Monday, December 14, 2009

Why Seattle was paralyzed by snow last year

It became the object of jokes around the country that Seattle couldn't deal with a little bit of snow, but there were actually very good reasons why snow shut large parts of the city down for a few days. I think every one knows about the lack of both snow plows and deicing supplies in the city, and the fact that we just don't get much snow, but less known is that the geography of the city contributes heavily to large amounts of snow and ice causing lots of problems.

Seattle's topography is similar to that of San Francisco's. There aren't a lot of large, flat, places in it. Instead what you have are lots and lots of hills, many of them really steep. To get around virtually anywhere, including your own neighborhood sometimes, you have to navigate inclines and little valleys. This means that when ice and snow hit en masse the result is difficulties climbing hills and safely going down them, leading to general hardship in safely getting around the city. The weather of the northwest contributes to this as well.

Last year a lot of the problems that I had in navigating Seattle didn't have to do with snow, although I literally had to shovel out my car in order to move it a couple of times, but with ice. Since there's a huge amount of ambient moisture in the air here that snow often falls on sheets of ice. Add that to the hills and inclines of Seattle and you have a very dangerous situation. Ice combined with hills is the reason that Seattle was paralyzed last year.

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