January 22, 2005

The blizzard of 2005 approaches

Today people all around the city were hysterical about "blizzard of 05" . "Stock up on food and batteries, there will be a run on the grocery stores;" they said, "the city will come to a standstill. The water mains will break. The power will go out. You never know what will happen."

About a foot of snow is expected starting tomorrow.

Nothing to sneeze at, but my friends in Buffalo will hear of this with a chuckle. The last time we visited there in winter cars were covered with snow and 7 foot snowbanks turned roads into deep white trenches. And when the snow came off of Lake Erie visibility went down to a few inches. A foot is no big deal. We prepared by grabbing a few extra logs for the fire and some milk.

A digression

Because of the speed with which this cold snap hit us, the deeper subway stations have been turned into chimneys as the hot air trapped deep underground rushes to the surface. Most of New York's subways are actually right under the streets, built 100 years ago with the then innovative, dig and cover technique, but the stations around the edges of the island dive down into the bedrock to pass under the rivers. You would think the deep subway tunnels would be cool, like caves, but the constant heat escaping from the trains keeps them perpetually warm, and hence the strong wind on cold days. Today it was so bad men were losing their hats and women had to hold their skirts and coats down. Children of course enjoyed the phenomenon.

I sat near at the front of the train next to the window peering into the tracks. I always like watching the plunge from Court Street Station down into the the elegant tunnel under the East River. The tunnel is officially called the Whitehall-Montague Street Tunnel and was completed in 1917 with great fanfare. The man who oversaw the project at a ceremony for marking the final blast to complete the tunnel noted "There have been 800,000 decompressions, with air pressures reaching as high as 37.5 pounds, yet there has been only one death due to compressed air sickness. Less than 200 cases of bends have been reported. Although on the average as many as 2100 men have been employed daily, but 22 men have been killed due to accidents during the whole period of the work. This is an indication of the precautions which you have taken for the protection and safety of your men, and it merits the highest commendation."

Coming up into Manhattan the tunnel rises and starts to branch and curve. All along the way the train is guided by a simple system of stoplights. Unlike modern subways operated by a central computer. New York subways are still driven individual conductors. When the light is green the driver goes forward. When yellow he slows down. When red he stops. There is little communication between trains and no central control of the whole system although a dispatcher can now talk to all trains. In the City the trains rise to the "just under the street level" and from there the cold outside is obvious. Thick clusters icicles hang down from grates above sometimes falling onto the passing train. Here there is little wind. It's just as cold as it is outside.

posted at 03:42 AM by raul

Filed under: east coast

TAGS: 1917 (1) blizzard (1) brooklyn (17) subway (13) tunnel (1) whitehall-montague street tunnel (1)


01/24/05 05:48 PM

that is quite a fun entry - as you know i am a big fan of the 'anatomy of' almost anything; and for whatever reason in particular the nyc subway system.

i think it because i have this fantasy of levels and sub-levels and sub-sub-levels under the city of long-forgotten stations, tracks, tunnels, rooms and other artifacts of the past. and, the fantasy goes, with the right headlamp and group of friends, one could mount quite a fascinating expedition - groups of schizophrenic homeless aside, of course.

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