Tuesday, December 23, 2008


"This isn't New York. We generally have mild winters. It doesn't make sense to invest in infrastructure and equipment we rarely need. We are monitoring every source of information we have." - Greg Nickels, Mayor of Seattle
You got to love this snow. It is soooo beautiful! - from King County Executive Ron Sims' Twitter feed, sent

Our leaders have no idea what's going on in this city.

We have had snow on the ground for at least ten days, and it feels like an eternity. We have been experiencing a cold snap like Seattle hasn't seen for decades, so the snow's not melting. (To all you people in Chicago and Detroit and Boston and Minnesota - I know you cats are used to freezing temperatures. We're not. Snow usually falls and then melts the next day around here.)

People are sledding down main streets in downtown Seattle. The bus system has been running half of their usual buses, and several have gotten stuck in the snow and ice. Stores are sold out of chains and road salt, and now grocery stores are starting to run out of staples like milk and eggs. Gas stations, waiting for their tanker trucks to arrive, are running out of gasoline.

I drove to work last Tuesday, Dec. 16. And that is the last time I drove my car outside of my neighborhood. We haven't been to drive out of West Seattle for a week now. Our cars been parked a block away for over a week, because our own street is on a hill and has not been plowed since the first snow fell.

Seattle is not a town in the middle of nowhere. We are one of the largest cities on the West Coast, a major port and business center. We have 600,000 residents. And we do get snow, regardless of how often we get it. We own a "fleet" of 27 snowplows, sander and de-icers. There are probably small towns in Massachusetts that own more snow equipment than we do.

We don't own more snowplows because we never get snow like this - except when we do. We get a good snowstorm about once every three years. In 1996, we got tons of snow and a cold snap, and the city shut down. 1990 apparently also had a pretty memorable snowstorm. This is not a once-in-a-hundred-years occurrence.

Many people have started to attack the city and the county for their response to the snow. There's a debate breaking out about whether the city should be using salt. (They don't because of the environmental impact, opting instead for stuff called Geomelt C.) But it's more than that. Their entire response to snow is to assume that it will melt away in a day or two. They plow the main streets - not the smaller side streets liked ours - but don't remove the ice deliberately.

"We're trying to create a hard-packed surface," said Alex Wiggins, chief of staff for the Seattle Department of Transportation. "It doesn't look like anything you'd find in Chicago or New York."

And of course, they don't plow the side streets at all, because they don't own enough plows. And they don't own enough plows because they never get snow like this.

Except when they do.

You will recall that I was furious two years ago, when the city couldn't restore our apartment's power for nearly four days after a powerful windstorm. I'm not any happier about their response to the current situation. This just isn't about not being able to get to the mall to buy Christmas presents, although I'm sure there's been a huge economic impact because of the city being immobilized. People are going to be losing their jobs because they can't get into their workplace. I'm certain there are people whose lives have been endangered because they can't get to the hospital, or their doctor, or their dialysis treatment. We'll start hearing about them in the next few weeks. We are suffering, and our elected leaders either don't realize it or don't want to admit that they've failed this test.

The problem is that they're responding as if we're getting the same old weather that we always (read: usually) get. You can't use the old responses when the weather isn't following the old pattern. I would think at least that Greg Nickels, a firm believer in climate change, would realize that. They should have had a plan in place for snow that didn't fit the usual pattern. Now, I don't know what that response should have been and it's not my job to make that decision. Maybe we need a few hundred tons of salt on hand, for just such an emergency like this. Maybe we need to invest in a hundred snowplows that can easily be mounted on city trucks on short notice. Or maybe we need to triple the use of GeoMelt C.

All I know is that right now, their strategy for responding to this snow has been an absolute failure. And a lot of us are starting to get angry about it.

1 comment:

Jesse Wendel said...

I'm assuming you've managed to make it out of West Seattle by now. *smiles*

Just thought you might want to know that the Seattle chapter of Drinking Liberally, meets every Tuesday night from 8PM onwards at the Montlake Ale House, 2307 24th Avenue E. As always, some folks will show up earlier for dinner.

I usually, but not always, am there.

I don't expect to be there the rest of this month, or at least, till after the inaugural, as I'm either prepping to head back to D.C. or will be back in NYC/DC and/or traveling.

Anyway... it's always nice to have GNB readers around.

Take care, and Happy New Year.