December 24, 2008

10 AM Update

Wet snow is still hanging on in central Puget Sound...but precip has switched to rain in parts of NW Washington (e.g., north Whidbey, Bellingham) and in the south sound near Tacoma. The profiler at Seattle Sand Point shows temps near 32F in the lower atmosphere...classic melting pattern (see figure, height is in meters, temp in C--really something called virtually temp which is .5 to 1 C above the actual temperature). Above 800 m I would not believe it. Times are in GMT--17 GMT is 9 AM.
A place that can remain snow and really get more accumulation is the if you are in the lower hood canal ready.
The character of the precipitaiton will change in next few hours from steady to more showery as the firs disturbance moves through. We will probably warm enough to make the showers rain below 500 ft...but if there intensity is enough snow can come back.

Snow Removal (if you don't like this stuff don't read it!)

Lots of you have commented about the lamentable snow removal in the city. Anyway, if I was the "snow czar" this is what I would do:

1. Acquire and be ready to use salt on the roads.
2. Triple the number of snowplows and use steel blades instead of the rubber ones. These units can be placed on city trucks. If necessary, contract with the private sector for more equipment, as they do in the eastern U.S. for snow emergencies.
3. Change the snow removal strategy to the immediate removal of snow off primary and secondary roads so we don't end up with thick, chunky ice we have today. Don't let it accumulate and freeze.

4. Work with Metro to establish a rational snow strategy. This would include moving buses to routes where they won't be endangered until the roads are cleared. Thus, you don't take so many buses off the roads or abandon them, but redirect them strategically before they get stuck. Have MORE buses on some routes (such as major routes in and out of downtown).

5. Make sure Metro's online bus tracker web pages are robust enough to handle the load. It is critical that the population knows where the buses in real time. We have the technology to do this--they just haven't sized their computer servers properly. And the bus tracker software should be made more prominent...not hidden as the current approach.


  1. It is snowing in Bellingham near Lake Whatcom. It has been snowing for at least an hour.

  2. First! :-) And still snowing in Phantom Lake/Bellevue, though my approximometer (too close to the house) says 34.5F.

  3. I am right at around 500 feet. Not sure if we will stay snow or not (Sammamish).

  4. I don't think the Bus Tracker actually does real time tracking. My understanding is that it's a "theoretical" tracker, based on where the bus SHOULD be. But yes, it should track in real time.

    I looked at our local traffic cams (Sammamish). There are many people on the road even though our local roads are probably still pretty slick. It occurs to me that now is probably the worst time to drive. People who are sick of being cooped up and risking all to get out, and maybe shouldn't get out....Once it rains and we have a thin film of rain over the ice, things will be especially bad.

  5. It's raining in Freeland on South Whidbey and the temp is well above freezing. The sun is trying to come out, even. I finally got my car dug out!

  6. Odd combo here in Lake City (ridge just east of Fred Meyer @ NE 130th). Steady snow with temps warm enough to cause snow to drop off the trees. Reminds me a little of the rain shower/sunshine combo.

  7. It has been snowing heavily in Carnation since at least 7am when I woke up. We've gained another 3 or 4 inches this morning with no signs of it letting up. It simply could not be more beautiful. I'm going to sit back and enjoy it because it will be gone too soon. Hey this may be the only snow we get this winter! Merry Christmas.

  8. AMEN to the snow removal plan. Since city makes money on business taxes, it seems to make sense to support the success of businesses in these situations. The state of WA and city of Seattle is not going to be collecting NEARLY the revenue expected simply due to the horrible road conditions and poor support of public transit.

  9. So how do we get you appointed Snow Czar?! Like, RIGHT NOW?!

  10. Note: I know that Metro Tracker says that it's a real time tracker; however, given the fact that the web site states that if buses are re-routed the tracker doesn't work, it can't be truly real-time.

  11. I think we need a Draft Cliff for Seattle Mayor campaign.

  12. As a professional employee at the UW, I wanted to correct the false impression about UW policy and "lost productivity" left by previous commentators. Here is the official UW policy re suspended operations:

    Leave Use and Compensation
    Classified Non-Union, Contract-Classified, Overtime-Eligible Professional Staff

    Any employee on previously scheduled leave at the time the University suspends operations continues to charge the absence to the appropriate leave type.

    Classified non-union, contract classified and overtime eligible professional staff employees may account for missed work time by using:

    annual leave,
    personal holiday (full-day absence only),
    accrued compensatory time,
    or leave without pay.

    Missed work time may be made up within 90 days.

    Make up time worked by full-time employees in overtime covered positions is credited at time and one-half. The amount of compensatory time earned by working "make-up" hours should not exceed the amount of time missed by the employee during the period of suspended operations.

    Make up time worked by employees not earning overtime is credited at straight time.


