imagine they’d say. “This, too, will melt.”

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