Monday, December 22, 2008

Update II

The more I look at the forecast models, the more snow I see. Well, at least those who like a white holiday won't be disappointed.

As I mentioned earlier, tomorrow morning will be icy...but no new accumulations. It was bad enough when I took the bus home from the UW---buses sprawled on roads, abandoned on the sides. One almost hit a pole while I watched. It will be worse in the morning at some locations. (I better watch myself..I will end up sounding like a TV reporter!)

A Pacific occluded front will approach the area on Wednesday morning. Snow will start after midnight and it will certainly be snowing during Wednesday commute time. But as the occluded front makes landfall it will bring warming aloft and increased onshore flow...the question is what that will do to precipitation type. My colleagues in the National Weather Service believe that precipitation will remain snow. I am not so sure. I think there is a good chance we will see a change to rain or VERY wet snow during the late morning and early afternoon. Cooler temperatures will follow and there will be a switch to snow later in the afternoon. Accumulations by the end of the day--1-2 inches at low levels near the Sound, 2-4 inches at higher elevations.

The fun doesn't stop there. A low center from the Gulf of Alaska moves in Thursday morning...hugging the coast. Having a low over SW WA is a classic major snow threat....it can draw down cool air over NW WA and the Sound...and drive moist air over it...occasionally with large snowfalls. Take a look at the forecast situation for Thursday at 4 AM (plot)...not a perfect position, but close. Several inches of new snow could easily occur over the lowlands...and maybe more.

If you want to want to get an idea of snow totals over the area...I have included below the 24-h predicted snowfall ending 4 PM Wednesday and Thursday.




More Snowplow Musings:


A number of you comments on my "editorial" regarding a lack of snowplows in Seattle. A few additional ideas:

1. Although we have less events than say Denver, Minneapolis, and NY, ours are more serious.
First, we have the hills, which GREATLY magnify the problem. Second, our snow often falls on relatively warm ground and starts out as slush, which then hardens later into very slippery ice. Third, our snow and ice are generally relatively warm (just below freezing) and thus are more slippery.

2. We have a major snowfall (like this year) every 5-8 years and significant snowfalls 4-8 inches every other year or so. Each year we generally have few 2-3 inch snows, but some years only get a dusting.

3. I checked around on Ebay...snowplow blades are availabe for trucks for around $2000. Ok, this is Seattle....lets make it $10,000. So we could get 50 blades for 500,000 dollars--half of what those fancy automated bathrooms cost.

4. I am no economist...but image if the city had 3x more snowplows and could keep the roads in far better shape. What is that worth? Tomorrow the UW is closing for a second day. Image the cost of that in lost productivity...certainly tens or hundreds of thousands of productivity lost. What about the loss of business to retail? Any reasonable analysis should reveal that better snow removal capabilities would be a extraordinary investment.

54 comments:

Jason Black said...

Thanks for the update.

Is there a URL where we can get those predicted snow accumulation plots as they are updated?

And how often are these models updated?

Anonymous said...

totally agree on the plow question - this town tries to forget problems into submission- never works

Marisa said...

Regarding your "editorial" on plowing, all I can say is AMEN. I moved here a year ago from Minneapolis, and I've been really shocked by the lack of municipal responsibility for snow/ice. I can't tell whether there is an official "just wait 'til it melts" plan in place, but that seems to be the unofficial stance, at least.

Even though people keep telling me how unusual accumulating snow is here, it doesn't seem like below-freezing temps are so rare that the city shouldn't have a plan for coping with them.

I shudder to think what the city's earthquake-response plan is like...

Anonymous said...

Once the snow melts, where is all the water going to go? Scary! Does the city have plans for the arrival of Snow Melt 2009? Uh oh.

Anonymous said...

How about we spend money on fixing the transportation messes that cost us enormous amounts of time and money during the weeks when the weather is normal first? Once we have those done, then we can worry about the snowy week.

It seems to me that focusing on the statistical outliers in transportation planning is the same fallacy as "look at all this snow, global warming is myth." Both fail to distinguish between events and systems.