    Thus, as one can see, there is virtually no lost productivity at the UW when it suspends operations, as few employees can afford to choose "leave without pay" as an option. If an employee chooses to accrue compensatory time, they are making up the work lost during the time off.

    UW employees may read this policy at the UWIN site by clicking on the orange banner, wherein they are also referred to this weather blog by Cliff Mass, a most useful local resource.

    Thanks for allowing me this opportunity to set the record straight regarding the policy of the UW and its hardworking staff.


  13. Thanks a lot for all the info these past few days. You have been a good source for detailed information in a time when there is so much unknown to us lay people. I also appreciate your honesty about you level of uncertainty in your forecasts. Thanks.

  14. I think the real solution to transportation in snow is deeply systemic: More density, subways, and a culture that doesn't panic about having to take a break from work. I'm as stir crazy as anyone, but hardly think it's a rational response to ask the government to control the weather, which is essentially what people want. Sometimes things are bigger than it makes sense to build systems to handle. Let's solve the problems that happen all year long first.

  15. Don't blame me, I voted Cliff Mass for Snow Czar!

  16. Cliff - I really appreciate the time you take to blog about our local weather. I am a big fan. However, I must question your editorial calling for the use of salt on roads. Salt is very effective at melting snow and ice but at the cost of freshwater species and reduced vehicle life. Studies on the east cost have shown that the environmental cost is huge and have recommended that its use should be curtailed as much as possible. It seems at odds that you have such respect for the natural environment when it comes to weather but so little when it comes to species other than humans. The City is using an salt alternative but it isn't effective unless you plow the roads first. That being said, your comments about buses and plows are right on target!

  17. The Bus Tracker is real-time, but it is based primarily on real-time reports of the bus's odometer rather than GPS location. That's why it stops working when the bus leaves its route.

    I heartily agree on Cliff's bus service comments--it's ridiculous the way that Metro basically decided to give up.

  18. Olalla: Still 34 here as it was at 7ish. It's snowed all morning, but wet enough that I had to go out and clean the satellite dish. (It works well through snow if it's dry enough, but ice or wet snow takes it down.)
    I'd guess 3 inches new snow.

    - Pete

  19. Stop whining, buy a Subaru. This happens how often? I commute 90+ miles a day (from/to Seattle), haven't missed a day yet this winter. In 3 days you'll forget about all the horrid snow and commence whining about the rain again...

  20. From

    But won't any foreign substance cause a freezing point depression, according to this model? Yes! For every mole of foreign particles dissolved in a kilogram of water, the freezing point goes down by roughly 1.7-1.9°C. Sugar, alcohol, or other salts will also lower the freezing point and melt the ice. Salt is used on roads and walkways because it is inexpensive and readily available.

  21. Just swept the old snowboard here on North Beacon Hill in Seattle--3.2 inches for this latest event.I`m up to 21.0" for December and 11 inches on the ground, both records in my 34 years in this location. Pretty impressive for an urban setting!It`s now a RS- mix here.
    I just looked at the latest medium range models. It looks like a classic heavy snow pattern in the cascades for about the next 10 days: cool moist NW flow.Cliff, any projection on the estimated snowfall during this period at Mt.Baker,SMP,and Pardise? I would not be suprised if 100 to 200 inches fall.
    Speakiing about the snow removal situation,I would like to note that it is lucky for a certain Seattle politician that there is no mayoral race coming up.Back in January 1979, snow in Chicago piled up to a depth of 28 inches, and an inept snow removal system ended up costing the incumbent mayor his job!

  22. Just stopped snowing in Pt. Orchard. But breezy. Powers been flickering. Thanks Cliff, your Blog has been a life saver during these storms. And yes-Buy a Subaru-we've gone everywhere w/o problems. It's actually been hard to even get our Outback to slide around!

  23. Here in East Renton, at about 96 feet elevation, it's snowing like mad. I went to bed at 1 AM and it was still dry, now we have at least 5 inches of NEW accumulation. Temp is 32.4 (uup from 31 an hours ago), and we've been alternating between big fllakes and small.

  24. Luke, I think you should read the Seattle Times today. Environmentalists say that sand is worse than salt. Of course, I think it's all subject to debate. Both substances have the potential of environmental harm. Maybe if we can use BOTH during these extreme times, we won't have to use as much of either.

  25. Addition to the snow removal equipment, steel blades and serrated steel blades to break up the ice and compacted snow.
    From Skagit county

  26. Amen on the snow removal comments - I am not sure if Cliff would want to wear the "snow czar" crown... As per the UW "loss of productivity": "Suspension of Operations" it a weasel phrase that tells employees not to come, it also states they won't get paid if they don't come in; on paper,it is no different than a sick day. If they declared a "Closure", employees would be paid. I have been walking to work rather than not get paid, but my co-workers who live further don't have this option; having taken two tumbles on the sidewalk on the way home yesterday, I am opting to stay at home today. As per the blog politics policy, I won't comment on the UW's Orwellian sleight of hand that converts a very real "Closure" into a "Suspension of Operations" ...

