In the Buffalo winter storm, the inaction of Governor Kathy Hochul was disastrous

In the Buffalo winter storm, the inaction of Governor Kathy Hochul was disastrous

Worse: a governor who obsesses over natural disasters and isn’t afraid to use the state’s full power to mitigate their damage, or a governor who downplays a storm’s potential impact until it’s too late?

New Yorkers are saddened to learn that the inability of previous Governor Andrew Cuomo to declare a strict travel ban prior to the storm’s arrival resulted in the loss of at least 37 lives during the Buffalo snowstorm over the Christmas weekend.

Whether it’s a hurricane or a snowstorm, there is a simple rule regarding storms: if you do not reside in an evacuation zone, staying at home can save your life. The terrible instance of Anndel Nicole Taylor, a 22-year-old nursing assistant who was stuck in her car for 18 hours and died as a result, demonstrates that people should not drive or walk around during severe storms.

You will never be able to keep everyone off the road, but in a world where people are busy, distracted, and bombarded with frequent warnings of catastrophes that (sometimes) don’t materialize, travel bans are an effective way to convey the message: this is dangerous.

It is too late if you wait until a storm has begun or until midmorning, when people have already taken to the highways and then need to return home. And even if you only urge that individuals not travel, employers will still expect them to report for work.

Cuomo was renowned for his travel bans and for implementing them before a severe storm. In 2014, the state was hesitant to close the Thruway, issuing the order only after heavy snow began falling in upstate New York.

In 2015, however, he shut down the subways and regional roadways of New York City well in advance of a storm that was predicted to produce three feet of snow. A year later, in anticipation of another storm, he ordered all non-emergency vehicles off city roadways. In 2017, as a storm approached Broome County, he prohibited travel.

And when a storm failed to materialize, as it did in 2015, he was criticized for overreacting.

Hochul should be familiar with the procedure: in November, she also shut down upstate routes in preparation for a storm.

Days with gloomy forecasts

Despite days of forecasters’ warnings, Hochul refused to establish a broad area travel ban before to the blizzard in this storm.

The day before the snowfall, on the 22nd, she imposed a prohibition on commercial vehicles solely on the Thruway, as well as other restricted closures.

Her primary message on holiday travel was merely a suggestion, with the state “urging” people to leave that evening or wait until Sunday.

The majority of roads were not closed until after the storm.

Thus, there was no clear, unequivocal Cuomo-style message: stay off the roads or face dire consequences.
Without the government establishing control, it was up to county and municipal officials to decide whether and when to impose a travel restriction. The county did not ban travel until mid-morning on Friday, after the storm had begun and residents had fled their homes.

Without a directive from the governor to remain closed, several businesses expected their employees to report to work, and some customers ventured out to patronize such establishments.

Cuomo received sometimes-justified criticism for usurping local authorities’ power during a crisis (or not during a crisis), but prior to a storm, a single, unambiguous message from on high is required, not county and local politicians hesitating and waiting.
What therefore prevented Hochul from establishing a travel ban?

Weary of the COVID-19 constraints that have transformed everyone into a mini-libertarian? Lacking merit: storm closures are brief.

Fear of a left-wing backlash against the police? A travel ban would not need to be enforced by the state. Just issuing one would send a clear message, and those who disregarded it would be driving or walking at their own peril.

Or fear of a reaction from informing people they not only shouldn’t travel, but couldn’t go, shortly before the Christmas break, when people wanted one final shopping day and companies wanted their money?

All excellent inquiries for New Yorkers to pose.

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor for the City Journal of the Manhattan Institute.

 

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