Anonymous said...

There should be virtually zero loss of retail sales because of this snow event -- people either spent a lot of money stocking up before the storm, or will spend a lot of money replenishing after the storm. Either way, people will spend about the same amount of money this winter with the snowfall as they would have without any snow.

The lowest average high temperature at Boeing Field for any day of the year is 42 degrees. To say it freezes in Seattle virtually every winter might be true -- at night. But ususally it gets above freezing every day. That's why we rarely have snow on the roads for days at a time like this winter.

Even when we get 6 inches of snow overnight on occasion, the snow is usually off the roads in a day or two, because the daytime temperature does not stay low enough to keep the snow on the streets.

Seems to me that Bass does not have a very good idea of what winter weather in Seattle normally is like.

Paul said...

I'm a Seattle area native who spent 2 winters in Montreal Canada - the undisputed world champion of snow removal (winter equivalent to Moscow Russia yet nobody has the slightest clue how to drive in snow because they never, ever do; salt & plows & more salt and more plows & then giant industrial street closure removal operations once there's no room left to park).

The one thing that really struck me was that there was never anything remotely like the 8" - 12"+ storms we get in the PNW. Not ever. It was all 2" or 4" or at the most 6" shots, all at hyper-frigid temperatures on nearly level terrain. Even with all their equipment and their $60 million Canadian annual snow removal budget, they'd probably be pretty hard put to handle a good 14" Seattle dump.

Seattle is certainly under-equipped, but it is a dilemma in that when Seattle does have a snowstorm, that storm would easily qualify as a major snowstorm in any major city on the North American continent.

There is no median to plan for, only extremes on either end (snowless winters for several years then 12" downtown).

My suggestion would be for the city to purchase a couple hundred plow blades (like everyone in Maine has mounted on their pickup), train a squad of snow-freaks in a volunteer fire department fashion and turn them loose on the city once the flakes start falling.

Peter Streit said...

I'm open to the increased plow idea to mitigate the problem, but would note that plows are just the beginning of a city's snow removal efforts. Cities that receive regular winter weather have elaborate snow removal strategies in place that often involve dramatic changes to parking regulations during snowy months.

In several Midwestern cities where I've lived, parking is only allowed on alternating sides of residential streets each night from November through March to ensure that there is room for plows to make their way through in the case of snow. Parking is not allowed at all on certain "snow routes." Given the current stresses on parking in Seattle, I don't imagine that such a plan could be implemented. Consequently, I'd have little hope that plows could ever navigate the majority of side streets that seem to be the limiting factor for most people in their commutes.

Anonymous said...

Imagine if more people could telecommute...

Of course, that doesn't help the retail situation, and me, I don't think that people will do as much Christmas shopping if the shopping has to be done after Christmas. Yes, they will buy the big items for their kids or whatever, but the small things, they'll skip. And those things add up.

Joseph Ratliff said...

I agree with Professor Mass...we need to at the very least reorganize our efforts to better handling of our snow storms.

Whatever resources are necessary...need to be implemented period.

When you put a self-imposed financial "choke hold" on any city...logic says there has to be negative consequences that outweigh the investment required in equipment and training to handle theses snowstorms better.

And the fact that snow storms of this magnitude don't happen very often in this area is an even STRONGER reason to be handling them better each time they DO happen.

A-Chan said...

This resistance to plowing and salting among Seattlites is beginning to appear pathological. (And by Seattle, I mean the entire region, not just the city limits.) To say there is zero net loss of economic activity is just bizarre. What about the entire service industry? What about the cost of delayed projects of all sorts? And to argue that Seattle snowfalls are somehow extraordinary is also crazy. 8 inch snowfalls in Chicago are not everyday occurences, but are nothing special. (And by the way, Chicago has had 20 inch snowfalls and the people expect the city to deal with it.) Yes, Seattle is hilly, greatly magnifying the problems caused by snow, but in a logical world, this would make snow removal even more of an imperative.
Finally, as Cliff has indicated, the cost of an effective snow removal program would be an insignificant fraction of the cost to fund a solution to our everyday transportation problems. It defies all reason to argue that these larger issues should all be fixed before dealing with snow removal.


