snow

Don’t You Need Snow For A Snow Day?

The big news in Lincoln is Winter Storm Q*, which is expected to dump anywhere from 6 inches to 14 feet of snow over much of the Midwest.  The doomsday predictions of the storm have coming all week, and are so severe that Jim Cantore from The Weather Channel is in town (as I saw on Facebook this morning, Cantore doesn’t show up to admire your sunny days).

*What is the deal with naming winter snow storms?  Was some land-locked meteorologist feeling left out by the names given to hurricanes?  And worse yet is the choice of “Q”.  I have two issues with Q:  1) If you can’t pop for an entire name (Quincy, Quantavius, Quentin) then don’t bother with a single letter, and 2) Many Lincolnites associate the name “Q” with a downtown gay bar (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Unless the Q Bar is sponsoring the storm – and really, how far off are we from selling the naming rights to weather events? – let’s skip the names.

The snow was supposed to start falling Wednesday night, and continue all day Thursday.  So it made sense that Lincoln Public Schools called off classes for Thursday, which sets off a domino effect of parochial schools, small towns, daycare centers, and businesses closing too.  Heck, even the University of Nebraska called off classes, which is a rarity*.

*During my 4.5 years at UNL, classes were only called off once – for the Blizzard of 1997 – when Lincoln got 12-15 inches of heavy, wet snow that downed trees and left thousands without power for days.  That, my friends, was a storm worthy of a name.

When I went to bed last night, I peeked out the window, and was somewhat surprised to see that it had not started snowing yet.  No biggie – I set my alarm a little earlier, knowing that I’d be shoveling the driveway in the morning.

Morning came and….still no snow.  Seriously.  Not a flake. I got the kids ready for daycare and we set off on the nearly deserted streets.

As you might guess, there is a significant amount of grumbling going on about the decision to close schools before a single flake falls.  Many people (myself included) remember trudging to and from school during heavy Nebraska snows, with a snow day being an unexpected treat – not a foregone conclusion.  I read several of my friends griping about the decision, and what calling a snow day with no snow falling says about our culture and toughness.

But ultimately, I think they made the right decision.

Yes, the first flakes did not start falling until a little after 10 am, and as I type this (1 pm) there is maybe 2 inches of accumulation.  Surely, LPS could have gotten in a partial day; monitoring the weather and dismissing classes when the snow started to pile up, right?

Wrong.

Setting aside the inconsistent-to-poor snow removal in Lincoln, the general inability of Lincoln drivers to deal with snowy roads, and the logistics of thousands of working parents trying to get out of work to get their kids home – and believe me, these are all incredibly valid concerns individually – there is still one key reason why LPS made the right call:

As parents, and as a community, we entrust the safety and welfare of our children to their hands.  We count on our schools to keep them safe from all sorts of danger while they are there, and a winter snow storm/blizzard is definitely one of those things.  Believe it or not, some kids still walk to and from school all by themselves.  Do you want your kid, or your neighbor’s kid out walking around today?

I appreciate that LPS was in a true no-win situation.  If they don’t cancel classes and Lincoln gets socked by a foot of snow and/or some cute little kid gets hurt walking home then they never hear the end of it for failing to plan for a storm that we’ve known about for days.  If they do cancel school and the storm turns out to be a minor dusting (leaving poor Jim Cantore pouting in his parka), then they are the administration who cries “wolf!” and is failing to educate our kids.

I think Lincoln got it right.  Yeah, it was a little awkward this morning when it was not snowing, but their simple act helped avoid a lot of risk and kept kids safe.

And in a post-Newtown world, that is what our schools should be doing.

Snow Way, Let’s Get Plowed

Lincoln, Nebraska received about six inches of snow Tuesday night.  As the snow started to pile up, crews from the city’s Public Works department were out plowing streets, and spreading sand and salt to help make the streets driveable before the morning rush*

*Note – I use “rush” in a very loose sense.  There are several hindrances Lincolnites face in getting to work in the morning (two lane streets, bad drivers, poorly timed traffic signals, never-ending road work, confusion on how a roundabout works, etc.) but gridlock caused by an abundance of traffic is not one of them. 

Most cities have a rush hour.  Lincoln has a rush 5 minutes.

The city and the Public Works folks faced heavy criticism after the last snow storm.  By the time plows reached the side streets, the snow had been compacted down into large sheets of ice that lasted for weeks.

So with the new storm, came a new plan of attack:  city crews would try to get ahead of the game by dumping salt while doing the initial plowing.  (more about the plan and the previous criticism can be found in this Lincoln Journal-Star article).

