We are CONFOUNDED by the snow
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
It just kills me.
After the jump, an Associated Press article chucklingly nails down why Seattle is so afraid of the weather.
Seattle Times: Seattle paralyzed by chance of snow
Schools throughout Greater Seattle closed Wednesday at the mere threat of snow late in the day, a symptom of the city’s deep phobia of snow and near-complete inability to deal with any significant snowstorm.
Even though Seattle is the nation’s northernmost major city, snow is a rarity here, and the city is ill-equipped to clear the streets of its hilly neighborhoods. Combine that with drivers unaccustomed to driving on slick roads, and snow is a recipe for chaos.
School officials’ caution dates back to a 1990 snowstorm that dumped several inches of unexpected snow, paralyzing the city and forcing 1,200 children to spend the night in their classrooms. Since then, the state’s largest school district and its suburban neighbors close as a precaution when snow threatens.
“We always err on the side of caution, making sure our students are going to be as safe as possible, not just at school but traveling to school,” said Seattle Public Schools spokesman David Tucker.
Four days after a relatively light snowfall, the city was still clearing icy roads in hilly neighborhoods on Wednesday.
Since 1984, annual snowfall at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport ranged from a trace amount to 20 inches in a 24-hour period.
The city has fewer than 30 snowplows and some Seattle roads are too narrow for the big trucks, so clearing and sanding is focused on a network of main roads.
So the fear of snow pervades far beyond the schools. Metro put tire chains on 80 percent of its 1,329-bus fleet overnight. But after the chains kicked up sparks on bare pavement during the morning commute, forcing drivers to go 35 mph or less to avoid tearing up the roadways, the chains were removed, said Metro spokeswoman Linda Thielke.
“The No. 1 concern is always safety,” Thielke said. “If we don’t have to drive in the snow that makes us happy.”
The National Weather Service changed its forecast several times throughout the night and early morning: From snow being a certainty overnight to the possibility of half an inch before dark to 1 to 3 inches of snow in the metropolitan area in the evening. At midday, temperatures were in the mid-30s, and streets were clear except for some areas of ice.
Elsewhere in the country’s northern regions, cities are often more blase about bad weather. In and around Chicago, students routinely trudge through several inches of snow to school.
In Minneapolis, where snow is a way of life, the schools typically shrug off anything short of a blizzard.
“It would have to be something like 8 inches to a foot before we consider it,” said Craig Vana, executive director of emergency management, safety and security for the Minneapolis School District. The city’s had more than 15 inches of snow this season, and school hasn’t been canceled yet.
Vana said the district wouldn’t call off school based on a forecast unless it was “dead on the money, a major blizzard moving in, and by 4 o’clock there will be no chance for people to travel.”
But caution has its uses, as Providence, R.I., discovered last year.
School children were stranded for hours on buses that became stuck in a fast-moving storm. The last of the students didn’t make it home until after 11 p.m. Providence Mayor David Cicilline blamed a communication breakdown and wound up firing the city’s director of emergency management.
Today’s early morning decision to cancel school in Seattle after two days of late starts because of icy roads in hilly areas left many parents scrambling to devise a backup plan.
Tucker, who was late to work after getting his kids situated at home, said he had no idea how his children were spending the day. “I’m sure, reading and studying,” he added, with a chuckle.
One of the University’s of Washington’s weather experts, Cliff Mass, figured that the mountains to the west were shielding the central Puget Sound from the light-to-moderate snow falling elsewhere in the region.
Mass advised people to keep their winter coats at the ready because more flakes may fall later, especially in the mountains, something that would probably please all the skiers staying home from school.
Local insurance company PEMCO got into the act by sending out guide on the best way to abandon your car in a snowstorm, a favorite tactic in the Seattle area, where steep hills can quickly become impassable, making for frustrated drivers and comical news footage.