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Snow and the South

south-snow-scott-walker

Gizmodo‘s Brian Barrett explains “Why the South Fell Apart in the Snow.”

Let’s start by talking about why Birmingham wasn’t prepared. In the general case, why would it be? It hasn’t snowed in January here for 21 of the last 30 years. In that same period, it’s only snowed more than an inch four times. Birminghamians need snowplows like New Yorkers need tornado shelters.

Speaking of which, have you seen the county’s budget lately? Actually, you may have! Jefferson County—this is where Birmingham is located, named after Thomas Jefferson, not Jefferson Davis—filed for what was at the time the nation’s largest-ever municipal bankruptcy in 2011. It just emerged a few weeks ago. Basically, we’re broke. Which is why the city has invested the few resources it has at its disposal in keeping the lights on, rather than, I dunno, salt reserves or whatever you people in Maine have to clear the roads.

So in general Birmingham is not equipped to handle snow of any magnitude, because it has no reason to be, and even if it did it couldn’t afford to.

But wait! While it doesn’t snow often here, it does snow sometimes. And while it generally shuts the city down, it doesn’t turn into a deleted scene from The Road. So why was this time so much worse?

There’s a simple explanation for that one, too. Birmingham is one of those cities that shuts down at the faintest hint of snow. Again, this isn’t because we are rubes who wonder why God’s tears have turned white and fall slower. It’s because the city does not have the infrastructure in place to handle snow, and is self-aware enough to realize it. If you don’t know how to swim, just stay out of the pool. Easy.

This time, though, the city did not shut down. Schools were open. Places of business kept businessing. That’s because as of Tuesday morning, we were being told that all that was coming was a light dusting

Barrett links a forecast by Birmingham weatherman James Spann, who was already a fixture when I moved to the state 34 years ago. He continues:

It’s hard to remember sometimes, but things are different in places you do not personally live.

When it snows where you live, the salt and the snowplows are out on the streets before you even wake up. When you talk about six inches of snow in your city, you are almost definitely talking about six inches of snow on the median strip and shoulder, and highways that are slick, but clear. I’d take that over two inches of snow and ice on every major road any day.

When it snows where you live, it is the latest in a string of snowfalls that date back centuries. You own a car with four-wheel-drive for that very purpose. You may even own snow tires. This is great! You are prepared. But waking up in Birmingham to snow is like waking up in New Hampshire to quicksand.

When it snows where you live, you’re able to pick up your kids and get home and sit by the fireplace (you have firewood and a fireplace[*], because it is cold often). As of two hours ago, 4,000 children were still stuck in public schools—where they spent the night—because their parents had no way to reach them.

I’ve lived all over the country and the world, by virtue of my dad having been in the Army, my following suit, and the vagaries of my career path since. So, I’ve not only lived in Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee but also Germany, New York, and Virginia. I’ve never had to deal with the sort of snowfall my friends in the upper Midwest deal with routinely, but I’ve driven in snow and ice and torrential rain; most people haven’t.

Even in the DC suburbs of Northern Virginia, where I’ve lived the last dozen years, we’re not really prepared for major snowstorms or, indeed, truly cold weather. Schools and the federal government have been shut down or delayed several times already this year from relatively modest snowfalls combined with record-for-us-but-unremarkable-elsewhere cold. We closed schools for two straight days when it was clear and sunny because of single digit temperatures. Indeed, we had half an inch, at most, snowfall overnight and the girls went to school late and Quantico delayed opening until 10 (I was working from home today, anyway, because of a student research day).

But, yes, even here—where we’re not prepared in the way they are in Maine or Minnesota—a fleet of snow plows and trucks with sand or other de-icing materials are dispatched ahead of the storms. While my cul de sac was icy this morning, the major roads were already clear by the time I needed to be on them at 930.

In places like Birmingham, where this sort of thing happens every dozen years or so at most, it’s best just to tell everybody to hole up inside for a couple days until it passes over. And, when they get surprised by a significant snowfall and people are at work and school, nobody should be surprised that the people aren’t prepared to deal with it.

__________

*Oddly, in both my parents’ home in Jacksonville and the one I had when I lived in Troy, we had fireplaces. My dad in fact kept wood for burning in theirs and I, being a practical or lazy man, had mine converted to propane and used it whenever it dropped below 50.

Photo credit: Scott Walker/AL.com. Hat tip to Steven Taylor, who posted Barrett’s story on Facebook.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. mattbernius says:

    Cue folks coming out of the woodwork to claim that Polar Vortexes are proof that Climate Change/AGW *isn’t* happening (all the while missing the point that radical shifts in weather – versus climate — patterns are one of the many signs of climate change).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 3

  2. Rob in CT says:

    Yeah, I don’t know why this is such a puzzle for some. Clearly, a place like Birmingham, AL really shouldn’t devote a bunch of resources to preparation for snow/ice. They hardly ever get snow/ice. They should probably just hunker down as best they can in the rare occasion they get it.