This is good to hear.  When something is obviously not working, try a different approach.  I commend the city for trying new things.  Especially things other than the “Annie Strategy”* that has been used in the past.

*The “Annie Strategy” is where the city parks the plows in the garage and sings “The sun will come out tomorrow.  So you gotta hang on ’til tomorrow, come what may…“.  Technically, this strategy has a 100% success rate (snow wouldn’t last long in a Nebraska summer), but it doesn’t foster a lot of confidence in city government.

Not the Public Works director (I think)

But here is the thing I don’t get:  Why is there a need to keep experimenting with new approaches and techniques?  I get that every snow storm is unique and brings its own set of circumstances (amount of snow, time of day, day of week, wet snow vs powder, snow vs ice, and many other factors).

But…

Why is the city still experimenting?  Lincoln has been a city for a long, long time.  I’ve lived in Lincoln for 20 years.  In each of those twenty winters, we have received at least one snowfall with more than six inches of snow.  Why isn’t there a tried-and-true, battle tested plan of attack for whatever Mother Nature throws our way?

I understand that things have changed in the last 10-20 years:  taxes are lower, gas is more expensive, crew wages and benefits are more expensive, Lincoln’s population and number of streets have increased, people are out on the streets around the clock.  All of these things must make it a real pain in the ass to get streets plowed.

But…

Lincoln is not the only moderately sized city (250,000 people) facing these challenges in the snow belt.  What do other comparable cities do?  Is their snow removal better or worse?  What works and what doesn’t work?

I’m not the kind of guy who gripes all day long about paying too much in taxes, and this rant isn’t about whether or not my tax dollars are being used efficiently.  I am just struggling to comprehend why in 2013 we still don’t know the best way to clear snow and ice off of city streets in a relatively timely manner.  Maybe we need to give Mr. Plow* a call…

Surely it’s not that hard.

*That name again is Mr. Plow.

Rejected Winter X Games Events

The Winter X Games are now underway.  Depending on your point of view, Winter X is either a celebration of hip, alternative culture with tattooed, Red Bull-fueled adrenaline junkies doing crazy tricks in the snow, or something ESPN does to break up the monotony of the college basketball season, and pass the time before the Super Bowl.

Regardless, the Winter X Games has a lot of super cool events that involve snowboards, skis, or motorized vehicles (snowmobiles, dirt bikes, etc.) going really fast, doing flips, and/or achieving “big air”.  To make it seem extra cool, an “X” is usually attached to the name.  The result is some glorious high-def television, some overly excited commentators, and a lot of epic crashes.

But the folks who run the X Games are always looking for new, exciting events to liven things up.  Being such a huge proponent of the X lifestyle, as well as a huge fan of snow, I was happy to contribute.  Unfortunately, these events were rejected by rad hipsters and the ESPN suits in Bristol, CT.

  • Snow Angel X
  • Starting a Snow Thrower at 5:30 am
  • Saucer Sled X
  • Dressing in Layers
  • Walking Across An Icy Wal-Mart Parking Lot
  • Overuse The Word Snow In A Blog (current record holder:  Me)
  • Dog Sled Big Air
  • Passing a Drug Test
  • Yellow Snow Eating Contest
  • My Daily Commute After A Snowstorm
  • Ultimate Snowman
  • Synchronized Shoveling
  • Shot-Ski (sponsored by Red Bull and UV vodka)

Snowmaggedon

Local meteorologists (and Pennsylvannia-based rodents) are predicting a big winter storm this weekend.  Forecasts are calling for anywhere from 1 to 20 inches of snow, which means the storm could be the snowpacolypse or a snow-show.  The radio is describing the storm as “snowmaggedon”, although when a storm receives this much hype it turns out to be snow big deal.

Right now, it is just raining, which I guess could be considered the snowverture to the actual storm.  I have heard of a weather phenomina known as “thunder snow” (which is exactly what you think it is), but is there such a thing as a snownado?  Or a snowicane?  Or a snownami?  If the wind picks up, we could have a raging infersnow (aka a blizzard) causing hazzardous driving with snow visibility.

If it snows enough, the city might declare a Snow Emergency, which means there is snow parking on some streets so the snow plows can remove said snow.  Everyone is expected to snowbey the law, otherwise your car may be towed – or worse, snowed in.

Since it is the weekend, schools won’t have to worry about snow days, but don’t be surprised if some place are not snowpen for business.  Should anybody die as a result of the storm, we can read their snowbituary in the paper.

Is all of this a snowverreaction?  I don’t snow.  I think it is best to be snowverly cautious, without going snowverboard.  That is my personal snowpinion.

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