All right, quit your sniggering.
The question is – why did this snow event – which only dumped a couple of inches during the day yesterday – cause such problems?
And people – it was a problem. Over 11,000 children spent the night and part of today in public schools. Most of the families I know who have kids in school ended up the night not together. One parent might have been home, the other got to a friend or family member’s home or shelter with the kids – or all three sets were in different places. Scores and scores of people ended up either sleeping in their cars or abandoning the vehicles and walking it.
Here’s what happened: What was predicted for our area was a dusting. Further south was supposed to get the brunt of it, but we were supposed to be fine. Mid-morning, it became clear that the snow was heading our way as well, and was heavier than expected. So midmorning, they cancelled school, and just like that:
Everyone hit the roads at the same time in worsening weather.
This has happened before, and it sees to me there has got to be a better way than dismissing tens of thousands of kids at the same time, resulting in tens of thousands of parents on the road at the same time in bad conditions.
All it takes, then, is a couple of skidding cars, a couple of accidents, to bring the whole road system to a hault. I mean, just think about it. You’ve got a major four-lane artery. It’s snowing and sleeting and the roads are icing. A couple of cars collide, or a couple slide and get stuck enough to be in the way. Traffic stops. The roads are packed. The weather worsens….do you get it? Is this going to be cleared up quickly? Do you see how this could happen?
I do think that inexperienced drivers have to take some responsibility, though. Today, I drove on a hill that was partly iced and partly snowed. It wasn’t a steep hill, but a steady grade. The guy ahead of me, for whatever reason, basically stopped – not understanding that in order to conquer a slope in snow or ice you just have to keep going. So he started spinning in place. Since he stopped, I stopped, even though I didn’t want to, and I started spinning. Gagh. But in that situation, all I had to do was back up a few feet, turn the wheel, and head for a snowy part of the road, pass the spinning guy and keep going. While he spun in place.
(And I drive a little Mazda 3. Not a heavy vehicle. He was in a pickup.)
But of course – if you never have to drive in those conditions, are you going to learn? Easy to say “Stay off the road!” But you know, when your Kindergartner might sort of want to come home.
Now, what the writer of the Gizmodo article forgets to mention is the hills. Which around here range from hilly to what we call “Red Mountain.” There are parts of neighborhoods on those mountains that I’m sure will be impassable until Friday, since as he does mention, the municipalities around here just don’t have the equipment to deal with this situation. And it’s actually a sound economic judgment. We get this kind of event maybe every three years and honestly, if the weather forecast had been more accurate, school would have been called off Monday night, and this wouldn’t have been half as bad as it was.
You can scoff at being unprepared, but look. It’s sort of like folks up north, many of whom don’t have air conditioning. And every so often, they experience heat waves that result in a lot of discomfort, suffering, and even death. Those are the decisions you make – if you live in a place where it gets hot for at most a month every year, why would you invest in air conditioning? Same thing, and not anything laughable or ignorant, really.
Now my adventure was a little different and could have been much worse. Considering what I did yesterday, it’s amazing that I had no trouble, really, and people who stayed around and were just trying to drive a mile ended up sleeping in Krispy Kreme.
I had an appointment up in Knoxville for this morning, an appointment related to my father’s estate. Very pro forma. So the plan was for us to drive up yesterday, stop at the museum in Oak Ridge, spend the night, do the meeting Wednesday morning, and then make it back in time for Wednesday afternoon music lesson and basketball practice.
As we drove away mid-morning, it was, indeed, a “light dusting” happening, and I was all, “Oh, this will be fine, no problem.” But as I continued up 59 the snow got heavier and the wind stronger. I had Joseph look at the weather map on the Ipad and saw that the precipitation looked substantial all the way up to Knoxville. Then I had the bright idea to check and see whether the Knox County government offices were even open. This was a little after noon. Website said: Closed. I tried to call to see if I could get a sense as to whether they’d be open on Wednesday or not. To do this, I got off at a Fort Payne exit – and it was hairy. The interstate was a breeze compared to what was going on in the roadway down there. No answer to my phone call. I studied the weather map again. This is stupid, I thought. I also thought Screw it. But then I had to decide – would it be worse to continue or to go back?? My instincts kicked in, and they told me that Knox County would be closed down on Wednesday, and to just return to Birmingham. So we did, and got back home around 2:30. It wasn’t too bad for us at that point, although I had to park the car at the base of the hill on which my house sits. Could get up it.
(I moved the car later, when the precipitation on the road was at the “crunchy” stage and before it got to “slick.” And Knox County offices were indeed closed today. They’ll just send me a new postcard with a new date.)
And the boys, mostly the younger one, spent the rest of the day and most of the evening Out In It.
It was all pretty crazy. Some of the suffering could have been prevented by closing down schools and more skillful driving, but the conditions were bad. It wasn’t just “a couple of inches of snow” just like in Chicago in July it’s not just “a few degrees above normal.”