When it comes to snow, Seattle is conflicted.
We love it. We hate it.
And tomorrow, we’re gonna get it, or so says Cliff Mass, a scholar of weather in the Pacific Northwest.
Snow in Seattle is rare and unpredictable. It’s also a huge pain in the ass, precisely because it is so rare and unpredictable. We don’t have “snow storms” in Seattle; we have “snow events.” Incoming storms are always rain storms that freeze up on arrival. Conditions have to be just so before the white stuff falls, and tomorrow, it looks like a sure thing.
When snow does fall, Seattle takes on a different character. People look up more. Spirits lift. I see more smiles on the faces I pass on the street. Old buildings look newer and new buildings look older, as if the entire city has shifted to some mid-20th century convergence point. New sounds fill the streets–crunching footsteps, creaking tires–while other sounds are muffled.
Snow in Seattle is an excuse. Schools open late or close down for the duration. People “work from home” or head home early “to beat the traffic.” Metro buses chain up, giving us the modern equivalent to sleigh bells as they jangle along their routes. News teams put on their yellow weather jackets and stand on street corners to report, or drive around in cars with dash-cams to show us that yes, indeed, snow is falling in Seattle.
We love it!
Until we don’t.
Snow in Seattle is not all Currier and Ives. We have hills–big hills–and it doesn’t take much snow to make some of them impassable. One favorite spot for news crews is at the foot of Queen Anne Hill looking up the counterbalance, where the snow creates a game of bumper cars on an inclined plane for any driver so foolish as to venture on the slick hillside. Our snowplows, such as they are, only hit the arterials, leaving side streets covered in snow and ice. In serious events, freeway shoulders are littered with vehicles wounded or abandoned.
By and large, the only Seattleites who drive in the snow are those who don’t know how. Those who do know how to drive in the snow know that the real danger is not the snow. It’s the idiots in 4WD SUVs who are going too fast (because they have 4WD), and so we stay off the roads and let the idiots Darwin it out on the unplowed streets.
Luckily, snow in Seattle is usually short-lived. Whatever falls overnight has melted off the roadways by noon and is gone by the next morning. Sure, it might screw up a commute or two, might mess with your schedule as you deal with the kids for an extra 2 hours before their school’s late start, but overall, it’s nice, polite, and beautiful while it lasts.
Tomorrow will be one of those days (or so says Cliff).
I’m lucky. I work from home on Fridays, and tomorrow I’m logging off early to start a super-long holiday weekend. If the snow lasts a bit, I’ll be able to go out for a drive in the white-clad neighborhoods. Perhaps I’ll stop, get out, take a few crunching steps in the pristine snow, smile at a stranger and wish them happy holidays.
Maybe it’ll be you.
I wish you all a pleasant holiday week, and a safe and happy new year.
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