    Add in inexperience with the conditions, and why would anyone expect anything other than a mess?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  3. The other problem, at least in some parts of the South, seems to have been bad planning. The Atlanta area in particular seems to have suffered from this, and it seems to have contributed significantly to the traffic issues that they’re dealing with down there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  4. JKB says:

    Well, there are the locals, but also the Yankees. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “I’m from Michigan, NY, et al, I know how to drive in snow” so off they go zipping about on Southern roads.

    Well, guess what moron. First, we don’t get snow, we get snow cone ice. Here the snow is crunchy, not squeaky. Second, the ground has only been below freezing for 24 hours or so no matter it is now 9 degrees. Third, the roads are slickest when they are warm below, cold above and have had traffic to turn the snow cone into water into clear/frosty ice. And for everyone, 4-wheel drive means 4 wheels spinning on ice. Plus all wheels sliding when trying to stop.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  5. JKB says:

    @mattbernius:

    But this is just winter weather we had quite often in the 1970s. Canadian Clippers freezing the bejesus out of you. Back then, even people down South had snow chains, loaded weight in the trunk and some even snow tires. I’ve not seen that in quite a while.

    So really, it is just a return to a past norm after a period of warming in the 1980s and early 90s that preceded the last 17 years of cooling.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 11

  6. grumpy realist says:

    Does anyone know if the roads are sealed down in the South? I had to drive in a light rainfall in Dallas once, and the truck I had rented was skidding all over the road like it was on ice.

    Tokyo usually gets one or two snowfalls a year–heavy, thick snow. Everyone immediately puts chains on their vehicles and goes whizzing around on pavement that very quickly gets cleared, but they continue with the chains for a week.

    Palm trees under snow look awfully silly.

    (posting from Chicago, where we’ve been back in the sub-zero regions.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. JKB says:

    Still, sunny but cold today so the roads will be mostly cleared. They’ll be dry by mid-afternoon tomorrow and no trace on Friday. Then on Saturday we can break this chill with some nice sustained above freezing temps for 48 hours or so.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. Franklin says:

    I can assure you that even people in Michigan don’t know how to drive in snow. Oh, they may say they do, and some of them actually can. But I’ve been here for my whole life, and the first time it snows, it appears that a LOT of people are completely lost, as if they’ve never seen it before. It takes several days before most people realize, “Oh, yeah, that snow over on the shoulder isn’t really preventing me from driving more than 5 mph.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. JKB says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Were you on asphalt or chip and seal? Plus, hot weather with a shower can create an oily surface for a bit

    Here let Sheldon explain it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Barry says:

    @JKB: “So really, it is just a return to a past norm after a period of warming in the 1980s and early 90s that preceded the last 17 years of cooling.”

    You’re supposed to use 1998, for reasons that any informed person knows.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  11. EddieInCA says:

    Smaller government is the answer.

    It’s Obama’s fault.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  12. CSK says:

    Another factor is how much experience plow and forklift operators have in using snow removal equipment. It’s a real skill, and it takes a lot of practice. Where I live (New England) the operators obviously get a lot of hands-on experience, as well as training, and a plowing operation itself is as carefully planned out as a combat operation. The first thing is, you don’t wait to start plowing; you send the fleet out after the first inch has fallen, and keep it up through the storm so that the main arteries are passable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. C. Clavin says:

    @JKB:
    Lets see a link.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  14. Matt Bernius says:

    @JKB:

    So really, it is just a return to a past norm after a period of warming in the 1980s and early 90s that preceded the last 17 years of cooling.

    This is so much of a demonstrative and easily proven falsehood that it has to simply be called a lie at this point and time.

    http://www.aip.org/history/climate/20ctrend.htm
    http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temperature_record

    BTW, here’s a particularly solid meta analysis looking at 4 standard data sets proving the outright falsehood of your statement and your utter inability to rely on the science/hard data you claim to love so much in your many posts on the ills of liberal arts:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2014/01/global-temperature-2013/
    JKB seriously either produce hard evidence (multiple examples, not a single data set please) that there has been a 17 year cooling trend, STFU, or accept that you are a flat out liar and anti-science denier on this subject.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 1

  15. Matt Bernius says:

    For the record, even here in Rochester NY — no stranger to cold and ice — people forget how to drive every winter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  16. Rafer Janders says:

    but I’ve driven in snow and ice and torrential rain; most people haven’t.

    Most people haven’t driven in snow and ice and rain? I’d like some cite for this assertion. After all, as you point out, even people in large parts of the South have at some point driven in bad weather, if not well, and most everyone in the Midwest, the West, New England, the Mid-Atlantic states and the Northwest has experience with those conditions. Even when I lived in SoCal I drove in torrential rain, and in snow and ice when I went up to Tahoe or west to the mountains.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. john personna says:

    @Barry:

    The problem with global warming is that to understand it you really need to conceptualize what part of the earth is warmed by the sun. Somewhere down deep there is heat

    Although we crust-dwellers walk on nice cool ground, underneath our feet the Earth is a pretty hot place. Enough heat emanates from the planet’s interior to make 200 cups of piping hot coffee per hour for each of Earth’s 6.2 billion inhabitants, says Chris Marone, Penn State professor of geosciences. At the very center, it is believed temperatures exceed 11,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than the surface of the sun.

