Seattle, Al Gore's Winter Wonderland

Not salting the roads, on purpose.

The past two weeks have seen millions of Americans suffering under the icy onslaught of winter storms brought to us by global warming.  Downed trees and power-lines, snowdrifts and white-out conditions have tried the tempers and skills of winter travelers across the entire northern half of the country.

In response, workers from county road departments, power companies, and rescue teams have been burning the midnight oil to restore America's highways and utilities to their normal state of efficiency.  New England electrical crews have been working 19-hour days since an ice storm ten days ago.

Except, that is, in Seattle, as the Seattle Times reports:

To hear the city's spin, Seattle's road crews are making "great progress" in clearing the ice-caked streets.  But it turns out "plowed streets" in Seattle actually means "snow-packed," as in there's snow and ice left on major arterials by design.  "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."

No, Seattle probably does not look like Chicago or New York.  In those cities, the public works departments still cling to the antiquated idea that clearing the roads involves, you know, clearing the roads.

Nothing so old-fashioned for environmentally conscious Seattle!  There, crews perform their jobs by simply watching the snow pack down into ice, then spreading some sand on top for traction.

What about using salt to melt the ice, like the entire rest of the Northern Hemisphere?  The ever-dutiful Mr. Wiggins explains,

"We decided not to utilize salt because it's not a healthy addition to Puget Sound."

Too bad that his area of expertise lies in politically correct ecology and not Native American History; the ancient tribes' name for that body of water was WulcH, which in their language of Lushootseed means - wait for it - salt water!

Mr. Wiggins assures us that, if you are in a four-wheel-drive vehicle or front-wheel-drive car equipped with chains, you should be all set.  This comes as cold comfort to the Seattle Police Department, equipped with rear-wheel-drive police cruisers now rendered useless.

Let's look at the big picture.  The local gendarmerie, forcibly freed from their vehicles, must now pursue criminals over hill and dale on foot, doubtless working off all those doughnut pounds and improving their heart rates.  After all, we are told, America is plagued with obesity; what better solution than hours of manly exercise in the bracing winter weather?  At least the thick layer of snow somewhat pads the frozen concrete from the inevitable slips and falls.

Here again, devout greenery provides a solution to yet another national problem, that of escalating health care costs.  The bulk of government medical money is spent at the end of life.  If the injured and aged in Seattle expire alone, waiting for ambulances that cannot come, think of the money saved!

Speaking of savings, not just police cars are languishing in garages.  UPS has discontinued service, as have other trucking companies.  Traffic is reduced to the very few vehicles suitably equipped.

Think of the carbon not emitted, rhapsodize over the smog not produced!  Seattle must be enjoying the clearest and most pristine air in years, if you're alive to breathe it.

Of course, commerce has all but ground to a halt with record numbers of road accidents and the State Police begging travelers to, well, not to.  Yet more harmful emissions and energy use avoided!

So we see human fatalities, wrecked economies, and freedom hampered, all to prevent salt from going into a sound that is already full of salt water.

Seattle may be a Winter Wonderland - if you're Al Gore or one of his acolytes, and particularly if you live elsewhere than there.  For anyone actually stuck in Seattle under the enlightened administration of Mr. Wiggins' new and improved highway department, it's a frozen hell.

Read other articles by Hobbes or other articles on Environment.
Reader Comments
A lovely article and quite appropriate for the times. I am a crusty, 67 years old on Christmas Day and I very much enjoy my subscription to Americans are often criticized in my country and while I do not always agree with the decisions of your government or indeed some of what I read on the web sites of the lunar right on the one hand and the barking mad left on the other, there is something about Americans that I admire greatly.

God bless you all on Christmas day. Having said that, I can reveal that I was trained as a meteorologist when young and we worried about a great Ice Age back in the 1960s, when computers had valves and we had to enter through an airlock. To those who write about climate, remember a few fundamentals:
1. Climate is a system - dynamic not static - and it changes.
2. Earth is an oblate spheroid, not perfectly circular in the 23 1/2° axial tilt, added to wobbles in its rotation and perturbations in the orbit around the sun by definition means change.
3. Lastly, Christmas in the southern hemisphere is the same as having the celebrations in Midsummer. There is no substitute for a genuine northern hemisphere winter, albeit with ice and snow.

Forget Al Gore and the doomsayers and may 2009 be better for us all.
December 24, 2008 6:46 PM
In, at least, parts of Colorado they don't clear the roads, instead leaving packed snow to drive on and it works great. Trying that same thing here in Kansas (where I live) however would not be effective because of the kind of snow and weather we get. Since I don't know anything about the kind of snow or really the weather they have in Seattle I don't know if that works or not.

Amount of traffic may also play a huge part in weather or not it works. Up in the Steam Boat, CO. area the snow has so little water in it that the roads don't really get wet when it melts, and ice rarely forms. Driving on the snow pack in Colorado allows far more traction than driving on nominally cleared roads here in Kansas.
December 24, 2008 7:13 PM
I was in Oregon for that storm. I was also in Oregon for the LAST storm of that nature, 40 years ago. The city of Portland was no more prepared for it this time than it was the last. It's outrageous that things came to this pass. I was iced in for three days, then got in a mad scramble to get all the remaining holiday preparations made. (It was only a mad scramble because I had to dodge all the clueless drivers - as I live in NY now, this was a slam-dunk for me).

This was one of the few trips to the NW that I actually looked forward to going home to NY, as I knew at least the roads would be clear.
December 29, 2008 10:21 AM
Climategate Forecast...
". What is the current scientific consensus on the conclusions reached by Drs. Mann, Bradley and Hughes? [Referring to the hockey stick propagated in UN IPCC 2001 by Michael Mann.]
Ans: Based on the literature we have reviewed, there is no overarching consensus on MBH98/99. As analyzed in our social network, there is a tightly knit group of individuals who passionately believe in their thesis. However, our perception is that this group has a self-reinforcing feedback mechanism and, moreover, the work has been sufficiently politicized that they can hardly reassess their public positions without losing credibility."
AD HOC COMMITTEE REPORT ON THE 'HOCKEY STICK' GLOBAL CLIMATE RECONSTRUCTION, also known as The Wegman report was authored by Edward J. Wegman, George Mason University, David W. Scott, Rice University, and Yasmin H. Said, The Johns Hopkins University with the contributions of John T. Rigsby, III, Naval Surface Warfare Center, and Denise M. Reeves, MITRE Corporation.

January 2, 2010 10:03 AM
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