3d pan white

Snow traffic

I grew up in Buffalo, NY, where it snows a lot and most of the time people are able to continue normal life, the streets are rapidly plowed (and salted), and it takes a truly major blizzard to close schools and make driving a mess. In contrast, when it snows in Seattle, even a little, everything grinds to a halt. Currently we have been snowed on more than a little, so it is rather like a state of emergency here.


I used to find it amusing and annoying how traffic would come to a stop when it snowed even a little. But over the years I've realized there are a few differences between Seattle and Buffalo that explain the different reaction to snow on the roads. First, in the Buffalo area there is an army of snow plows and veteran plow drivers, and the plows dump huge amounts of salt on the roads, which melts the ice but causes cars to rust. In the Seattle area, snow is rare, there are far fewer plows, and they don't use salt at all. Second, the temperature in Seattle rarely stays below freezing for very long, so when it does snow there can easily be a thawing and refreezing cycle that creates very slick ice. In Buffalo, the snow usually stays powdery for a while, and when ice does form on the roads, the salt tends to break it up. Third, the Seattle area is quite hilly, while Buffalo is basically flat. The terrain in the Seattle area can be surprising. The short drive from our house to a nearby bookstore never seemed particularly hilly to me, but driving it in the snow (this photo) made me realize there are several stretches along the way where the slopes are steep enough to make icy roadways a major hazard and difficult to drive on.


My Buffalo brain sees this kind of snow and thinks, "wimpy Seattle-drivers can't handle a little snow", but my emerging Seattle-brain is beginning to see why, and to be more cautious than my Buffalo-instincts tell me to be.


In any case, I'll be staying home tomorrow.

5 faves
Taken on November 27, 2006