What is the reason for this resistance, and why are people who point this out told to leave town?

JewelyaZ said...

So it looks like ~2 inches more on Wednesday and Thursday for Bellevue... we're just locked in place until Saturday and Sunday when it warms up and starts to rain (sweet, glorious rain!) LOL It's icing up here fast; temps are down to 30.5F at midnight.

Peter is right that plows are close to useless unless people can't park on the streets. Where do you think the snow GOES after it's plowed? To the sides of the blade... where the cars are parked. Do you really want a clear street with two rows of cars stuck behind 24" walls of compacted snow? It seems ironic but places like Bellevue might fare better under that plowing scheme than residential Seattle where people park on both sides of every street; at least in the 'burbs most people have a driveway to park in and don't put cars on the street so much.

I am in the "festival" and "telecommute" camps, I have to admit. I just can't get worked up over something that doesn't even happen every year. The schools are still going to close and that means those of us with kids and no bad-weather childcare are still screwed and will have to "work from home" no matter what.

Oh, and Anonymous... I know tons of people that are bailing on their last-minute Christmas shopping. They are not going to turn into last-minute New Year's shoppers, so that is serious lost revenue for the retailers. Que sera, sera.

By the way, I'm not a native but I love it here and don't plan to leave. Two of my three children were born at home on the Eastside and they are strongly rooted here, as am I, now. I don't understand the "love it or leave it" logic -- every place has flaws and ways it could get better. But this area has an incredible long list of positives that make our issues with the rare big storm seem like a reasonable inconvenience. After all, none of us left after the Dec 2006 windstorm, right?

Chris said...

My daughter photographed a snowplow going down 35th Ave. NE just a few blocks from 5-corners last week. BUT, as evidenced by our trip to Northgate from our house near the U-Village there was no sign of any sanding or plowing on 35th Ave. NE up to 80th, NE 75th Street between 35th and 5th Ave NE, 5 Ave. NE from Banner Way to Northgate.

Plus, yesterday when we walked to get groceries from Safeway at 5-corners (passing where I almost hit Cliff's wife on her bike with my car, sorry!), we noticed that not even the 45th Street viaduct had been plowed or sanded.

These are not minor arterials.

Also, we were notified that Seattle garbage pickup is a day late. Our pickup day is Friday. I did see one garbage truck today as it spun its tires on the arterial part of of 35th Ave. NE. Monday is now gone, and our garbage and recyclables are still not picked up.

Okay, the plows were there Thursday morning, where were they on Monday?!

By the way, I just want it to rain in the next few days. I've had enough snow, and Pete, Terry and I hope to hop on a plane to Disneyland on Friday (which looks like the best day to escape, if we get stuck in LA on the 30th, at least it is a few degrees warmer there!)

Chris (Peter's mom, the house with the special spot for Asimov on our bookshelves and the evil roses that hit Cliff in the face!)

signalius said...

Regarding buses; I've noticed that most non-articulated buses are stranded on uphill bus stops where they couldn't get going after stopping to let people on. They peel out a bunch, eventually shoot sparks off the chains and then throw them off in a tangle of twisted cable. Metro could benefit from a simple snow contingency plan where riders are alerted via a simple sign on uphill stops to walk to the next bus stop on level ground so buses don't lose crucial momentum while going up hills by stopping to let a few people on. I noticed on Fairview southbound this evening, a relatively minor grade, there was a stranded bus at each stop from losing momentum.

Anonymous said...

If we had light rail or subway, (like in other snowy cities such as Chicago, Boston, and Montreal), they could simply remove the snow from the tracks and keep the city moving. Hope Sound Transit has plans for some plows!

comradebunny said...

Telecommuting is the only reason my workplace continued functioning - only half the office could make it in last Thursday and Friday.

Then again, I work at an engineering firm, where plenty of work can be done remotely. Retail workers, janitorial staff, nurses, police officers, firepersons ... these are all people that cannot telecommute. We lose essential services and they lose income if they can't get into work.

