Seattle and Snow

The Seattle area completely falls apart when the first snowflake hits the ground, as evidenced by yesterday's storm. Having grown up in Minnesota, land of 10,000 blizzards, I'm continually stunned by this.

In December 1990, a few months after I moved here, I had my first encounter with this. It started snowing in the morning, but we all stayed at work and didn't think anything of it. By 4:00pm, there was eight inches of snow on the ground and reports were coming in that people couldn't get out of Microsoft. Traffic around the area was at a standstill with people abandoning their cars on roads and bridges (sounds familiar). A bunch of my friends stayed the night at work. We walked down to the local Safeway and rented videos, which we watched in a big tele-conference room used for our collaboration with IBM on OS/2. About halfway through Caddyshack or whatever it was we were watching, we realized we were beaming the movie to IBM office in Boca Raton. Fortunately, it was probably 2:00am there... We walked down to the Fred Meyer (local chain store like Target), bought tire chains, and crawled home the next day.

Anyway, things haven't gotten better in the last sixteen years in this regard. I think the region has something like six plows with rubber-edged plow blades (so they don't knock the reflector turtle things off the road), and they don't use salt on the roads because of the cost and increased corrosion. On top of that, Seattle drivers lose their minds in the snow.

In Minnesota, an armada of plows with sharpened steel fangs and spewing great jets of metal-eating salt beats back the snow and ice relentlessly, rendering all but the worst blizzards a minor inconvenience. (On the other hand, virtually every car in Minnesota more than a few years old has rust holes on the bottom.) And, of course, Minnesotans are mentally prepared for snow and experienced since their first driver's ed class in handling snow (we used to do doughnuts with our cars in the snowy high school parking lot - fun stuff). The snow tires we all had didn't hurt either.

In the Seattle area's defense, however, I will say that there are a few important differences that makes snow in Seattle tougher. First, it's almost never very cold for long, so the snow thaws during the day and re-freezes at night. Bad. Second, I think the roads are more crowned than most, sloping off to handle the rain that we get. This makes it easy to slide off the road and hard for plows to really scrape the ground clean. Finally and perhaps most important, it's hilly here. Icy roads in flat Minnesota simply don't have the same impact as the hilly ice rinks we get here. It's amazing to watch a big four-wheel drive SUVs sliding backwards down hills.

Still, I think most the region's snow pain is avoidable. More plows, a little salt, and a few more IQ points among the drivers would go a long way.

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Al Reply

But Tony, the salt is bad for the environment!!!


It might get down to freezing here sometime soon in sunny california.

Craig Reply

Nice posts about the storm, Tony.

Speaking as someone who grew up in Chicago and Boston (cities that would laugh at the massive two inches of snow we just received), I think I can safely say that truer words were never said: "I think most of the region's snow pain is avoidable. More plows, a little salt, and a few more IQ points among the drivers would go a long way."

When it snows here, I just want to throw up... because the weather is actually the least of the problems.

Steve H Reply

(we used to do doughnuts with our cars in the snowy high school parking lot - fun stuff).

Ahh... The good ol' days of real winters, rear wheel drive vehicles, and big open parking lots. I must say I did a few doughnuts at the old WHS too. The past few winters in Minnesota have been real weak. Enough to make Viking cry!

Talking about the plows, it is quite an impressive sight when MNDot does nightime plowing on a multi-lane interstate such as 35E heading into St. Paul. They all line up in formation to clear the highway and ramps all in one shot. I used to do deliveries on the third shift and would see them out there every now and then.

BTW, nice job on IE7 Tony. I like WMP 11 too. Looking forward to using Vista sometime soon.

Tony Reply

Thanks, Steve. I miss the Minnesota plows. We could sure use a few out here. No formation plow driving by the WA DOT, that's for sure.

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