    The sun provides an addition to that, heating air, seas, and a thin layer of the crust. It’s the reason there are frozen seas and permafrost in Alaska, but not here in California. [The sun hits Alaska obliquely, especially in northern winter, and California more directly.]

    The complex question is net-net, how is that temperature changing. For that you need a volumetric sum of the temperature of everything being heated by the sun: air, seas, and earth.

    That’s pretty hard math, but it’s what you’ve got to do.

    And no ;-) you can’t compare the thermometer on your porch to it’s 1998 reading.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  18. grumpy realist says:

    @JKB: Whatever roads downtown Dallas has–I thought it was the old-oil-plus water problem but one of my friends said that the roads down there were unsealed, which supposedly makes it even worse.

    I do, however, find it interesting that 3 inches of snow turned Atlanta into such a fiasco. We got 3 inches here in Chicago on Sunday and I went out and tromped around in it before the snowblowers came out. People were driving slowly, but that’s all.

    One trick is to send out the snowplows immediately as soon as the stuff starts hitting. Does anyone know if Atlanta did that?

    I don’t know who is more dangerous in snow–the people who don’t know how to drive in it (e.g. grad students from India), or the person who has an SUV with ABS and thinks that this allows him to go barrelling down the road at top speed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. Matt Bernius says:

    @Barry:

    You’re supposed to use 1998, for reasons that any informed person knows.

    Not enough there to tell if that’s sarcasm or not, but even juiced by El Nino, or was it La Nina, 1998 wasn’t the record year for global temps. The actual record is shared bu 2005 and 2010 (2010 being 1 degree higher, but close enough that in the know folks count the two as a tie). See this meta analysis for more details:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2014/01/global-temperature-2013/

    JKB, still waiting for that evidence of a 17 year cooling trend…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  20. john personna says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Even when I lived in SoCal I drove in torrential rain, and in snow and ice when I went up to Tahoe or west to the mountains.

    But the first time a California boy gets in snow it can be funny and/or scary.

    I was passenger when one such newbie lost it in Breckenridge and we careened over a traffic island. Looking back there were the tire tracks of our rental car miraculously missing all the traffic lights and power poles by inches.

    I had told him … brake BEFORE you get to the ice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. john personna says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    JKB, still waiting for that evidence of a 17 year cooling trend…

    In fairness to JKB, “missing heat” is a thing. It’s just a thing that I’m confident is hidden in the volumetric temperature sums.

    Certainly if it hasn’t, or can’t, be found … I’ll have to adjust that opinion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  22. Rafer Janders says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Even when I lived in SoCal I drove in torrential rain, and in snow and ice when I went up to Tahoe or west to the mountains.

    Um, that should of course have been “east to the mountains.” My NYCentricity is showing….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. JKB says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Why would Atlanta have snow plow? They get significant snow maybe once a decade. And that snow is on warm ground most of the time. But they do a fair job with salt and sand but not when it snows more than expected during the workday. It’s the melting snow, and refrozen water that cause the problems. This time we had a very cold night, a cold day, snow, then a bitter cold night (for the South).

    Yeah, it doesn’t help that many drivers, especially SUV drivers, only know brake and rapid acceleration. Bastard chew up my gravel driveway up the hill because they think more gas is the solution to slipping wheels.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. Matt Bernius says:

    @john personna:

    In fairness to JKB, “missing heat” is a thing. It’s just a thing that I’m confident is hidden in the volumetric temperature sums.

    But even accounting for the possibility of “missing heat” the fact remains that if you look at multiple standard data sets there has not been a cooling trend since 1998 or insert other year here.

    At best for JKB, some show a flat line. And even during that period, other indicators continue to show continued trends that point to additional energy accumulation.

    Bottom line: you can’t claim that you are relying on actual scientific data AND claim that there has been a global cooling trend. And considering how often JKB has pontificated on how important STEM skills are, it means he’s either intentionally allowing his ideological beliefs to supersede his analytical skills, or he is intentionally spreading false data because he doesn’t like the real data.

    Either way it’s deeply hypocritical.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  25. JKB says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Well, I don’t argue religion with zealots. But look at your own charts, that period from 1997 to 2014. See how is bends downward. Not a lot as of yet but if you understand cooling you know it takes awhile for residual heat to dissipate.

    But I was not making a CAGW point. I was simply pointing out, these cold “polar vortex” offshoots aren’t new. They are just not recent with the warmer, i.e., closer to the average, winter weather. But we had them routinely in the 1970s. Now, the return of colder than average winter weather doesn’t disprove AGW, but it does chip away at the moving average.