With the hills and the freezes, every snowfall we get in Seattle is a major event. We can't leave these vital members of our community and economy stranded every other winter because our local government is in denial about our semi-annual meteorological crises.

signalius said...

As for light rail, the SLUT was shut down in pretty short order on account of the snow on the tracks. They should just stick a snowplow on the front of the damn thing. Hey! That's it! Get $2000 plows off eBay and put them on the buses! My work here is done.

rants n' raves said...

Regarding plowing I agree that:
1) Cost of plowing loses hand over fist to cost of lost productivity and tax revenue
2) There is severe lack of municipal responsibility
3) With economy hurting it is the worst time for them to fail. It has not only ruined the Christmas gifts for thousands, it prevented employees from getting to work and hitting them hard on their wallets. And it could have also provided hard to come by jobs for 10s of drivers from construction industry.

What I don't agree:
1) is the cost. Plowing cost is not just the cost of the plows. How about the cost of renting and operating plow trucks. Cost of hiring plow drivers. Cost of sand/salt. There is cost in running a big operation like that in terms of choosing when and where to apply those resources effectively on the fly.

Jeff said...

Sure, you can get a $2000 snow plow on ebay....... for a pickup truck! That may work great for a town like Elma, but can you imagine the state, counties, and cities around here trying to clear the roads with an electric 8' plow on a 3/4 ton pickup? I think everyone would then be laughing and then complaining about what a waste of money and an embarrassment it is.

And remember, that 2 grand you just unwisely spent doesn't magically give you a 4wd truck outfitted with a working blade and trained driver. It gets you an electric blade, not hydraulic, sitting on the ground.

Cliff Mass Weather Blog said...

All..the Seattle Times has an article on the city's lack of snow removal and the fact they won't use salt....

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2008551284_snowcleanup23m.html

..back to weather....

Ma said...

I would just add a note from my Midwest roots: it is standard practice to place plastic drums of sand/salt in neighborhoods around the city where I grew up for residence to monitor and take action for problematic hills or intersections themselves. It saves on labor and facilitates immediate action. If such things would have been widely available I am sure many of the backstreets would be much more passable now.

Thanks Cliff for the detail information!

Paul Walsh said...

Hi Cliff:

I lived in the Tacoma area for three years and currently live in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

Needless to say, roads are cleared alot faster out here, partly a result of the fact there is more equipment and partly due to the basic geography.

My recollection of snow and ice events in Pierce county was that -- because of the number of trees and shadows on the roads -- black ice was a lot more prevalent, a lot more long lasting, and a lot less detectable for drivers.

Scary!

Add to that the relative infrequency of snow events and the result is fewer people on the roads, more fender benders, and a larger impact on retail/commerce.

The result -- especially during the holiday shopping season -- is a huge economic hit caused by the costs associated with snow removal (and associated impacts) and the business interruption to commerce.

Managing financial weather risk can generally be handled in two basic ways:

1. Operational planning and efficiencies (e.g. increased snow removal capabilities)

2. Weather derivative financial instruments to help fund the increased costs of the operational efforts and/or to offset the costs associated with relatively infrequent , yet costly, weather events.

There is always more than one solution to a problem -- King/Pierce Counties (and the state of WA) may want to look at an intergrated approach to managing weather risk.

Or, not.

Paul Walsh
G2Weather.com

Anonymous said...

Cliff, I especially agree with your earlier comment about how King County should have the computers ready for high demand for the actual location of buses. I just spent 30 minutes at a #5 bus stop and no buses were coming in either direction. Meanwhile, more and more people were gathering at the stop, making it more likely that any bus that did show up would already be full of people. Aaarrgh!

Anonymous said...

