Online, the chat came in a blizzard

January 09, 1996|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,SUN STAFF Staff writer Lisa Respers contributed to this article.

It sounded like the set up for an Agatha Christie novel: Ten people, all strangers, huddled in a remote place to evade the icy grip of the blizzard of '96.

But the room was a chat room on CompuServe's Weather Channel Forum, the strangers were scattered across two continents, and the conversation centered on two issues: How much snow did you get, and what were the odd of getting from England to Newark, N.J., anytime soon?

It was an alternative to cabin fever. Sick of the weather? Then go to your computer, log on -- and talk about the weather. Or, you could read the newspaper that didn't make it to your doorstep yesterday morning. Or, check the Associated Press wire (big story, snow). Or, for the masochistically inclined, call up weather stats from warmer climes. It was 81 degrees in Rio de Janeiro yesterday, but quite muggy.

Troy Bundy, of Columbia, a 25-year-old computer programmer, said he couldn't survive the day without his computer. "If I didn't have one, I'd build one," he said. "Football games are not on, there's snow outside, so I'm online."

In fact, online traveling proved to be so attractive that CNBC, a cable channel, reported yesterday morning that Internet usage was estimated to be quintuple its normal rates.

And at Prodigy, spokeswoman Carol Wallace said the online service was seeing a flurry of activity, which she attributed to people stuck at home trying out their new Christmas computers.

In CompuServe's Snow Storm Room, the ongoing drama centered on one Jennifer Taylor, who had tickets to fly today from England to Newark, N.J., where she was to meet her parents. What was the likelihood of making it? she queried her virtual buddies.

"A snowball's chance in hell," came the inevitable answer from Philadelphia.

Could she fly into Pittsburgh and drive? Could she take a train from another location? No and no, her online advisers responded. Just wait a day.

Carrington Edwards, a South Carolinian, checked in from Virginia to say there were 30 inches on the ground and he didn't expect to get his car out for days. Richard Rose, of New Jersey, advised that, "All major roads and T.G.I. Fridays are closed." And whenever folks north of the storm center dared to hope it might be ending, folks to the south assured them that they were probably due another two to four inches.

"Anyone want to buy some snow?" one participant wondered. "Sure, if you add cherry syrup," responded a Brooklyn wise guy.

In the message board section of the forum, snow-inspired musings stacked up almost as rapidly as the snow itself. Even forecasters got in on the action. Early yesterday, one posted this cryptic note to a colleague:

"[It] showed a positive tilt trof in the extended range and not toward the European," he wrote. "I would have gone for a bigger and slower storm with this last one FORECASTING sometimes you smell like a rose and sometimes you just smell."

Those whos still hadn't had enough weather could pull down weather maps and updated forecasts, but even online services have their limits. As one participant said, signing off: "See ya. I have to go check radar."

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