Snow: What’s the big deal?

Posted on: 20/12/2010

So it’s snowing, and this country is behaving like it’s the end of the world.  Again.

This is the UK’s third cold winter in a row, and seemingly it’s getting colder…  It’s certainly getting colder sooner.

Some say it’s due to climate change that the warm gulf stream no longer reaches us like it used to.  I haven’t a clue.  But with cold winters being a trend that seems likely to stay, I reckon it’s about time we got used to it.

A few years back I visited New York in the winter.  They experience conditions like this every winter.  When it’s particularly bad, the airports close during a blizzard.  But everything else is still running.  They stick snowploughs on the front of their dustbin lorries, get them out on the roads immediately, and life goes on as normal.  Trains, cars, all doing their normal thing.  So I see no good reason why we Brits should be caught with our pants down every time we have any snow.

What then, do we as a nation need to get our heads around to stop the country from grinding to a halt?

First of all we have a government responsibility to keep all the roads running well.  So that means an adequate collection of vehicles that can actually plough the roads.  Gritting isn’t enough, though it certainly helps, especially in non-snowy conditions.  We should avoid salt when it gets really cold, as it tends to make driving conditions worse.  And we really shouldn’t run out of grit – I understand that in the Netherlands (on the same latitude as us no less), not only is it illegal to drive without snow tyres, but they also scoop up all the grit they have used every spring time.

Government responsibility also means keeping the trains running as normal.  Trains are cancelled in cold weather for various reasons.  One of the most ridiculous reasons was because part of our electric track runs on a third rail system where the electricity supply picked up by the trains is on the top of the rail, whereas in other countries they sensibly keep it underneath, thus preventing snow or ice building up  and affecting the electricity supply.  Also other countries have heavier rolling stock, that could handle sticking a snowplough on the front.  Also the overhead cables aren’t particularly strong, and this means that heavy snow brings them down.

Clearly this is a major infrastructure issue that needs serious attention.  Investment needs to happen now, and even then we won’t see the results for years to come.

Secondly, all of us drivers need to take responsibility for ourselves.  That means actually fitting winter tyres.  Winter tyres will make us more confident on the roads, and help us to maintain a reasonable speed without compromising our safety.  Shovelling snow from our driveways and cul-de-sacs, keeping a snow shovel in the car in case we do get stuck.  Being well prepared with appropriate clothing, and blankets in the car if we get severely stuck.We shouldn’t allow ourselves to use the snow as an excuse to stay home; if everyone did that the entire economy would grind to a halt – not what we need right now!

So all in all, I reckon we could do a lot better.  And build snowmen.  Lots of snowmen.


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