Editorial: First Snow Freak Out

The first big snow of the year and I was on the phone with a friend from Spokane who was in Seattle for a business trip where not much business was getting done. “What is wrong with this town? Everything is closed.”

How do you account the difference in snow response in Seattle vs. Spokane? In Seattle even a little snow closes school, shuts down Microsoft and has folks abandoning their cars on I-5. The first snow of the year has shown this is still the case on the Westside of the state. The problems persist even after the great winter of 08-09. Much has been made about how difficult it is for Westside local governments to properly allocate resources for rare major snow events. Some even speculate that’s why Mayor Nickels lost his job. A comment on the Seattle Times website from the November 23rd snow coverage typifies this attitude; “It is shocking how poorly local our municipalities deal with snow and ice.”

But if you dig a little deeper that conventional wisdom that blames government for not doing enough in the Seattle area starts to break down. I asked my sister, who grew up in Spokane but has lived in Seattle for 20 years, about why snow paralyzes things there. “People are kind of crazy,” she says. “Nobody knows how to drive in the snow.”

Another commenter on that same Seattle Times page backs this up; “I attribute the primary reason for my three hour commute to people out on the roads with ill-equiped vehicles and/or no experience driving in extreme winter weather,” says the poster. “It was simply unprepared motorists who made the commute more treacherous for the rest.”

Don’t we have enough Eastern Washington transplants over there? Are all-season, siped tires that expensive? Do they expect government on the Westside to deploy a massive fleet of snow removal vehicles each time it snows two inches?

I’m not the only one wondering these things. Seattle news website Publicola.com recently ran a story entitled “Why the City Should De-Escalate Its Snow Response,” which asked for less “FREAKING OUT”, less salt on roads, and more focus on arterials instead of trying to clear every road down to bare pavement.

“Yay—more snow, no school today,” my son says this morning. Don’t count on it. We don’t freak out enough on this side of the mountains.

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