Here in the Puget Sound Region, we don’t get a lot of snow, so when we do, you hear a lot about it on TV. Newscasters make fools of themselves with their idiotic coverage that will include classic gems of wisdom such as, “If you can see snow on the roadway, it may be slippery, so be careful!” I’m not kidding. That’s an annoyance, but funny in its own way. What’s not so funny, however, is to hear drivers from other, snowier parts of the country bashing Seattle drivers for their apparent lack of “adverse weather conditions” expertise.
My first experience driving in the snow came in Anchorage, Alaska, where I lived for a few years in the late ’70s. Up there, you had to drive in the snow unless, of course, you commuted on X-country skis, risking the dangers of renegade moose and bear encounters. My trial by fire came on a day in early April. I had carpooled to my job all winter but we had recently purchased a car for my use. The weather had warmed up and the roads were largely clear of ice, so I set out to work one morning on my own. That day, it snowed several inches during the day. Heart pounding, I headed home and discovered, hey! it wasn’t so bad. Over the next couple of years, snowy weather never kept me home or even gave me pause if there was somewhere I wanted to go.
So my first experience driving in “Seattle snow” was something of an eye opener. Just for starters, the snow is really slippery. Seriously. While all snow is slippery, in Seattle snow nearly always falls when the temperature is hovering at or slightly above freezing. It may not stick on the roads for hours. Then, when the temperature has finally dropped enough for the snow to stick, it’s falling on a nice bed of black ice. That’s quite different than driving on compact snow, or even compact snow and ice. It’s even better when the snow melts on top of the ice; there’s nothing more relaxing than driving on wet ice.
The second challenge facing drivers is the hills. The seven hills of Seattle rise steeply from Puget Sound. The steepest streets in Seattle have slopes in the 18 to 21% range, like the one below. Please view this photo in the context of the nice, wet black ice I was just talking about.
Finally, the city and county agencies are relatively unprepared for snowfall. It would be poor use of government funds to purchase and maintain equipment that would sit idle 360 (+/-) days a year. So streets aren’t plowed and sanded right away. If you think you can do better on one of those 21% grade hills, covered in wet black ice, that hasn’t been sanded, more power to you. But until you’ve tried it, please lay off Seattle drivers.