  27. Hear hear! Cliff for snow czar!

  28. I have to complain-I know this is a rare occurance but...Yesterday as we were driving in Bremerton, a sanding truck(out from PSNS) passed us going in the opposite direction. He turned on the sand and BLASTED our car from about 3-4 feet away(along w/ 4 other cars) then as we drove on our tires started squealing from the sand. Thank goodness I was able to find an empty dish soap bottle at our destination that I filled w/ hot H2O and was able to spray behind the brake pads and whatever else to get the sand out. But for awhile I was pretty ticked that he might've messed up our wheels or paint. There, I've ranted-but thank you every other sander that hasn't done that to our car.

  29. Cliff, disappointed to hear you advocate for the use of salt. The eviro scientists I've talked to agree that additional salt is bad for the sound, which is already in terrible shape. Did you consult with your local expert resources at UW before coming to your conclusion that salt is a solution?

  30. In addition, to anonymous who mentioned the Seattle Times article... sounds like the Times article was a bit misleading. Some counterreporting from The Stranger:

    The Seattle Times defends yesterday’s pro-salting-the roads article—which argued city officials are negligent in not salting roads—with today's headline: “Sand on roads worse than salt, environmentalists say.” But what does the environmentalist actually say? "In general, what my colleagues have found, and I have found, is that sand actually has a greater impact, at least on stream systems," says University of Dayton (Ohio) professor Eric Benbow, an aquatic ecologist. Holy halibut, Seattle Times, the issue—according to the Seattle Department of Transportation—isn’t streams, it’s Puget Sound.

  31. It's stopped snowing at 300' here in Woodinville, but that's probably temporary.

    They aren't using plows over here, didn't see any. The thick, wet, brown, sanded snow isn't any better for traction than the hard-packed stuff.

    I've changed my mind about using salt. Yes, salt sucks. But: The east-coasters use tons of it for 4 months out of every year. For a 20-year storm (for us) like this, using it 3-4 times out of a couple weeks every so often isn't going to kill very many fish. And it'll save some broken bones and some economy too.

    The big problem is getting and keeping enough salt. Can't keep it outside, so it's gonna cost some bucks. The sand they are using will have far more of an environmental impact than the salt will.

    The plows aren't doing anyone any good. Neither is the sand. Those blue crystal de-icer chemicals containing gosh-only-knows-what is probably worse for the env than salt would be.

  32. yes!! for more buses on some main Aurora and Rainier Aves

  33. Holy halibut, how does the sand get into Puget Sound? via streams/waterways!

  34. I personally think the whole sand vs. salt debate is silly... we're talking about using these things once a year at most... and we all do more harm to the environment washing and driving our cars (if we drive them) or buying food from far away or any of the other thousands of things we do... bought anything from China lately?

    Of course we should MINIMIZE the impacts as much as possible. We shouldn't go crazy putting down salt on snow which is clearly going to melt within twenty-four hours. But these big events, where it's clear the snow is going to hang around for a while, really do need a different kind of response.

    What Cliff's advocated makes a lot of sense to me. I lived in New Jersey for twelve years and while the environment there wasn't perfect, lots of people DID care about it and they did use salt on the roads to save lives in car crashes. Until gas is $10/gallon we're going to have to deal with these issues... people will keep driving until it's too painful to do so.

    BTW, here in Bellevue it's 35.4F and it looks like it's mostly rain now. I hope we don't get too much of this. I am worried about the roofs!

  35. My understanding is that the bus tracker system is rather antiquated and so is based on stationary receiver stations that the buses talk to as they pass by. So if a bus takes a non-standard route it can miss the stations and so not show up in the system. Ideally this will be upgraded at some point to use the cellular phone networks and gps instead...

    The bus situation in general though just highlights the lip-service-only approach of Seattle to public transportation.

    The other great thing about Seattle's plowing is that only the up-hill sides of streets like 85th are being plowed. If you are going down the hill you are on your own!

  36. If Seattle was to use salt for any snow event, then the might be consider liable if not used on all events. If you open the door a crack, .......

    I smell lawsuits.

    If we want to pay for new bridges and bridge decks, then salt would be fine. I'm sure the structural engineers and construction materials suppliers would support the use of salt, although the structural engineers would be opposed to it in public.

  37. Pooh, we went to rain here in Sammamish. I was really hoping 500 ft would keep us in the snow. Now it's just a slushy mess.

  38. Ballard update: Nothing falling at all, but what has fallen over the past few hours has been rain. Also, things are melting quicker than I thought they would!

