Friday, December 14, 2012

Utahns Should Park the Monster Plows and Enjoy a Snow Day

Editor’s note: The column below ran in the Deseret News in November of 2010 but the author, our own Steve Eaton, feels the message is one that people in Utah still need to hear. “Utah people know so little about snowy weather and driving,” he said. “I think they could learn a thing or two from the people of Washington State where I grew up.” This column is used with permission from the Deseret News.


It's started to snow again, and it's becoming clear to me that people in Utah don't know how to deal with snow. My family moved here from Seattle, where we would get snow just every other year, and we do a better job with snow than you Utahns do.

Here is a basic rule about snow that is apparently rocket science to most of you: If there is visible snow on the ground, start canceling stuff. You should cancel school, work and church meetings. Close everything.

That's what snow is for: an excuse to cancel stuff.

In Washington, we were so good at this that we took it a step further. In the Evergreen State, if snow is just being forecast, you should cancel stuff. You don't even have to wait for the snow to fall. This is called a snow day, and a snow day is a lot like a vacation day. Think about this carefully for a few seconds. Are you getting this? Something has gone terribly off track here. When I went through my first winter here and tried to explain this concept to people I got a three-step reply.

First, we never cancel anything because of snow. This is stated as if it's a bragging point. That's very confusing to me. It's like boasting, I never turn on the lights in our house, even if I walk into stuff.

Second, they say, the snow we are experiencing now is nothing compared to the way it used to be. It used to snow 14 feet in an hour. You couldn't even open your front door, the snow was so high. You would pour a glass of water in the house and it would freeze before you could drink it.

This leads to the third reply: Even then, we didn't cancel anything. We don't cancel anything for snow.

The principle of snow disrupting things is such a key concept in Washington, that if it does snow and people don't cancel things, well, we just go out and crash. We spin and crash. We go into ditches. We get out of our cars and fall down. And we don't have to wait until we get out on the roads to do it. We crash in our driveways and in parking lots. We're good at it.

When you go outside and it is cold and you fall down, that's nature's way of telling you that you've made a mistake. You're supposed to take the day off.

Here's another part of the equation. Everyone should be talking about the impending storm when a blizzard is coming and what things might be canceled. The newscasts here don't inspire panic. People don't rush out and buy generators if a storm is coming.

In Seattle, the TV people give storms cool names like "The Arctic Blast of 2008," and they come up with great graphics and warn of death, looting and destruction. Here, all we get is this dire warning: snow likely.

We live near a hill, and some of the recent snowstorms made the hill very slick. This meant that some people couldn't make it up the hill. When I saw this start to happen, I ran out in my sneakers to try to help.

It turns out that standing on an ice-covered hill behind a 6-ton car that is spinning its tires and sliding backwards isn't that helpful.

One of the people I went to help asked me what would happen if they just did a U-turn and went back down the hill. Since I'm from Washington, I didn't know. My guess was that they would just start doing out-of-control donuts down the hill because that's what we would do in Washington.

To the credit of local officials, they eventually canceled the hill. They closed it but only for a few minutes until this monster snowplow showed up that completely cleared the snow.

While we're at it, explain this to me: What's with the monster snowplows? We thought it was an earthquake the first time one went by.

I assume snowplows cost a lot of tax dollars and, because they make the driving safer, they make people stop canceling stuff. Trying to explain this just tires me out. It seems so simple. I'd write more but I think I'd better get out and buy a generator and batteries. Snow is likely. I hope the stores aren't already closed.

— Steve Eaton