Mon 12 Feb 2007
The news on the BBC has been dominated by stories about “heavy snow” affecting England and Wales. Apparently snow fall of up to 15cm (yes a whole 15cm!!) have brought large parts of England to a grinding halt. Why?
When I hear of “heavy snow” I think back to winters past.
In February 2001 I got up one morning to find there had been a blizzard overnight and there was 1m of snow lying outside. At that time I was working at the Bush Estate near Edinburgh (home to a number of research institutes and a very famous sheep), and before setting out to work I decided to phone and check that the roads were clear out there. Instead of getting a ringing tone, I heard an error message and deduced, rightly, from this that the storm must have brought down the power line and the building would be closed. When I went in the next day, I found that there was a large “snow sculpture” by the bus stop. A number of my colleges, who hadn’t checked before catching the bus the day before, had arrived to find the building closed and had an hour to wait for the bus home, so they built the “snow sculpture” to keep themselves busy. After all, a meter of snow in winter in Scotland is not considered to be unusual, yet.
Thinking further back, I remember in my youth, when I was living in Sussex, taking great delight in taking out my bike and cycling through 18” (about 45cm) of fresh snow. This was great fun, although I did need to stop every so often to clear the snow from under the mudguards. The road which my family lived on was unadopted, so the local authority never cleared it. Consequently when it snowed, the snow was not cleared and was packed down by cars driving over it. When I came to learn to drive, I leaned under true winter conditions and have been happy driving in snow ever since.
Another winter in Sussex, I was working through a temp agency and found myself working on the bins. We were welcomed in the small villages, as the dustbin lorry was the first outside agency to arrive since the snow had started. In one house, the occupiers had had to climb out of an upstairs window in order to clear the snow from their front door. The snow had drifted up against the front of the house, covering the door and windows.
The most impressive snow drifts I have ever seen were in Norway. In the 1980′s I lived and worked on a farm in western Noway for three summers. In April 1985 I hitch hiked from Oslo to Hardanger. When I set out from Oslo, I was expecting to have to catch a train from Geilo, as the road to Eidfjord across the Hardangervidda was normally closed in winter. Instead, I was surprised to find the road open. That winter they had started using new snow blowing technology, and for the first time in history the road was kept open all winter. It was truly impressive, in places the road passed though 4m high snow drifts, it is something I will never forget.
So when I hear the BBC talking about 15cm (6”) as “heavy snow”, I can’t help thinking it ridiculous. As I have found from recent experience, I know that at least 20cm (8”) of snow is needed to form a ski piste and this amount never stops the skiers getting to the pistes. Let’s keep a sense of proportion. The major problem is that people are too reliant on cars, buses are better able to cope with the snow. If more people were to use public transport (and more effort was made to maintain public transport infrastructure), there would be less congestion and less vulnerability to such events.
Here in Edinburgh there has been very little snow so far this winter, but the weather forecast says that is about to change…