    I took a little walk to check out the roads - thought I would post it in case it helps anyone trying to get around out there: 20th NW, hard packed snow just starting to turn to slush in areas: 65th near 15th NW, very slushy, with some ice chunks, but it's highly traveled so there are some pretty good tracks cut out; 15th NW, looked totally clear except for snow in the center turn lane.

    I haven't been to NW Market, but it has generally been worse than 15th NW, but better than 20th NW.

  39. First step: meet with officials from any major Eastern city to see how they do it. Don't even attempt to invent a new Seattle version - we'd prioritize fish not people and last time I checked fish don't drive.

  40. To 'stop whining, buy a Subaru':

    I have been getting around with a Eurovan and chains with no problem other than other nutty drivers(great skiing at the pass on Monday, by the way). But what about the less fortunate? In our neighborhood of Madrona, people haven't had bus service since this whole thing started (see Joel Connelly's article in today's PI). What are they supposed to do? Just buy a Subaru?

    It seems that all this city needs to do is a relatively small investment (cheaper than a streetcar line to South Lake Union) in getting detachable plows for some of its pickup trucks (like the City Parks ones), and also contract with some places with graders for these kind of situations. You should have seen Madison Street last night about 4PM. It was a traffic jam full of ice potholes from the Madison Valley to downtown. Madison St. is adjacent to the largest complex of hospitals in the state. What kind of city runs like this? I hope we never get a serious earthquake in my lifetime.

    As for not using metal plows because of street damage, I have to wonder about how much damage occurs from people spinning there chains on pavement while dealing with ice potholes (saw much of this yesterday), and other damage related to the ice potholes, freeze thaw, and associated driving problems. I have to think it's alot worse than some blade scrapes.

  41. Taking a couple power hits here, enough to beep the UPS's. The snow weight on trees is bending them to the point where they snap. I am really glad I had the 150' leaner cut down a couple weeks back, it would have come down on the roof of my house.

    The reason they are only plowing the uphill sides of the streets is this:

    If you lose traction going downhill, momentum carries you into the next car, where you exchange insurance info and move on down the hill.

    If you lose traction going uphill, the sideslip force from the tires spinning unequally carries you into the ditch, and there your car stays till a tow truck comes along some time next week.

    The buses have internet connections now, and every cell phone sold these days has a GPS receiver. They should just put a GPS into the bus, sounds academic to me...

  42. North end of the Sammamish Plateau - 34.5 degrees and it just stopped snowing for the first time since 5am. 4+" of new wet snow. The sky is actually getting brighter as well.

  43. Union Mills, noonish: 34.1 brisk breeze out of the SW, partly cloudy. I find myself tempted to hope that the Pacific system is winning; is this wrong of me?

  44. JewelyaZ

    Bravo, best post of the bunch and very, very sensible.

    Luke and others...

    My oh my, do you really think the environment will be devastated on the once every few years we have to salt the roads? No, it will not.

    The city is using "environmental" reasons to cover up its incompetence and we have lemming greens that are willing to buy it hook, line, and sinker. I mean, it could not be that Seattle is just AWFUL with snow removal?

    I care about the environment too, but having to use salt once in a blue moon will not be what kills the salmon runs.

    We also have city officials trying to downplay EXACTLY HOW OFTEN this happens. Camco in another thread was aping their lines, calling this a "20-year event". Bunk, pure bunk. We had even more snow in 1996 and the exact same problems. We had another event in 1990, and several good ones in the 1980s. Big snow dumps happen about every 5 years or so here. The only thing unusual is that it was 12 years since the last one. What does this say about preparedness for other emergencies and disasters? Will we have posters defending the City when they can't respond to an earthquake? "Well, this was a 200-year event you see and removing rubble can cause environmental damage to the air and local bird populations and..."

    Stay safe everyone.

  45. Snow Czar - road salt is bad for the fish (and the rest of the Sound), plus it rusts your car, and in tight budget times it doesn't make sense to spend alot of tax dollars to stock up on trucks that we only use once a decade - which is about how often it snows like this.

    The plows are rubber tipped so that they don't pop the turtles off the road (those drive-by-braille things between lanes) - replacing those would be an additional cost.

    Agreed that main routes should be plowed and buses routed to them - this worked in Tacoma and it's unclear why Seattle didn't follow suit.

  46. As per the UW "loss of productivity": "Suspension of Operations" it a weasel phrase that tells employees not to come, it also states they won't get paid if they don't come in

    The policy is posted directly above and clearly state that employees do get paid. Just for your information, employees are also paid for sick days.

    Please stop propagating lies on this blog about the UW and its employees.

  47. Anne

    Using salt what, "once every decade", will not rust your car. It will not kill the fish either.

    Goodness gracious folks, how many of you have lived in a city where it snows regularly? I suppose Seattle is banking on a lot of its citizens not knowing any better.

    Sand has environmental impacts too y'know, as does having the plows go out again and again, and what about traffic accidents?

