09 February 2010

Snowmageddon: Why Shut Down?

It occurs to me that I should explain a few things about the huge amount of snow that we have here in Washington, DC right now.
Yes, it really is two feet deep everywhere. And yes, we're getting another 8-20 inches tonight. We're trying to be polite about it, because that's our nature, but mostly we're sick of shovels and shoveling.

Most of the country thinks that the city of Washington and Washingtonians themselves don't really handle snow very well. I mean, hey, the federal government has been effectively shut down since last Friday (they didn't tell you, but every federal worker who had the option stayed home last Friday), and formally closed since Monday. It won't likely reopen for business this week.
Here's why that's such a good idea:
When the snow moved in, there were a lot of plows standing by and trucks full of chemicals, salt and sand waiting to push the snow aside and treat whatever was left on the roads.

I showed you this picture last week; trucks and plows lined up and waiting. But for some reason, they aren't doing the job the same as they do in other cities.
Where I am from, in the West, they seem to understand snow removal. When there is a heavy snow, the interstates are immediately plowed and the snow is completely pushed off the highway.
Completely. Safely. Off.
But when the plows cover the highways here, for some reason, the snow isn't completely removed. Instead, it gets pushed around and piled up. Layers get compacted and built up on the interstate system that is the heart of transportation in this very population-dense area.
The snow forms ice in layers. It thaws and refreezes, but since it's never properly disposed of, the ice on our interstate becomes thicker in some places and thinner in others. It is extremely uneven. It's hard to imagine unless you've seen it, but the net effect is that something like a ski mogul that builds up in one place while a dip forms in another. Only the mogul is made out of ice and your life depends on it.
As a driver proceeds into the city (where the interstate curves at the Pentagon is where I've seen it the worst) that icy mogul can be anywhere between 3 inches and several feet thick. Your car vaults up one mogul and comes crashing down a few yards later. No telling which way the car will go because it will land on more ice and be immediately headed for the next mogul.
Now, imagine trying to drive into a city during rush hour along a normally smooth highway that suddenly resembles a giant slalom with deep dips that you've never seen before, all made of ice, alongside of everyone else who is also trying to go to work.
In short, it's the most terrifying rollercoaster ride you've ever been on.
So yes, we are somewhat a city of snow-sissies, but after you've had one frightening ride on our snow-mogul-infested interstate after a big storm, you might just stay home, too.
Try not to judge us too harshly. We're dreading Monday morning for a different reason than you.
(And yes, we do have a great train system here in Washington, but right now, the Metro is limited to "in city" service where the tracks are all below ground and unaffected by the snow. It's currently running at about 1/4 of the usual number of trains with shorter hours.)


El said...

I had no idea what a mess DC was this past week. Being from New England, I just figured they'd plow and keep going. Glad you're safe and sound!

Marti said...

El! Welcome!

I had a ton of fun being "shut-in." And being from the Great (adventurous) American West, I thought "This is more than I've seen, but not more than I can handle."

I had stocked my pantry a full week in advance and sorta watched a lot of other people panicking.

Speaking of pantries, YOU have a gorgeous blog and a TON of know-how! I was very, very impressed!