Random post-snowstorm observations

With the 7 am temperature only 3 degrees, not a lot of the 20 inches of snow that fell on Wednesday will be melting today. I have a couple of post-storm observations to share:

During my two mile drive home from work last night, at two different spots I saw Lowell Police conducting traffic stops of cars that I think had blocked intersections. While sometimes you get caught in such a situation despite the best efforts not to, with the streets so narrow because of the snow, it’s more important than ever that we avoid adding to the gridlock – and the police seem to be reminding us of that. The police powers that accompanied the declaration of snow emergency seemed to be put to good use this time. I didn’t see many cars “snowed in” which means they were either moved or towed from the street. Listening to the police scanner during the storm, the city seemed more aggressive about towing cars parked on the street, with good result.

The practice of shoveling sidewalks is still not universal although in the Highlands it seems more than 50% are cleared although not much more than that. A big problem is snowbanks at the corners of intersections. I don’t know if it’s the city plows or private plows, but large piles of snow from the road are deposited on many corners. Even a well-meaning homeowner can’t be expected to dig through a six foot high pile of frozen slush so as to clear the sidewalk out into the cross street. These big piles also cut down the line of sight of drivers entering the intersection, making fender-benders more likely. However, with 20 inches of snow to clear, I’m not sure of any alternative.

Finally, the streets were well-plowed in this storm; many are down to bare pavement, but the width of most streets was greatly curtailed because of the resulting snowbanks. Perhaps the volume of snow prevented it from being pushed farther back or maybe it was an attempt to make the sidewalks easier to clear. Whatever the reason, once cars start parking curbside, the travel lanes of many city streets will be pinched in considerably, making navigating the city a lot more challenging.

Overall, Greater Lowell seemed to handle this significant-sized storm without too much difficulty. That’s partly due to good preparation and the hard work of those responsible for clearing and safeguarding our streets, but the timing of a storm plays an enormous role in how a community handles snow. Ominous forecasts alone aren’t enough to close schools and businesses and seriously alter plans. Last year, I believe, a dire forecast prompted the preemptive cancellation of school the night before, but the storm fizzled out and the call seemed like a bad one. This time, however, the snow commenced shortly after midnight so early risers were greeted with more than six inches already on the ground with an equal or greater amount still to come according to forecasts. It was clear by daybreak that this storm would meet or exceed the forecast.

The toughest storms to tolerate are those that arrive late morning. Few businesses will close on speculation that the storm will be as bad as forecast, so everyone is already at work. Once the snow begins, there’s a tricky calculation of if and when employees should be allowed to leave early for home. In school systems such as Lowell where buses run multiple routes, letting students out earlier is not even an option. But no matter what time people are released, the drive home in a midday snowstorm will fall somewhere between a mess and a disaster. Such a storm hit back in December 2007 and many folks had their normal commute extended to five-plus hours as snow plows became gridlocked by all the traffic which allowed the fast-falling snow to pile up even more, creating greater gridlock. Governor Patrick took a lot of blame for that one, yet when he shut down state government early when the next storm loomed, his caution was criticized by many when the storm failed to materialize.

Nature has a way of reminding us that it controls us and not us it. Each storm is different. We shouldn’t become a region of wimps when it comes to the weather – in what other context are employees so quick to label themselves as “non-essential”? – but we shouldn’t be reckless or arrogant when it comes to the weather.

3 Responses to Random post-snowstorm observations

  1. Joan H says:

    Like you, I had my scanner on during and after the storm. I noted yesterday that they were towing cars that had never been dug out and in several cases the cars were from NH (hmmmm) or the home addresses were no place near where they were found. We all knew the night before that the schools would be closed- so that’s a good thing. As for non-essential employees – get them home and off the road early. Less people to take a chance on getting stuck ) like the Doofus on my street that had to be dug out after he skidded. Message to others – don’t try to go down side streets at full speed if they haven’t been plowed.

  2. Bob Forrant says:

    I live on Christian Hill, not too far up, but up nonetheless. Neighborhood seemed to me to be well plowed and it was easy off on Thursday morning for a trip to Boston, where lots of neighborhood side streets looked quite a bit worse. I’ve lived in this part of Lowell for six years now and it is always well tended to by the plows and sanders. I know winter is at hand when the sand barrels appear! I must admit I sometimes shake my fist when the driveway end is plowed over – but that’s life in New England.