    What about lost sales tax revenue during the Christmas season if you only want to think of the $$$?

  48. I just moved here from Minnesota a couple of years ago. Many of the smaller towns have opted not to use salt, but they have plenty of plow blades per resident, so they keep the streets immaculately plowed and graded. Plus, the temps there are SO low that the snow stays frozen and packed--it's not what we call the "greasy" snow that comes when the temps warm up a bit.

    I live in South Lake Union, by the way, where at 12:30 PM nothing is falling from the sky and the temperature is 37.

    We're now entering into the "snirt" phase of this event (snow + dirt = "snirt").

  49. And a couple responses to other commenters.

    East coast cities don't have hills like this, and they don't care much for the environment. I would rather the Puget Sound not look like the Hudson River, but that's just because I think caring for the greenery and the fish is an important part of living here.

    If you don't buy the salt-hurts-fish argument, how about the salt rusts your car argument - as in, you will be out-of-pocket for whatever is eaten away from your undercarriage.

    Even if, at most, a storm like this comes once every 5 years, that is not often enough to justify a huge investment in snow equipment, especially when there are other more immediate needs for scare budget dollars.

    Drivers are stupid. It's not the city's fault if your cocky ass thought you could rev your two-wheel-drive Honda up Queen Anne Hill and have it be ok.

    People here are universally understanding if you can't get to work because of the snow - so don't be a dumbasss, don't drive fast, don't drive stupid, and don't go out if you don't know how to drive in the snow.

  50. Thanks Cliff - a voice of reason in a mountain of political correctness. I'm afraid it looks like change is in and common sense is out.

    And I was wondering of Sound Transit qualifies as an oxymoron?

    Keep up the good work!

  51. @theartist

    Um, how do you know? Are you an environmental scientist?

  52. Here's a little ray of sunshine... though it is sort of OT... I worked for the City of Seattle for ten months a few years ago. Out of deep geeky curiosity, I read the ENTIRE earthquake response plan suite of documentation. I was very impressed. If they manage to bring about even half of the earthquake response in the plan, we will be well-served by our government in dealing with the aftermath of a big earthquake... though of course they can't control property loss and loss of life.

    If they devoted even 5% as much brainpower, resources, and political will towards the snow/ice problem, the streets would be clear pretty fast after a storm. But we can't afford it, and except during an exceptional event, there's not a movement demanding it, so we'll never get it here.

    You've probably seen the Three Days, Three Ways city ads... they are doing some emergency preparedness education around earthquakes.

    I'm comfortable with the city's level of effort around getting ready for the inevitable "big one" -- though I'm an East Coaster at heart and so it scares the crap out of me in a way that a hurricane, northeaster, or tornado does not -- that's a personal problem. LOL

    If you take the steps needed to get your family set up to be completely self-sufficient for three to ten days (and I'd lean towards the latter, personally) you will be OK barring any injuries or property damage in any of these emergencies, weather-related or otherwise.

    I may be a bleeding-heart socialist but even I believe that nobody else is going to take care of you when these things happen. As soon as my family is safe, we'll immediately start helping the older and fragile people in our neighborhood, of course, because we don't expect government to do much for them right away. If we all do these things, then the government can concentrate on resolving infrastructure issues that are beyond the resources of any of us as individuals, and things will get back to normal as quickly as possible.

  53. Snowing fast and furiously with 33F temp here above 500ft between Poulsbo and Silverdale on the Kistap Peninsula. Kids are out sledding. Hot chocolate at the ready.

  54. Anne

    You might ask yourself that question Anne, are you an environmental scientist? But if that's the litmus you want to use, what about the scientists talking about the environmental impacts of sand? Read all about it in the Seattle Times. Cliff also knows something of science, otherwise why are you here? And did you know that there is this wonderful process called "dilution". It works like this, you put some salt on the roads, it melts the snow, which mixes with the salt. That salt goes through a lot of other water before it hits the watershed, reducing salinity. And why even compare us to the East Coast, are you aware of the differences in frequency of snowfall? NOAA has excellent stats if you'd like to educate yourself.

    The fact of the matter is you have bought into a silly argument. Nor do you have to have a PhD in environmental science to see that salting once every few years is NOT going to kill the fish off. It is also NOT going to damage your car, and that is from personal experience in having lived in a much snowier city than Seattle and one that salts. If the environment is truly priority 1, then why not put a moratorium on development in the city limits? Oh wait, there's $$$ to be made for the city there. Stop defending the city, its actions speak for themselves.

    With uncleared roads, what is certain is more car collisions, more accidents. And how naive to think that all employers will be understanding. Newsflash, but some are NOT understanding, demanding that their employees come in regardless of the conditions.