It's true that there's plenty of lost productivity today at UW. However, until something changes regarding road maintenance, I think UW should close more often. I say this as a UW student who risked life and limb to come from the East side for an exam last winter. I asked my prof if I could reschedule the time for later in the day when the snow was predicted to clear out. He said that *as long as UW is open* he would not reschedule exams. About 30% of staff and students of the University come from the East Side. All of the East side schools were closed -- including UW Bothell. Instead of heeding the please of WSDOT to stay home, I inched past the jack-knifed articulated buses, the car spinouts, etc, and I went into the campus to meet an arbitrary deadline of a 9:30am exam. UW needs a better snow policy, including during times when the snow doesn't affect the campus directly.

For us, on the East side, we say to Seattle, "welcome to our world". Their experience of the last few days happens to us just about every year. It certainly did last year.

And in case you were wondering, the storm date I referred to was 1/28/2008

Clean ClutterFree Simple said...

In the Seattle Times this morning, an article states that Seattle refuses to use salt. It's bad for Puget Sound and bad for cars.

More plows seems like a good compromise to safely handle the weather and protect the Sound (and our cars).

One of the most distinctive aspects of a trip our family took back East last year was seeing so many rusted out cars, due to salt use.

Thanks for the thoughtful weather updates--your blog is our family weather resource these days!

Anonymous said...

In my last comment, I correct myself. "Pleas" not "please". It's funny how the typing fingers don't match the brain sometimes.

SUMMA POLITICO said...

here are my weather links:

1]


http://www.nrlmry.navy.mil/sat_products.html

2]

http://squall.sfsu.edu/crws/jetstream.html
3]
http://www.noaa.gov/
4]

http://www.elnino.noaa.gov/forecast.html
5]
www.pdc.org
6]
http://www.theweatherprediction.com/
7]

http://asp.usatoday.com/weather/CityForecast.aspx?txtSearchCriteria=Washington&sc=N
8]
http://www.spaceweather.com/
9]

http://wwwa.accuweather.com/index-radar.asp?partner=&zipcode=
10]

http://iwin.nws.noaa.gov/iwin/wa/state.html
11]

http://uk.weather.com/maps/intleurope.html

12]
http://ww2010.atmos.uiuc.edu/(Gh)/wwhlpr/pressure_units.rxml
13]

http://www.americanscientist.org/template/AssetDetail/assetid/51963?fulltext=true&print=yes

14]

http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2006/714/2?etoc




MICHAEL ROLOFF

Member Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society
this LYNX will LEAP you to all my HANDKE project sites and BLOGS:
http://www.roloff.freehosting.net/index.html

"MAY THE FOGGY DEW BEDIAMONDIZE YOUR HOOSPRINGS!" {J. Joyce}

"Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde" [von Alvensleben]

Tyler said...

Groing up in the north east snow seems more akin to traumatic flashbacks of endless hours of shoveling than a joy.

Cliff, are there and hypothesies on why the winds did not fully kick in with the significant differences in pressure during the Sat. event?

Heather said...

I appreciate your explanation of why the snow impacts us so much more in Seattle. Warm ground, slush turning to ice, etc. I hope the city will make the investment in more blades. That seems like a great investment to me.

Madisonian said...

If SDOT really has only 30 plow-ready trucks, then they should try a public-private partnership. Why not contract with a local excavation contractor for extra plowing during and after a big storm?

Second, it's not clear that they're using "best practices." 30 trucks, plowing 1500 miles of snow routes, each have to cover 50 miles per lap. They should be plowing and applying chemicals to achieve bare pavement. The secondary routes will be left snow covered for a week or so, and should get sand in braking and maneuvering zones only. These areas need a lot more sand than they're getting.

Third, the economic costs for even an hour of lost productivity must be staggering. The gross city product is more than 100 billion per year. That's several hundred million dollars a day. Now, it is true that sales tax collections may not be reduced all that much. Still, wouldn't it be better to spend, say, $100k to a contractor to double our snow removal capacity for a major storm?

Kathi and Bob said...

We just moved to the Northwest from the midwest and are finding your reports on the blog and NPR most helpful. I totally agree that it is crazy that the snow is not cleared from the roads. I've lived all over the country and through tons of winter weather and have never seen such poor road conditions last for so long. There is still some snow in spots on I-5 in Bellingham. We're hoping for return of the rain. Thanks for the education on the weather of the Pacific Northwest.