    Now I’m not going to try to convince you your god doesn’t exist. I’m just going to tell you that I will oppose the imposition of your religious beliefs on society as a whole.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 12

  26. john personna says:

    @JKB:

    I would call that a total capitulation.

    BTW, I notice that your god gravity is holding you in your chair!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  27. Matt Bernius says:

    @JKB:
    Hmmm so basically you can’t produce actual evidence can you? Because, given the wealth of data on the subject out there, at best you can say “look at graphs of the data, squint and see a possible downward trend line” while the data in front of you and in the summaries negates the crappy claim you are making.

    (btw, for a factual, data driven, sourced rebuttal of this — versus “squint at the graph” — see: http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-stopped-in-1998-intermediate.htm )

    BTW, why choose 1997/8? Perhaps because of the El Nino/La Nina year… can’t address the fact that both 2005 and 2010 were warmer than that year?

    Oh, and two can play that game BTW, if I choose a different year, say 1996 that’s a colder outlier, it’s amazing that I get a stronger warming trend.

    It shouldn’t be hard to bring actual *data* to the discussion. Hell I did in just seconds. BTW, again, the lack of links demonstrates the fact that *you know* that the data doesn’t back what you are saying. Or are you going to fall on the classic “all the counter data sets and facts have been surpressed by a vast left wing science complex?”

    So apparently, if I read you correctly:
    Me citing (multiple) data sets = zealot,
    You packaging just-so stories and personal memories as rebuttal = real science

    Man, you are the worst sort of hypocrite and a prime example of a science denier.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  28. stonetools says:

    So lightly funded, under resourced red state governments are incompetent to deal with emergencies. Couldn’t see that coming. Sounds like the “limited government” types are getting the limited government they deserve.
    Of course, that will be an argument for lower taxes and even more limited government, rather than raising taxes to set aside funds and resources for winter weather emergencies. Ah well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  29. Matt Bernius says:

    @JKB:

    Now I’m not going to try to convince you your god doesn’t exist. I’m just going to tell you that I will oppose the imposition of your religious beliefs on society as a whole.

    For the record, I’m not interested in the imposition of religious beliefs. But I do think we need to all *accept* certain facts in the same way we accept the fact that the earth is, you know, round. What we do with those facts is a different discussion all together. To ask me (or anyone else) to accept the claim there has been a 17 year cooling trend is inherently imposing your beliefs on us. And that’s a belief that is not borne out by the facts.

    So which one of us is imposing beliefs again? I mean, I’ve provided science to prove my “god” exists. You so far, have thrown a bunch of words and belief based claims to prove your “science” exists.

    Last I checked, it should be pretty easy to provide science to, you know, back up science.

    Tell you what, actually prove your “science” with you know, “science” and I’m happy to eat crow.

    Otherwise, it seems to me you don’t really understand this entire religion versus science thing*. And that suggests you shouldn’t carry on about “science” and “technology” as much as you do.

    [*] – By religion vs science thing, I don’t mean to suggest that the two cannot co-exist. That said the two function in fundamentally different ways.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  30. James Joyner says:

    @Rafer Janders: Fair enough. I should say “I’ve got significant experience” doing those things. In these parts, in particular, people seem genuinely freaked out trying to drive in even moderate rain.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. DC Loser says:

    Of all the days, I had to pick today to fly down to Birmingham with my family to visit the UA campus in Tuscaloosa (my son has been accepted there on a scholarship). But that’s now canceled with all the airline schedules hosed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. stonetools says:

    @James Joyner:

    Self Driving cars are the inevitable tech solution. Robots don’t freak out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. KM says:

    @JKB:

    Now I’m not going to try to convince you your god doesn’t exist. I’m just going to tell you that I will oppose the imposition of your religious beliefs on society as a whole.

    Not to wade in to the whole AGW issue, but that’s a mighty interesting comparison there. Much like a religious person who states atheism is a religion, that comparison tells me you don’t really understand your opponents viewpoint but rather are trying to force it into your own worldview and use your own logic to complain. You can’t just cram everything into your own internal classification system. You’re not arguing on objective facts or statements, you’re arguing nebulous “beliefs” and “feels”. You can argue whether or not it’s good, bad or junk science, its veracity, its durability and evidence. What you can’t do is dismiss it as a “belief”.

    Sorry, a pet peeve of mine, much like the debaters that have to invoke Godwin’s Law every post.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  34. Matt Bernius says:

    @KM:

    What you can’t do is dismiss it as a “belief”.

    For the record, science is still a belief system (see the writings of Kuhn among others). It just has a specific framework for bolstering those beliefs (one which I have complied to). To your point, what JKB cannot do (without being a hypocrite) is dismiss what I presented as *baseless belief* (which he attempts to do).

    The reason that makes him a hypocrite is that making claims without presenting any basis violates his own belief system, which he calls science (as opposed to me supposed “religion”). So does critiquing my response actually using counter data/interpretation.