    Unfortunately, having some background in disaster response and preparedness, the city's plans for both snow and earthquakes look great on paper, yet the real test is in application. We have seen the application of the snow plan and found it lacking. The real test of an earthquake (not the dress rehearsal we had back in 2001) is of concern. Goodness gracious, the region still cannot handle windstorms (also, which it keeps downplaying as rarer events when the opposite is true).

  55. snowing hard here just south of Seabeck on Hood Canal. Snowing all day long, again, all day...oh, and night. IT'S GREAT! but I'm sure hoping it stops soon.

  56. Some thoughts from a met who studies weather patterns of the past:

    When we get into these weather patterns, they tend to repeat themselves. We have had big snow years in the past; (68-69, 49-50) are two that come to mind. If we have to look forward to the Seattle political correct crowd who runs things, we may well have a very expensive (business and school) impact in Seattle this year due to the lack of use of salt. Our lives will also be in danger (traffic accidents, immobility, etc)

    Thought: what is more important, human life of a few fish?
    What causes more pollution: some salt on roads - or crashes, stalled traffic, etc. How many people lose heat in their homes when someone crashes into a power pole?

    We need to think end-to-end not in sound bite sized thoughts and political correctness.

    If we had another month like Jan 69 or Jan 50 we are doomed for a bad season in this new political climate.

  57. The Metro AVL (Automatic Vehicle Location?) system predates GPS. Here is how it worked 10 years ago, take this with a grain of salt but I haven't heard or seen anything to indicate that it has changed.

    The system is real-time within 2-3 minutes as long as the bus sticks to its scheduled route.

    The AVL system knows what route the bus is scheduled to take (the driver enters his run as part of startup). Buses are polled via radio every 2-3 minutes and send back their odometer reading. The AVL system tracks progress along the scheduled route. In addition, there are signposts, which are low-power radio transmitters. When a bus passes a signpost, the AVL system uses the known position of the signpost to compensate for odometer drift. The AVL system knows when buses should pass signposts based on mileage and flags a bus as being off-route if it misses a certain number of signposts (I think two).

    This system is based on knowing where the bus should be. If it goes off-route, there is no way to tell where it actually is. This is where GPS would be nice.

    There are two Metro tracker applications which use the AVL data. For Map View, the mileage along the route is converted into a geographical position so that the bus can be displayed on the map. You can see that the position is only updated every 2-3 minutes. The Location View uses current positions and historical data to make predictions.

  58. I wholeheartedly agree with your snow removal plan. Cliff Mass for Mayor!

  59. It just started snowing at 500 ft. on the west side of San Juan Island. The temp at my place is about 34 F. It's snowing quite hard, though we had a significant amount of melting until now.

  60. 1. Acquire and be ready to use salt on the roads.

    2. Triple the number of snowplows and use steel blades instead of the rubber ones. These units can be placed on city trucks. If necessary, contract with the private sector for more equipment, as they do in the eastern U.S. for snow emergencies.

    3. Change the snow removal strategy to the immediate removal of snow off primary and secondary roads so we don't end up with thick, chunky ice we have today. Don't let it accumulate and freeze.


    Yes! Thank you Cliff! Points #1 and 2 are of utmost importance. Good work!!

  61. It's Christmas.... can't we all just get along for another day or two! By then it will be raining and all the salt vs sand issues will replaced by which enviromentally friendly sand bag should be used.

  62. Port Angeles, 1:40 PM. Gigantic fluffy snowflakes, practically snowballs, pouring down. Eeee too bad, I was just making headway with my new shovel, while stomping around on the icy driveway in my new Yaktrax... :-)

    The radars, by the way, think it is raining here.

  63. Detroit is getting similar snow (right down to the rain-switch), and having similar problems-- and they use salt.

    13 people have died throughout the country from this widespread event, and in places where salt is used.

    Salt does not magically make this go away. More plows might, but blaming environmentalists and screaming about salt being some kind of acceptable risk is silly.

  64. Maybe a class-action suit against the ciyt for repairs to vehicles damaged by not removing the snow will get their attention. The amount of salt would be nowhere near what is used in the eastern US. We only get events like this once or twice a year, sometimes what is practicle needs to be given priority over what is politically correct.

  65. YES to salt. What amazes me is that so many tree huggers are worried more about fish than the human injuries/near fatalities/fatalities that have occurred as a result of the city's inept response to a massive snowfall. Yes, I care about the environment as well. But there are limits. Perhaps we should ban people from living near fish, right? No? Then, when we have a once-in-10-year snowfall of this size, perhaps we should use salt for a 3-day-period in order to safeguard against human injury. Meanwhile, I expect more from my city leaders. Rubber blades on the plows, to protect the streets? Amazing. Who are these idiots and how can we remove them from office?