Madisonian said...

Excuse the double post, but @ 12:53, the streetcar went down due to frozen switches. Yes, the rail switches could easily have been heated, but it doesn't snow much in Seattle...

AJ said...

Reminds me of Michigan-- everyone stays home on odd days, weekends consist of either shoveling or cracking through cabin fever to hit the downtown strip, then everyone goes back to gloating about how the city's snow clearing capabilities are lacking and that there isn't a reliable way to get around.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your updates and the editorials. I like your math.

Michael said...

I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for these posts. I'm trained as an Physical Oceanographer, but managed, through a strange chain of events, to end up working as a forecast meteorologist for a large Chicago hedge fund a couple years back (on the energy desk, where I actually focused on the west coast power grid).

I was never quite able to get my hands on the Pacific NW winters... Especially here, there were so many variables I just couldn't quite grasp. I admit, I only discovered your blog with this system, but it's been fascinating to finally understand what's going on, and why.

While I am out of that world now (gave up the hedge fund over a year ago to become a programmer; never did really like the financial industry), I do try to at least follow the scientific sides of the forecasts a bit. Thank you very much for providing this service; it's wonderful to follow.

And, having recently moved from Chicago, I'm not going to comment on the issue of plows, except to say, I've telecommuted all week. If this were Chicago, this would have just been normal operating conditions. Yeah, different world, but I certainly agree with your points.

Anonymous said...

Cliff and readers: Is there a community blog in which people report street conditions in their section of town? Looking at the cameras of a clear freeway doesn't do much for figuring how to get out of the neighborhood at the moment.
We are on top of Queen Anne and the routes that have been plowed and sanded the last thirty years we've been here apparently didn't get that service. Perhaps a smattering of sand on Kinnear now covered by newer ice and snow. Only way to get information seems to be to drive to routes and take one's chances. Other options for information? Thank you all.

Julia said...

Something that's being overlooked in the snow removal discussion is that even if we had more snow removal equipment we'd be short on trained and experienced operators like the WS-DOT employees and contractors who work on the passes. Snow removal isn't something you can pick up from a correspondance class.

This is equally true for the bus situation: not a small amount of the problem with bus service is that drivers are inexperienced. This is not a matter of fault, just fact: you don't maintain specialized physical skills if you don't use them regularly.

The biggest problem, though, is that for too many of us, especially those of us who live in suburbs built from the end of WW2 on the worst road conditions we face are the ones the half-mile or so starting at our garage doors. The classic suburban development of inter-fingered cul de sacs and courts, especially the ones built to maximize views, are never going to be cleared in this kind of weather, unless Homeowners or Neighborhood Associations get together and buy small-scale equipment. Getting out and shovelling your driveway, of all the non-webfoot activities, also helps in the long term, because if you need chains to get to your house and park safely, but leave them on for the entire commute, you're costing transportation dollars with extra road-surface damage.

Of course I'm writing this trapped at the top of a classic horrible Western Washington driveway, one built for horses around 1890 or so, steeo, narrow, twisty, and facing north so that it never actually thaws until temperatures rise above 50.

In any case: Union Mills overnight low Monday AM 18.9, with an additional 3 inches of snow between midnight and 8am Monday. Monday high 32.4, overnight low 28 even, currently 29.8. Cars going by at 15 mph or less. Overcast, dark, and the birds have eaten half a pound of seed since 8am.

Anonymous said...

This is a neighborhood blog for QA:http://www.queenanneview.com/2008/12/23/morning-will-be-icy-slick/#comments

Neighboring blogs (MyBallard.com, Phinneywood.com, etc.) frequently have overlapping info re: traffic, roads.

These blogs have very active posters -- if you post your question re: Kinnear, you'll likely get a quick response.

Dorothy said...

As for the debate on economic loss, The 1996 snowfall covered similar time frame and the big losses then were things like the Science Center, Museums, etc, that usually get lots of revenue from visitors over the holiday. That was significant for them. Did retail take a hit as well? I don't remember.