    Given that his response suggests that he’s got the upper hand on “science”, the fact he is avoiding using science’s method (i.e. combat data driven interpretation with data driven interpretation) means he’s being internally inconsistent (and ultimately retreating to religion that he presents as “science”).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  35. PD Shaw says:

    @mattbernius: Sorry, had to downvote you for the Br’er Rabbit gambit. Please don’t bring up global warming, I’m begging you . . .. Please don’t throw me in that briar patch.

    @Franklin: I agree; in Illinois first snowfall of the year always seems to be a relearning experience for many.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  36. Matt Bernius says:

    @PD Shaw:
    +1 for (farily) calling me out. I think it was the fact that on a previous OTB thread a commenter had already gone down that route (not to mention I’ve heard it repeated on a number of Right Wing Radio shows in the past few days).

    My best defense was I was hoping for a teachable moment. The a less charitable interpretation is that I was itching for a fight.

    (Either way, unless someone steps up with a data-based counter to points I’ve raised, I’ve said all that needs to be said on the topic).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  37. john personna says:

    @stonetools:

    Robots don’t freak out.

    For your amusement only … kernel panic

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  38. superdestroyer says:

    @CSK:

    You actually have to have the plows prepositioned in a large urban area. If you wait for the first snow flake, it is probably too late. Also, many jurisdictions have learned to pretreat with brine to keep the ice from forming. However, if a rainstorm turns into a snowstorm, there is little that they can go because there would have been no pretreatment. The worst case scenario is for a rain shower to turn to snow/freezing rain during the evening rush hour. Such a scenario will cause a massive tie up no matter what.

    The problem with the southern cities is the schools stayed opened when they should have close and thus, no one else could close if the schools are open.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  39. superdestroyer says:

    @grumpy realist: Atlanta has almost no snow plots or salt trucks. The usual strategy in the deep south is to close everything and wait for warmer weather to return. It is cheaper in the long run.

    Also, Atlanta has summer heat every year that would create a lethal heat wave in Chicago. Every area has weather that it is not prepared for. In the north it is heat/bad thunderstorms.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  40. superdestroyer says:

    @stonetools:

    Are you really going to argue that southern states cannot do cost-benefit analysis. The is no reason, in the long term, for cities and counties in the deep south to spend money to prepare fora a once in a decade event. Look at how many people are killed in northern states from heat waves that consist of normal temperatures in Atlanta.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  41. Kari Q says:

    I grew up in the Southern California High Desert, and we would get real snow about once every 10 years. We had no equipment for dealing with it because it would be a pointless waste of money. The snow fell over night, everyone stayed home, then the next day it would melt because it was still a desert after all.

    The most amusing thing about it, to me, is that people rushed to the grocery stores and bought everything they could lay their hands on, as if they were going to be snowed in for months. It reminds me of the Simpsons episodes where people were buying cat food because Apu wrote “Hurricane Chow” on the bag.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  42. Kari Q says:

    By the way – I will mark this day on my calendar. Superdestroyer and I are in complete agreement. It’s never happened before and I’m pretty sure it never will again.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  43. C. Clavin says:

    @JKB:
    In other words…you got nothing.
    As per usual.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  44. grumpy realist says:

    @JKB: It looks like it was a combination of a) not updating their plans when the forecast put the snow closer to Atlanta, and b) sending everyone home at once.

    And who am I to boast? We had a huge friggin’ mess during the Groundhog Day blizzard a few years ago here in Chicago where commuters totally ignored all the warnings about THE SNOW IS COMING FROM THE EAST and went and marooned themselves on Lake Shore Drive. Which they had been, indeed, warned NOT to use.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  45. mantis says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    For the record, science is still a belief system (see the writings of Kuhn among others). It just has a specific framework for bolstering those beliefs (one which I have complied to).

    Indeed, and I’ll take a belief system that relies on emperical evidence and falsifiability over the “believe me because I said so” stories that anti-science folks rest on. Scientific inquiry is built on the notion that conclusions might be wrong/incomplete and the system encourages constant refinement and correction. In other words, the opposite of religion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  46. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    @Kari Q:

    It reminds me of the Simpsons episodes where people were buying cat food because Apu wrote “Hurricane Chow” on the bag.

    True. However, I’m sitting pretty after getting my hands on the last cans of creamed eels, corn nog and wadded beef.

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  47. superdestroyer says:

    @Gold Star for Robot Boy:

    The rush to the grocery store also occurs in the Mid-Atlantic states. I think part of the cause, no matter the location, is that if one is planning on going to the store on Wedneday but Wednesday is a snow day then you move up shopping day to Tuesday. There is also a run for gasoline because you do not want to get stuck in a storm with a quarter tank of gasoline.

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  48. wr says:

    @stonetools: “Robots don’t freak out.”

