Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues.  Our student Dan Dohman makes this connection here…

Friday night was snowy in Syracuse, but not nearly as intense as the conditions that winter storm “Nemo” dumped on Connecticut, southern New York, and Massachusetts, as I found out from reading “The Northeast, Buried Under Snow, Tries to Dig Its Way Out,” an article that appeared on the New York Times website (nytimes.com) on February 10, 2013.  This article covered an issue concerned primarily with the hydrological aspect of WRE, as old man winter distributed blankets of snow over 3 feet thick in Connecticut and over 2 feet thick in New York City and Massachusetts.  This storm wreaked havoc in these areas that are not prepared in a societal or infrastructural sense to deal with such volumes of snow.  Vehicles strewn across the highways blocked plows from managing the roads, heavy snowfall and coastal flooding forced evacuations and caused over 650,000 customers to be without power; a handful of people were killed as a result of the storm.  The definition of hydrology, according to Wurbs and James (2002), includes the study of the occurrence, distribution, movement, and properties of water around the globe.  This article seemed slightly biased on the WRE study of the distribution of water from the storm, highlighting the snowfall that occurred in New York City and Boston, even though places such as Portland, Maine which received even more snow–and in record breaking amounts, as reported by Dolce, Erdman, and Wiltgen (2013)–went without mention.  Aside from this, I feel that the article could have talked more about what was done to prepare for the storm and how places such as New York City will adapt to better prepare for future storms.  Instead, the article focused on the damages inferred by the storm and peoples’ reactions to it.

The issues addressed in this article identify best within the broader contexts of both societal and economic problems.  Societal problems deal with how people react and relate to their environment and to each other.  This storm was a societal problem as many deaths resulting from it could have been prevented with better education on proper practices during a storm.  Deaths due to snow shoveling induced heart attacks could have easily been avoided by working slower or by getting a young, healthy friend or neighbor to help with the chore.  The article also reported a number of deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning.  According to Houck and Hampson (1997), this is not uncommon with winter storms as people resort to burning charcoal for heat or running motors and generators in areas with poor ventilation.  These types of avoidable deaths represent a significant societal issue with winter storms that could be prevented if our society were better educated about how to handle these types of storms.


Figure 1 – A street in Massachusetts is buried beneath the snow after winter storm Nemo


Figure 2 – Utility workers worked around the clock after the storm left over 650,000 without power


Dolce, C., Erdman, J., & Wiltgen, N. (2013, February 10). Winter Storm Nemo: Snow, Wind, Coastal Flood Reports. Retrieved from The Weather Channel Website: http://www.weather.com/news/weather-winter/winter-storm-nemo-reports-20130208

Houck, P. M., & Hampson, N. B. (1997, July-August). Epidemic Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Following a Winter Storm. The Journal of Emergency Medicine, 15(4), 469-473.

Wurbs, R., & James, W. (2002). Water Resources Engineering. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.