  66. I hereby proclaim you, Cliff Mass, THE Snow Czar!

  67. In point of fact, the worst problems with salt toxicity are to plants, not animals, and the worst outcomes have to do with increasing the risk of trees over powerlines, landslides on slopes with salt-damaged vegetation, and interference with stormwater infiltration in swales and stormwater ponds- all of which involve weather conditions a lot more common than this highly unusual snowstorm. It is, also, important to note that the environmental damage from salt is not spread out over ten years: ten hours is more like it, once the thaw sets in.

    The truth is we need smarter solutions to bad weather, including strategic and immediate road clearance and de-icing, better communications between transit agencies and transit passengers, and more responsibility from businesses and private individuals to keep pedestrian access safe.

    In any case, so far in the past two hours I've had clear skies and a high of 36F, a brief dip before freezing with a brief snow shower, rain and 35F, and am now watching huge splotches of

  68. OK. Snow stopped. Time to fire up the shovel again. 2:06 PM, Port Angeles

  69. Tracker: I'd cal a tracker based on odometer reading a "logical" tracker, whereas a GPS tracker is a real time physical tracker.

    As an aside, UPS uses physical and logical tracking. The tracking you see on the web site is logical. It indicates where the item SHOULD be at a given time, under ideal conditions. We have items in the UPS system that show they are in Redmond, when really they're physically in Kentucky (weather problems).

    550 ft elevation, Demery Hill in Sammamish. It is snowing, flakes going from almost rainy looking things to masses of big gigantic looking things that stick to our JUST sanded/deiced road. Cliff was right with the forecast though, given that we did have about 2 minutes of what I would definitely call rain. Then it switched back to snow, and I'm guessing that's where it stays for the rest of the day.

  70. I've been enjoying the forecasts... but, uh, salt? Shall we bring back DDT too?

  71. Here at 210' elevation in Bellevue, we have pouring RAIN and lots and lots of fast melting. Now the worry is all of it freezing tonight; the probcast says that our chance of freezing tonight is only 10% but Cliff made it sound higher than that and he has been way more accurate than the probcast for the past 10 days. I guess only time and the approximometer will tell.

    Did Santa bring me my weather station?

    Did Santa bring Cliff the coastal weather radar?

    I guess we will find out tomorrow! :-)

  72. 5 - 7 inches of new snow in the frozen hell that is Shelton. Snowing hard.

  73. Check this out, Cliff:

    We're supposed to be better prepared than Detroit, which is getting the same amount of snow, but has it much more often?

    How about this nice quote:
    ""It is the city of Detroit," the 39-year-old Salazar said. "Everybody just stays home. Maybe if enough people drive down the street, the snow will be pushed down enough for me to drive on.""

  74. Newcastle - So Bellevue, 560', top of hill -- About 3 inches overnight, very sticky; we had to knock it off the bushes and smaller fruit trees to prevent damage. After a couple hours break and a bit of breeze to strip some off the higher branches, we are back to heavy snow, large wet flakes, falling fast, piling up on the limbs again. No rain here at all. Our little road looks difficult; a head-on fender bender occurred a few minutes ago.

  75. 33.1 now, east of Renton, 96 feet elevation, alternating between BIG snowflakes and rain. Very little mixing though, just one or the other for the most part.

  76. "Anonymous said...
    I've been enjoying the forecasts... but, uh, salt? Shall we bring back DDT too?"

    Exactly the point. See for starters. It's the same situation: a draconian ban zealously promulgated in response to problems from over-application should be replaced by rational cost/benefit analysis. Salt's problems develop in areas where they apply it indiscriminately all winter every year. Seattle gets few of these heavy storms and the impact of a few days' salt is far less than safety and economic impacts.

  77. Thanks again for the weather info. Amen to the snow coping recommendations, including the buses. Also agree with businesses being more rational about work with such lousy snow removal policies. My son was begged to come to work at a local theatre, and was then ordered home after one hour.

  78. From what I've seen, there are hundreds of Metro and city Transportation Department staffers who are working very hard. But communicating real-world conditions to the commuting and shopping public has been abysmal.
    Example: At 1:15 p.m. Tuesday the Seattle Transportation department, in a news release, announced it had "cleared primary arterials to exposed pavement." This is not even remotely true. I live within blocks of four primary arterials, as identified on the department's own map, and had just driven on two of them (Roosevelt Way N.E. and N.E. Northgate Way. They were rutted, icy and dangerous. They were not, and are not, in any way cleared to exposed pavement. Example: Metro. For almost a week now catching a bus between downtown and North Seattle has been a losing lottery. Metro assures us that our normal route is operating on its regular schedule - not the case - and advises that our alternative route is operating on an unpublished route. What good is that?? It's been taking 90 minutes to commute 7 and a half miles. This is simply unacceptable.

  79. From the hills just north of Lake Forest Park Town Center (I plan to get to Third Place Books to see cliff on January 21st), it's 35 degrees and raining.

  80. Rain intermixed with big fat snowflakes 3:10 pm, central Bainbridge. If the temp drops, could get quite interesting. Roads were wicked-slick today, much worse that any other time.