    I’m thinking you don’t use computers much…

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  49. Tyrell says:

    @JKB: Here was the story around here, which is further north of Alabama and Atlanta. Fortunately some smart person let out the schools early ; the kids and high school drivers were out of the way, and the school buses were finished by the time the first flakes fell, around 2:30 – 3:00. For the first few hours it seemed like the snow turned to water on the streets and everything was still good, but all the while the temperature was dropping to about 20 degrees. By 5:00 everything was freezing up and traffic really got rough, but not as bad as Georgia or Alabama. For some it still meant a much longer drive from work. Everyone thought that the “dusting” would be just that: 1″ of light snow. Usually not a major problem. The big difference was the temperature. Our snows (few and far between) are usually in the 30 -33 degree temperature range, not in the low 20′s. The police told people to get home and stay home. Again, even though it only accumulated about an inch here, it was the much lower temperature that caused the huge problem.
    Of course in our area, at the first mention of snow it is like some sort of reflex action. People flock to the stores and buy enough bread and milk to last two weeks. Also lots of snack food. It just seems to be a tradition.
    Snow tires and chains? were used a lot long ago. Not anymore, at least around here. I doubt if you could even find any around here. Same for sleds.

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  50. wr says:

    @superdestroyer: “Are you really going to argue that southern states cannot do cost-benefit analysis. ”

    Are you kidding? They do it all the time. For instance right now, they know they could have the benefit of health care for millions of their poorest citizens, but only at the cost of knowing that the ni**ers would be getting it, too, and that’s a cost they’re not willing to pay.

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  51. An Interested Party says:

    Well, I don’t argue religion with zealots.

    Umm…OK…

    Now I’m not going to try to convince you your god doesn’t exist. I’m just going to tell you that I will oppose the imposition of your religious beliefs on society as a whole.

    Just as plenty of others will oppose you and the imposition of your religious beliefs to the anti-government god…

    Are you really going to argue that southern states cannot do cost-benefit analysis.

    Certainly “starve the beast” conservatives and teabaggers, among others, can’t seem to do that…

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  52. James Pearce says:

    @stonetools:

    Self Driving cars are the inevitable tech solution. Robots don’t freak out.

    Ah yes, but they are still subject to slippery roads.

    Living in Denver, our winters are snowy and filled with treacherous driving conditions. Me, I bought a light rear-wheel drive truck that just CANNOT handle it. So on the bad driving days, I take the light rail to work.

    Contrary to my truck, the bus system, or self-driving cars, light rail trains are not subject to slippery roads.

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  53. Franklin says:

    @James Pearce: I hear Blizzaks will do wonders … I only wish I had bought them before winter. Now I feel like if I do it, it’s too late for this year …

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  54. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Agreed. I learned that, post the 2011 storm, the city of Atlanta alone went out and bought 30 spreader trucks, 40 snow plows and some 70,000 tons of sand & gravel mix.

    This wasn’t a case of “we don’t have the equipment” or “we don’t know how to use it”. From all that I can gather, they (both the city transportation department and the Georgia DOT) waited until the last possible second to dispatch the trucks to salt, sand and plow, which in reality was already far too late to have made any sort of difference.

    Poor planning combined with what seems like a desire to avoid spending the money on storm prep until they absolutely had to.

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  55. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Atlanta has almost no snow plots or salt trucks.

    Incorrect, dear boy.

    As noted above, after the 2011 storm, Atlanta went on a snow equipment shopping spree.

    Of course, all the equipment in the world is useless if you are either too stupid or too cheap to put it to use until it’s too late.

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  56. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @superdestroyer:

    You actually have to have the plows prepositioned in a large urban area.

    Very true. Up here in NY, we often first learn of impending snow when we see the trucks and plows starting to roll to their staging areas. It’s more dependable from a prediction and warning standpoint than the weather reports are.

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  57. superdestroyer says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    30 spreader trucks is almost nothing. I drove past more than 10 on my way to work in the mid-atlanic and was only in one city. To keep everything going would take much more than 30 spreader trucks. Also, these days, the best thing to do is put brine down on the streets before the snow falls. How many brine trucks does the city of Atlanta and the 10 surrounding counties have?

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  58. superdestroyer says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    If you wait around until the snow starts falling to deploy the trucks, then it is too late. The trucks get stuck in traffic and cannot function. IN a city where the roads are over 100% capacity on a good day with good weather, the trucks cannot wait but need to deploy early and wait around. However, it occasionally means that the trucks sit around with nothing to do.

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  59. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @superdestroyer:

    That is 30 spreader trucks and 40 plows just for the streets maintained by the city. The state DOT handles the interstates and highways, and they have more than enough equipment available to have handled the job – had they bothered to respond early enough for it to have done any good. They didn’t.

    The governor was at an awards ceremony until after 12pm, and didn’t react until the snow was already falling. He was convinced that the storm wouldn’t hit Atlanta and refused to allow preparatory work like sanding and salting – because he didn’t want to spend the money on what he believed would be a non-event apparently.

