This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.
I realize I ticked a few people off by suggesting that Seattle’s civic response to the recent snowstorms was incompetent (and yes, I was hyperbolic about it — I’m a blogger, sue me). I’m reluctant to wade back into these waters, but I want to refine my point now that I’m back in town and have a bit more time.
Andrew at STB, echoing concerns I’ve heard elsewhere, says, “this kind of snowpacolypse happens once every fifteen or twenty years. It’s not worth the investment, especially not an [sic] rushed, reactionary spending spree.”
I get that. Obviously there’s a cost-benefit calculus that must be applied. But I’m not really interested in the response to a “snowpacolypse,” which is, indeed, an outlier event. I’m talking about the city’s annual haphazard response to the one or two inches of snow that we get nearly every winter. It’s hard to believe, but we apparently average 7.3 inches per year.
On Wednesday, December 17, before any snow had fallen in Seattle, the Seattle Public Schools panicked and closed school, fearing (quite rightly) that SDOT would not be able to clear the roads. As it turned out, no snow fell until the next day. Schools closed Thursday and Friday as well. As I recall, something similar happening last winter as well — schools closed for snow that never materialized. (The big snowstorm came that following weekend, Thursday’s snow was the typical 1-2 inches that paralyzes the city nearly every year.)
Obviously the weather here is notoriously finicky, and I’m not suggesting that people ought to be able to predict the future, but the schools have an itchy trigger finger with snow closures because they know what a disaster this city turns into with just an inch of snow. And closing school is a major hassle for low-income parents, who can’t just take the day off or hire a sitter. It hurts businesses, too.
As for a solution, I don’t have a particular dog in the sand-vs-salt fight. If the city says that salt is problematic for Puget Sound, fine, I believe them. On the transit front, I think Matt’s suggestions (and the ones in the comments) on how to improve Metro service make a lot of sense. A few more sand trucks wouldn’t hurt anyone.
Finally, did you know that we’re in the middle of a “Pacific Decadal Oscillation” weather pattern, which causes colder, wetter weather in the Pacific Northwest? Me neither! Or that climate change models predict colder, wetter winters on top of that? Seattle will no doubt continue to experience a few inches of snow every year, and the city needs to figure out how to deal with it better.