If Seattle had lots more regular buses instead of articulated ones, we could have better service year round. Many routes, I believe, in regular weather would increase ridership if there were buses every 10 minutes instead of 30. Plus you could carry 3x the number of bicycles on buses, encouraging that convenience and ridership as well. And it would provide jobs for more drivers. Win-Win. Then we would have more snow-worthy buses for these times.

Cliff Mass Weather Blog said...

Historical note: In 1997 this snowplow issue was a major political topic. Charlie Chong, a city councilman, found that a dozen or so snowplow suitable for trucks were available used for $1000 each. Seattle turned them down and they were purchased and used by Bellevue. Was a major impetus...if I rememember correctly...for Chong's run for mayor.

Fixing metro's web servers (which again are failing) should not be expensive...they could even lease the capacity when needed from Amazon.com (Ed Lazowska, a well-known computer scientist at the UW suggested this to me).

The roads this morning are terrible...even on major streets. Large sheets of ice. I suspect the use of salt a few days every few years would not hurt either the environment or our cars very much.

Johanna said...

Flurries are starting on Bainbridge- anyone else getting some early?

Marisa said...

Regarding neighborhood blogs: the Central District has http://www.centraldistrictnews.com, which has been providing outstanding updates for the wintry weather (and is where I found a link to this blog).

Regarding 'where the snow goes' during winter weather events - in places with snow management plans, it does NOT just get pushed to the side. Montreal might not get frequent large snowfalls, but Minneapolis certainly did, and had many months of below-freezing temps. Without snow REMOVAL, the entire city would basically just have filled up. The city (and private contractors) truck snow out after heavy snowfalls.

Regarding parking: in Minneapolis and St. Paul, at least, they didn't have restricted parking all winter long (like here, there is far too little parking in many areas, and that would be madness). Instead, when it snowed, the city would (sometimes) declare a "snow emergency," which would trigger emergency parking rules. (In St. Paul: http://www.ci.stpaul.mn.us/index.asp?NID=905 and in Mpls: http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/snow/parking-info.asp)

Anonymous said...

I suspect that Cliff underestimates the costs for snow removal by several orders of magnitude. The costs are not simply snowplows for existing trucks. The most expensive bit is what to do with the snow if you are using plows to concentrate it in different areas. Cities with significant and persistent snowfall and cover have designated areas to pile the snow. When one plows the streets in Seattle there is no where to put the snow. If it is simply pushed to the side, it blocks parking sidewalks and driveways. Streets in Anchorage, Buffalo, or Denver are designed with additional width for berms of snow as well as draconian parking rules that allow opposite sides of the street to be plowed on alternate days. They have designated locations to dump snow as well. The costs of widening the streets and creating dump areas would be very high. It would be interesting to see if Seattle Public Works has done an analysis of the comparative costs. In Olympia, where I am today, plowing has created as many problems as it has solved because it blocks driveways and sidewalks.

Michael said...

You argue that there are economic costs to unplowed streets. But if we spent $500,000 every few years on snow plows -- not to mention all the other costs of extra plowing -- we'd have $500,000 less for routine road maintenance. This, too, would have economic costs.

Ms Maggi said...

This is close to what I've been saying for the last few days. I'm from Vermont, and have lived in Colorado, so am no stranger to winter conditions, but the roads here are treacherous! I've been here for 12 years, and have witnessed 3 major storms which wreaked havoc on the Northwest. I can't remember but after the one back in '96(?) , Seattle ended up getting s FEW more plows. The thing that really gets me is the lack of sanding. And, yes, salt is not so good environmentally, but in worse-case scenarios such as this, I feel it would be a welcome addition that could save dozens upon dozens, maybe 100s of accidents, and keep the city near to business as usual.