    The broader point is that none of the equipment was staged and ready to go. It was parked until the powers that be (in this case the mayor and the governor) gave the order to roll, and that didn’t come until late morning / early afternoon, when it was already far too late for it to have made any sort of difference. It was a colossal failure of emergency planning.

    They got 4 inches of snow on untreated roads, followed shortly thereafter by a flood of traffic that compacted the snow accumulated on the roads into ice. Once that had happened, it was game over.

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  60. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @superdestroyer:

    That is exactly my point, and exactly what they did – they waited around and did little to nothing to prepare before the storm came, because they were convinced that the storm wouldn’t hit them.

    By the time that they decided to act, it was far too late for it to have made any sort of difference. Entirely due to just abysmal planning, IMO.

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  61. Stonetools says:

    Sounds to me that the Atlanta government bet against the weather science guys and lost.

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  62. Stonetools says:

    @James Pearce:

    Yeah, I was kind of being facetious in talking about self driving cars as the solution. Maybe the Georgia state and Atlanta governments should invest in a mass transit rail system, but conservative Republicans tend to dislike those solutions. People should drive cars, like God intended, even if they don’t do it in snow very well.

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  63. MarkedMan says:

    @JKB: JKB. Yeah. Sure. It’s the Yankees fault. So much for the culture of responsibility.

    I’ve lived in the snow belt (the real snow belt, not the snow Sahel like Chicago, although I’ve lived there too) and lived in Louisiana, Atlanta and Maryland. And at the first hint of so much as precip at near freezing temperatures, I got the heck off the road. It was the very, very scary drivers and hell no, it wasn’t the Yankees.

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  64. MarkedMan says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    here in Rochester NY… people forget how to drive every winter

    Matt, I hear you. When I used to live there (RIT then Xerox) and was on the road (390? 490? 590?) to work during the first snowfall, I would wait for the first real bend in the road and get over to the right side. Sure enough, someone was off in the median. Then I got really careful because a few hundred yards up two or three people would be off – they had seen the first guy and then started watching their rearview mirrors once they were past.

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  65. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @grumpy realist: Where I lived in the PNW, and unsealed road goes by a different name–we call them gravel roads. If that is what your friend in Dallas is talking about the hazard is easy to understand–wet loose gravel lubricated by either hydrocarbon residue from cars or snow.

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  66. DrDaveT says:

    @stonetools:

    Self Driving cars are the inevitable tech solution. Robots don’t freak out.

    Better trust your programmers pretty damned well, then. In DC, we still remember a few years ago when the computer-controlled trains ran off the end of the track on icy rails, killing and injuring passengers. I think they STILL run on manual control for various things these days, making for a jerky ride all around.

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  67. James Pearce says:

    @Stonetools:

    Maybe the Georgia state and Atlanta governments should invest in a mass transit rail system, but conservative Republicans tend to dislike those solutions. People should drive cars, like God intended, even if they don’t do it in snow very well.

    To be fair, Atlanta does have a rail system and it remained operational even as bus service was suspended and the roads became impassable.

    Also, while we can probably thank conservative Republicans and NIMBY Democrats for the delays in mass transit development over the last few decades, the tide has finally turned. Rail systems are going up in metro areas all over the country. They’re just not built up enough to be truly useful yet.

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  68. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Doug, Atlanta has such problems in part because there is major distrust of Atlanta in most other places in Georgia. The result is that it’s difficult to make emergency plans for a large area because of ingrained institutional animosities. Winter storms are something that can be planned for, unless there is a cultural resistance to cooperation between municipal and state officials.

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  69. gVOR08 says:

    @JKB:

    Well, guess what moron. First, we don’t get snow, we get snow cone ice. Here the snow is crunchy, not squeaky. Second, the ground has only been below freezing for 24 hours or so no matter it is now 9 degrees. Third, the roads are slickest when they are warm below, cold above and have had traffic to turn the snow cone into water into clear/frosty ice.

    And what do you think we northerners get in the fall?

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  70. Tyrell says:

    @James Pearce: “Light” rail would not have helped those of us out here in the rural areas. The plan here is : close schools and businesses, sand the bridges, and everyone stays home. Snow equipment and removal does not make sense when snow occurs once every few years, and usually light slush at that. Atlanta’s traffic even on a good day is insufferable. Most small towns do have a railroad line that connects them to larger cities. Maybe that is something to think about, but you have the big problems of freight trains. Freight trains have priority over passengers. One idea would be special buses that can also run on rails. You could really move people with that if you can dodge all the coal cars and other freight.

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  71. grumpy realist says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: Well, it certainly wasn’t gravel–I’ve driven on that as well.

    I just noticed that the Liberty Jeep I had been inflicted with from the rental agency (all the cars had already been rented) was handling on the damn road the way my Nissan handles wet ice.

    Whatever it was, I have no inclination to ever drive one of those behemoths again. I want a vehicle with tight handling and nimble response. Even a Ford Focus would have been better.

