January welcomes snow in the New Year

When South Sound Washingtonians think of snow days, we think of a gentle change of pace. Life seems to quiet down, we spend more time with family and friends and we take a break from our noisy life. Even quite literally, when we leave the warm comfort of our home, the snowy weather is audibly quieter as the snow suspended in the air drowns out the ambient noise.

A fresh blanket of snow covers the rural area of Edgewood.
(Photo courtesy of Charlie Jones)

That rosy picture, however, seems to have been forever tainted by the current snow week that we are slowly crawling ourselves out of. Road closures, traffic jams, people trapped in their homes. At Sea-Tac Airport, incoming flights sat on the ground for five hours waiting for gates to free up.

In Tacoma, the snow and ice wreaked havoc on the roads. Senior Abby Weller said, “I nearly totaled my car on the icy and steep roads of North Tacoma.” In my own family, bad roads caused damage to my parent’s car after sliding into a guardrail.

Frightening stories like these are experiences we all share. When contextualized to the entire population of the South Sound, the destruction and cost that the snow brings is nothing short of astonishing. With a GDP of nearly 400 billion dollars, our region is an economic powerhouse for the country. Roughly speaking, if poor snow clearing infrastructure keeps around half of our population out of work for a few days, that is billions of dollars just written off. Not to mention, the millions of dollars of damages that poor road conditions cost everyday Washington residents.

Investing in more snow plows seems like a no brainer. In fact, this controversy seems to pop up every time there is a large snow event. In December of 2008 heavy snowfall and abnormally cold temperatures brought Seattle to a grinding halt and once again exposed its weak snow removal infrastructure. The ordeal led to the removal of the mayor at the time and improved infrastructure but as we saw in the past week, the problem persists.

In Yakima, a city around the same size as Tacoma, 89 snow removal vehicles keep the roads clear and the economy running. In Tacoma, just 12 plows are tasked with clearing the entire city. Full disclosure, Yakima averages around 18 inches of snow to Tacoma’s 4 inches of snow however in the past 15 years, multiple 10+ inch snow storms have led to large scale economic stoppages in Tacoma. Yakima does not suffer from these issues.

Knowing this, it is clear that nearly all of our region’s snow folly is almost completely avoidable. Snow and cold snaps like the one we just experienced points out an embarrassing weak point in our infrastructure and inefficiencies in our local government. Every single plow added to Tacoma’s fleet is an economic boon.

For Bellarmine students, the snow covered roads meant immobility as many parents did not allow their children behind the wheel. For those lucky enough to leave the house, things got hairy. Senior Tashi Landers-Quinn explanined how he “almost died” on his way to Crystal Mountain Ski Resort. “The previous night’s rain had turned the roads into a skating rink and even in my four wheel drive car, I nearly flipped my car skidding out around a turn.”

Heart skipping stories like this show that the writing is on the wall for the south sound area. The occasional snow day is an amazing break from the dark and often depressing winter weather. However, when a snow day turns into a snow and ice week, our area should be prepared to take on the winter weather.