All over Cascadia we are now at about “ten days and counting” on our current bout of extreme Winter weather.  It has been a real inconvenience for most of us, as we are mostly not able to get out and about to do our normal routines.  We cannot shop for necessary supplies or for Christmas gifts.  Only those who are particularly well equipped can get out on the roads to travel.  We are having to put up with a public transportation system that first bent to its limits, then failed to handle twice the normal loads with half the usual resources.  Yes, nature has handed us some nasty stuff.

Many people I know take this unusual event in stride.  I know people who have been without electric pawer for days.  I know people who are unable to get to work.  Hey, I understand!  My current job requires driving on those streets, and since I am self-employed, if I don’t drive I don’t make any money.  sadly, it’s been a lean week.  Most people I have met have taken the attitude that we will get through this unusual experience.  In a few days, it will be over and we will have stories to tell about the big Winter storm of 2008.

We are currently in the midst of the worst accumulation of snow and ice in  the recorded history of Seattle or Portland and many spots in between.  Snow is infrequent in our area.  As a result, most of us, both as individuals and in our community-owned resources, are not equipped to deal with getting around in snow.  That’s OK, though.  Since snow is so infrequent, usually lasting only one or two days per year, our cultural norm is to simply take a day or two off of work and go back out when the weather is good again.

Yes, the snow has lasted much longer than usual.  We are now getting to the point where the snow is a major inconvenience to all of us.  It is frustrating.  I am amused, however not surprised, by a group of people who have a different reaction to this story.    There are many whose first inclination is to blame our government leaders for our predicament. Even better, some of our local news outlets have been drawn into this argument.

The amount of snow we have is more than can be reasonably shoved aside and off the road.  Besides, it has been snowing over the course of several days, and snow reappears quickly.  Seattle and Portland both do not put salt on the roads to melt ice, since ther eare environmental concerns and due to the damage it can do to cars.  In normal circumstances, this is a perfectly legitimate policy, since we do not usually have prolonged periods of snow.

Sadly, when this absolutely rare situation comes up, we are less than prepared to deal with it.  It is impractical to have enough snow-removal equipment to deal with this.  An thoughtful person would normally realize that we have greater needs for allocating our resources.  But it is easy to blame our elected leaders for this situation, even though if they has suggested large purchases of equipment six months ago, they would have been ridiculed.  Probably by the same folks who are complaining so bitterly now.

I am surprised as to how our local media cannot see this.  One example of this is this article from the Seattle Times, one which is probably the most opinionated story I have ever seen in the news section of the newspaper.  In fact, most of the pieces done by the editorial writers take more effort to explain that there might be two sides to an issue than this news article does.  One example of a loaded phrase in the article is “The icy streets are the result of Seattle’s refusal to use salt.”  Refusal to use?  that is an odd way to phrase that situation.  The city has a policy where it has decided not to use salt on the streets, opting for sand and de-icing solutions.  Because of this, they do not have a large pile of salt on hand to spread on the streets.  Refusing to use the salt?  What salt?  Please Seattle Times, tell the story as it is, not in a way to incite frustrated people.

The City of Seattle has made some decisions in advance regarding keeping the streets clear.  We can discuss the choices they have made, and agree or disagree with them.  We can decide to do something else in the future.  But the article implies that the city is inept in not keeping up with the weather.  Outside of areas where Winter snow removal is the norm, Seattle and Portland are about as prepared as anywhere else.  The tone of this article is uncalled for, particularly from a daily newspaper that wishes to continue being taken seriously.

Of course, the news departments of both newspapers seem to have the same opinions.  In the Seattle P-I, columnist Joel Connelly produced a diatribe today on how he expects all of the city’s services to run perfectly at all times, no matter what kind of weather is going on around him.  Yes, I feel grumpy today not beng able to get around as well as usual.  I don’t see where complaining that the roads are clear quickly in cities where Winter storms are normal is going to help anything here. No amount of complaining is going to produce clear, dry streets in this weather.

Both Metro Transit (and Tri-Met in Portland) have been operating a fraction of their usual routes.  The idea is to concentrate the remaining fleet on the busient routes.  Yes, more people want to take the bus, and there are fewer buses.  Let me tell you something, though.  Prior to the last election, there was considerable debate as to whether to tax ourselves to spend more money on more transit trains and buses.  Indeed, the relevant measure passed, and more buses are on the way.  I’m thinking though, the main issues at that time were getting sufficient vehicles to get folks to work even on a normal day.

What do you imagine would have happened if someone suggested that we get a less efficient transit system, but one that would be better able to keep going on the few days like this that it snowed?  Really, now.  If the choice were those high-capacity buses that get more people to work on a normal day, or feweer buses that would work on snow days, whoever suggested the snow option would have been laughed out of town.

Yes, we are surrounded with inconvenience this week.  It will continue for another week.  Then the problem will be gone, and we can go on with life.  Yes, the pay envelope will be pretty light this week.  Consider relaxing a bit this week.  Meet your neighbors.  Get into the Christmas spirit, if you celebrate the holiday.  Soon, things will be back to normal.

I know that our cities are prepared for true emergencies.  This is an inconvenience.  take some responsibility for yourself.  Or just sit back and relax.