Sunday, January 09, 2005

Ah, Snow...

Snow is a special thing in Seattle. It's not like other areas, where snow is more common. We get real snow maybe twice a year, if we are unlucky.

People in other areas, where snow is more common, laugh at our panic when it snows. However, people who move here from other areas, where snow is more common, tend to agree with Seattle's reaction once they've experienced just one snowfall and the headaches involved.

First off, most places that have more snow than Seattle are much more flat than Seattle. Elevation changes are extremely common around here. When I've visited other places, they didn't even have proper hills. And what we call "hills" around here, people on the East Coast call "mountains". As far as we're concerned, if it doesn't have snow on it year-round, it isn't a mountain. So any discussion of snow in Seattle has to take into account the fact that you literally cannot go more than a couple of miles without experiencing a fairly steep hill, and in most places you can't go more than a couple of blocks without running into a hill.

Second is the reaction of the infrastructure to snow. I've heard people in British Colombia express shock at Seattle's reaction, until I explain to them that Seattle never salts the roads. We sand the roads. And sand doesn't really do a whole lotta good when the roads are ice. This is apparently changing a bit, but you won't see any salt on Seattle's roads, and you are unlikely to see a lot of snowplows. After all, when it snows only once or twice a year, if that, snowplows are a bit expensive to justify in a city's budget.

Third is the fact that most people in Seattle don't have any experience driving in the snow. Again, when it snows so rarely, the opportunities for practice don't come up often. And people who complain about driving in Seattle snow usually aren't as annoyed at the streets themselves as the other insane drivers on them. Inexperienced drivers combined with poor clearing of streets and lots of hills is a lethal combination, or at least leads to rich tow truck drivers.

And so the entire region pretty much comes to a screeching halt when the snow starts sticking to the roads. The prudent don't go out at all when snow is on the streets, as they know it won't last long and usually their destination isn't worth whatever they might pay in car repairs if they run across a classic Seattle driver. They instead put the heater on, or throw a couple of logs on the fire, grab a cup of hot cocoa and watch the snow flit down and start to melt.