I’ve had it.
A Los Angeles Times blog headline this week called us “Snow Wimps.” The LA Times?! I will listen to the LA Times when it describes the microclimates on Kim Kardashian’s continental derriere. That, it would know.
The incredibly shrinking newspaper has nothing to say to me about Seattle’s weather. Especially when a Southland sprinkle sends literally millions of Angelenos into freeway aqua-spasms. TV reporters there hold microphones next to curbs so viewers can hear water running.
Kim Murphy wrote the Times story. She lives in Seattle. She told KUOW radio Thursday that her email in-box has been “severely abused” with critical comments. Good. She has no clue.
You know who has a clue? Me. Not because I’m a Cliff Mass wannabe, or a Jeff Renner stalker. It’s because I’m a career sportswriter. Normally the gig isn’t good for much besides winning bar bets. But it has sent me on assignment to every metropolitan area in the country that has snow, where I’ve frequently rented cars in winter.
As a multiple-time winter visitor/driver to New York, Boston, Philly, Buffalo, Toronto, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Milwaukee, Green Bay, St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver, Spokane, Pullman and lots of smaller burgs, I will declare my credentials regarding meteorological comparables second to none.
Take it from me: There is no metro area as treacherous as Seattle in snow.
The relative infrequency of these bouts makes it easy to characterize the subsequent mayhem a result of Seattle drivers’ fear, inexperience, stupidity, potheadedness, or wimphood.
No one, from Jimmy Johnson to Danica Patrick to the premier graduate of the Washington State Patrol’s hazardous driving course, can navigate the rare conditions that often attend a major snow dump here.
A driver atop Queen Anne Hill, after a typical snow-melt-refreeze-snow cycle as we’ve seen this week, simply has no chance to get to the bottom of the hill without sideswiping half the parked cars en route. Pure physics, friends. Not driving skill.
No downtown that receives snow is as as hilly as Seattle. Period. The Priniciple of Verticality. There’s just too much up here to get down safely.
Obviously, some of the aforementioned cities have hills, but not nearly as many in such tight proximity with so much high-rise business and housing on the slopes. I know. I’ve seen the other cities. I’ve spun a 360 on ice in Dallas, gone off a snowbound highway near Green Bay and become trapped by a multi-car collision in Spokane. In all instances, there was no damage to me, my rental car, or anyone else’s, because flat terrain allowed me and other drivers to drive slowly out of the problem.
Besides the topography, there’s the brand of snow — wet, gloppy flakes known locally as Seattle cement. Rarely is the snow dry enough to drift, as is often often the case in the Midwest, the Plains, and parts of the Northeast and even Eastern Washington. I remember driving in a semi-blizzard in Salt Lake City where the highway road surface and its edges were plainly visible throughout the white-knuckle, 45-minute drive, thanks to the wind that cleared the dry flakes. Not fun, but manageable.
Wet snow doesn’t drift. It gets compacted onto road beds and sidewalks. Plowing and salting helps, but 90 percent of the streets in a metro area as large as Seattle will never see a plow or a salting truck. Seattle cement can only wait for warm rain to wash most of it away.
Which brings up another problem with two intertwined conditions — relatively mild temperatures and our undying love of trees.
Obviously, all cities have trees. But the density of our arbor canopy, particularly with the abundance of evergreens, means that ice patches can follow patches of bare pavement in chock-a-block fashion for miles. Many of our boulevard and residential-street accidents are caused by little-seen leftovers of ice in the permashade of a Doug fir.
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