I have a Subaru AWD, but haven't been able to afford new tires just yet(they are going on the card here as soon as my mechanic can get me in!) I am okay, put-putting around at 20 mph, in second low, but not so sure about others sliding around next to me! I ordered some chains(never have used them before in my life!) last week, but because of the adverse weather condtitions, my delivery has been delayed. I was going to go snowboarding today but am just laying on the couch, in hopes of seeing UPS pull up! Guess I'll go up next Tuesday : (

I love what Paul said.. "My suggestion would be for the city to purchase a couple hundred plow blades (like everyone in Maine has mounted on their pickup), train a squad of snow-freaks in a volunteer fire department fashion and turn them loose on the city once the flakes start falling."

Anonymous said...

According to the Times, the plows aren't even really doing the job we'd expect them to. They're just packing down the ice (and not doing a good job at that, witness any intersection along 3rd avenue), not salting them, and not sanding them nearly enough.

I wonder what our situation would be like if they did the job "right".

A-Chan said...

I knew that the city does not use salt but was stunned to learn that it does not even try to remove the ice from the streets. I've said it before and I'll say it again: This is nothing short of insane.


As for cost, Chicago budgets about $20 million a year for snow removal; labor, salt,and fuel make up just about all of the budget. Seattle has about 40% the area and many fewer snow events, so I'm guessing---factoring in Seattle's more challenging topography---that
$4 million would be more than sufficient. That's less than $20 a household.

Ms Maggi said...

This link sums up NW road maintenance, or lack
thereof..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Ratn_Wl8XU

This is a video of a slew of accidents on an icy Portland street
last winter.

Kevin Purcell said...

For thoese interesting on following mesoscale forecasts (i.e. the snowfall plots, the SLP/925mb temp/wind and so on) use the MM5 web page at UW.

http://www.atmos.washington.edu/mm5rt/

Choose the model type and domain (see the top left of Cliff's plots ... WRF-GFS, MM5-NAM at 36km, 12knm or 4km). Then select the plot type (some come in different "sizes") and choose the loop or a single particluar hour to view (all are offset fromt he start of the run: 0 == 4am PST, 3 == 7am PST).

All forecasts start at 4am PST (ie. 12 UTC) or 4pm PST (ie. 0 UTC) it says on the page.

Anonymous said...

"Charlie Chong, a city councilman, found that a dozen or so snowplow suitable for trucks were available used for $1000 each. Seattle turned them down and they were purchased and used by Bellevue. Was a major impetus...if I rememember correctly...for Chong's run for mayor."

And if I recall correctly, it wasn't until several years later that Bellevue actually used those plows, because it took that long for there to be a snow that justified plowing. You may remember that Charlie lost big time running for mayor. I loved him as a populist needler on the City Council and he got my vote every time, but as a Mayor he would have been a complete disaster, causing far more economic disruption than this snow storm has. But this is no place to discuss politics...

benjaminpark said...

I'm going to have to agree with Paul, though maybe more in spirit than in letter.

Even if meaningful snowfall occurs only every few years around here (I'm a MN native, and spent the last 9 years in PA and NJ), the dangerous road conditions I saw over the past few days were inexcusable. If you can't tell people to stay off of the roads (well...you could by law, which is what happened in Jersey just a couple of years ago, but that didn't happen), then you need to make them safe.

Independent contractors are the answer for side streets and malls. The local cities and counties should provide tax breaks and other incentives for landscapers and other full sized pickup truck operators (we've got enough of 'em out here) to buy snow plow blades, then sign a "play-to-pay" deal: make medium term deals (3-5 years) with operators that pay them a nominal amount just to own the blades, then in seasons when the snow falls, provide significant bonuses for the amount of snow removed.

love your show on 94.5!

Anonymous said...

I love your snowplow comments. It is really quite ridiculous that a major city that DOES get snow is paralyzed every so often because it isn't prepared at a very basic level. I despise Tim Eyman, but a populist uprising seems to be needed here...

Anonymous said...

So the no-plan of Seattle and other localities is to maintain compact snow and ice. Few plows, no salt, no mail, no newspapers, no garbage pickup, few buses, very bumpy and slick roads. It's been a week now. I think we can do better then this. Life is supposed to come to a halt?? Why do we put up with this.

dancilhoney said...

You've come highly recommended and we look forward to an uneventful snow plowing season. Same as snow removal saint charles