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  72. grumpy realist says:

    @HarvardLaw92: They don’t seem to have understood the concept of “a stitch in time saves nine.” Your comment about the snow getting compacted to ice (which is then almost impossible for the plows to get off the road) is so true.

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  73. James Pearce says:

    @Tyrell:

    “Light” rail would not have helped those of us out here in the rural areas.

    Why the scare quotes around “light?” And yes, it’s true, most mass transit systems are built in and for urban areas, so they’re not very useful in the rural areas.

    I don’t think urban areas are investing in light rail so they can save money on snow plows. Light rail is useful on any day of the week, rain or shine.

    Atlanta’s traffic even on a good day is insufferable.

    All the more reason to invest in a robust passenger rail system. I know once the light rail system along I-225 is complete in 2016, that’s how I’m going to be getting to work.

    Some people are fine with spending 10 plus hours a week stuck in lines of slowly moving single-occupancy vehicles. I am not one of them. I will laugh at them as I breeze by on the train, saving not only oodles of gas money but also 34 miles of daily wear and tear on my truck.

    Timewise, it will probably be a wash. But that’s 10 hours of extra reading a week rather than 10 hours of stress and cussing out the idiot in front of me.

    Maybe that is something to think about, but you have the big problems of freight trains. Freight trains have priority over passengers.

    This problem is non-existant in Denver, since freight trains don’t run on the light rail tracks. Any city considering operating both a commuter rail system and freight on the same tracks should reconsider.

    Intercity tracks…now that’s a different story. That’s where you have to worry about freight, and until there’s a cost effective and politically tenable way to separate those lines, that will indeed continue to be a problem.

    But not for intracity rail.

    One idea would be special buses that can also run on rails.

    This is almost an accurate description of your average light rail system. Only instead of “special buses” they just call them trains.

    Funny enough, I was reading Yglesias this morning and he mentions something about how passenger rail in Atlanta has been stymied by racial stupidity. What’s your take on that?

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  74. Andre Kenji says:

    @Tyrell:

    Freight trains have priority over passengers. One idea would be special buses that can also run on rails.

    That´s not the problem with passenger trains – the problem is that keeping the railstructure for passenger trains is very expensive, more than doing that for freight trains, that are slower. That´s why Amtrak costs so much money for the number of trains that they have.

    Keeping rails so that they can be used to for passenger trains during emergence situations is not realistic.

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  75. anjin-san says:

    @ Matt Bernius

    I bet you believe in those fake moon landings too…

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  76. anjin-san says:

    Atlanta’s traffic even on a good day is insufferable.

    Well, be a good Republican, stay home, and party like its 1899. Whatever you do, don’t try and solve the problem. Tea Party America is not a nation of problem solvers.

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  77. Just Me says:

    I grew up in the South (an area that gets some snowfall each winter but very light and not often).

    I now live in NH.

    Growing up my city had a truck with a plow attachment and a couple of people shoveling salt/sand out of the bed. They bought a real plow during high school.

    In NH my city is about 1/3 the size and has three plows.

    The other difference is how they plow. In the south they didn’t really get out and do anything-salt/sand/plow until the storm was over or close.

    In NH they pull the plows out and start as soon as the storm starts and work through the storm.

    It isn’t just knowing how to drive in snow-it’s also the efficiency with how they plow and treat the roads.

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  78. Grewgills says:

    We’re even further south and we have snow here too. We don’t have many people stuck, but I did close my windows and pulled on a blanket last night.

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  79. Tyrell says:

    @anjin-san: Well, maybe. I have visited Atlanta a lot, especially long ago, even before they got major league baseball. As the city grew, they bought into the idea that beltway systems would move people in, out, and around the city faster. Instead it seems that a lot of these beltways just create more traffic jams no matter what city. People around here say that you spend 4 hours getting to Atlanta and two hours getting through it. Most people will go an hour out of the way to avoid that place. Rapid transport and other ideas can help if the city can find the money. Then the other problem is getting people to ride it. One way to pay for it is to charge enough of a fare so that the system is profitable and doesn’t require a lot of tax payers’ money.
    I once talked to some people there who said they were there when General Sherman burned the place down. Their experiences were fascinating.

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  80. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @James Pearce:

    Funny enough, I was reading Yglesias this morning and he mentions something about how passenger rail in Atlanta has been stymied by racial stupidity. What’s your take on that?

    I think what he’s referring to is both Cobb and Gwinnett counties voting against MARTA back in the 1970s. As a result, neither county is part of the system and the rail lines do not / will not ever go there. What in other places is a coordinated regional approach to transit planning is, in metro Atlanta, a case of fiefdoms and NIMBY.

    The unspoken but understood truth in that sequence of events is that the folks in both counties didn’t want the brown people in Fulton to have an easy way to get to the suburbs, so they voted against MARTA.

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  81. Matt Bernius says:

    @MarkedMan:
    Nice to see a fellow RIT’er on the site. I did my post-grad time at the big yellow box.

    And yes. Exactly what you said. Nothing has changed since you left.

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