  81. where i grew up, we've been using salt for decades and a lot more of it - wading through the BS slush of seattle after days of the inability to get out at all really negates any "salt's bad for the environment" talk. it's fricking SALT. whatever "salt-alternative" seattle is using, ISN'T WORKING. and NO, dirt does not work.

    as for vehicles, rustproofing takes care of any salt effects just fine.

  82. Id be interested if anyone has any statistics on how much time Seattle
    loses to snow closures compared to other cities.

  83. Cliff: PLEASE no salt! We dump enough chemicals into the runoff water as it is. Besides it destroys cars over time. Anyone who's lived in the east and midwest can attest. We simply must endure the snow. It only lasts (usually) for a few days. With your forecasting there is no excuse for people to be unprepared.

  84. Two years from now after two mild winters...

    "Why do he have all these snow plows and this stockpiked salt - its a waste of taxpayer money I tell ya"


  85. Jeanette

    Please read the other posts, your concerns have been debunked.

    An occasional use of salt will not ruin your car.

    Environmental impacts are also highly questionable, particularly when compared to the effects of sand.

    Whatever happened to deductive thinking?

  86. Cliff,
    Please send your snow emergency suggestion plan to:
    Seattle Mayor
    C/O Boss Hogg
    Nicklevilles City Hall
    Seattle, WA

    Best plan I have seen that has some grip to it!

  87. Regarding salt's effects on cars..remember when you go on I5 today or go to the passes any time...they are using salt! No problems for your cars. Salt exposure here would be very brief and would have no effect on your car. And besides, with better coatings, cars even in the east rarely show any effects from salt these days. This is really a non-issue.


  88. Has anyone here ever done brake-work on cars from salt country? The bleed valve break off and need to be drilled out. When replacing shoes, you better replace all the return springs.

    This has been a rare event. We should just suck it up.

  89. Portland doesn't use salt and they had it worse than us. They also have a better transit system. I hope this isn't a knee jerk reaction because we have allowed ourselves to commute so far from work and demand our trusty steeds to be available on any street 24/7. We should also consider that the last 10-12 days of the shopping and traveling season have been a wash and therefore people want anything and everything done.

    I like the fact that we are not Michigan. I'll support more plows before salt. Once you implement a program, it's difficult to reverse.

  90. Hi Cliff,
    I continue to love your blog! Any idea what the roads will be like tomorrow early morning for all the folks going to Grandmas' house?


  91. thank god you remarked about the bus tracker system. i emailed the webmaster letting him/her know that exact thing earlier this week. thanks cliff!

  92. Is it ever going to stop snowing in Snoqualmie? Its been snowing hard and steady here all day - probably gotten another 6 inches.

  93. it's been heavy snow btw here in Olympia for hours.

  94. I think we should just move the entire city of Seattle to Ritzville.

    If you think a little salt every 10-15 years is a Puget Sound environmental problem, just think how big a problem it is to have Seattle right next to Puget Sound.

    I think the anti-salt-ites need to get a little perspective. It's not a matter of using salt every day, it's a matter of occasionally declaring a state of emergency, in which case salt use is okay.

    (and yes, I posted something like this as response to the PI's Dickie's ascinine comment.)

  95. went offline Tuesday at about 1:40pm due to a server in Wilcox Hall crashing.

    It should be rebooted Friday.

  96. My wife has to drive to work every day to the hospital. It is clear that some of you think that the salinity of the Sound takes precedence over human safety. If you feel so strongly about the human impact on the environment, please, go jump in the Sound and prove it.

  97. Thank you for the suggestions about Metro. Way too many bus routes have been canceled and for too long.

    I move we appoint Mr. Mass Seattle Snow Czar, with Enforcement Powers. Do I hear a second?

  98. Geeeeez! Seems like everyone around me picked up new snow today! I live at 550' in SE Auburn and got nothing more than a slushly 1/4"! For whatever reason our snow always turns to rain when a south wind kicks in. Yet just to the north in Renton they picked up a couple inches. Just another aspect of our unique NW micro climates. For those of you on the Kitsap, I am jealous!!! Enjoy, it'll go fast. Oh, and BTW, I own a Subaru Outback and gotta say it's by far the best snow car you can own. Messy roads....bring em on!

  99. Cliff. Your a real life saver. How about mayor of this fair city, Snow czar will be passe soon.

  100. Now it's raining here. Took long enough. And things are melting. But, I don't think the temp is going to remain above freezing for long.

    Total of all accumulation here at about 300' in E Woodinville is about 14".

  101. My weather probcast is that by inauguration day, everyone who has cabin fever today giving them a burst of energy to cure snow-alasys, will quickly shift focus and forget all about snow plows and the sand/salmon controversy.
    Then hopefully we can focus this much energy on bigger fish, no?


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