Monday, December 19, 2005

Oregonians Are Not Stupid

Yesterday, we had some snow. Before you say, "so what?" Let me finish.

So. Yesterday. It began to snow, but soon turned into freezing rain. Why? Because cold air was trapped on the ground with warm air on top of it. The precipitation fell as snow, melted on the way down, then refroze right before it hit the ground. When freezing rain hits your windshield it makes a tinkling sound. It's charming. And dangerous.

We were out Christmas shopping yesterday afternoon, and when we heard it had begun to snow, we hurried to finish shopping so we could go home because we knew what was coming and it wasn't going to be good. The parking lot was a traffic jam, and the roads quickly became very slippery. Luckily, OH is an excellent inclement weather driver, so we made it home safely to my great relief.

Again, you might be thinking, "so freaking what, lady!? I live in Buffalo (or wherever) and we get lots of snow, yet manage to keep the roads open and get to work. Geez..." Okay, okay. I'll tell you freaking what.

Oregon is a big state, divided into east and west by the Cascade Mountain range. The part of the state east of the Cascade Mountains is higher in elevation than the west, and is basin and range topography. It is hotter and drier in the summer, colder and snowier in the winter. The western side is a valley between the very low Coast Range mountains and the tall Cascades. The west side is temperate, and receives gentle rains and fairly moderate temperature fluctuations.

Portland is in a unique geographic position, being at the north end of the Willamette Valley (correct pronounciation: will-a'-met) . To the west of Portland lie the gentle Tualatin Mountains, which are more generally referred to as the West Hills. To the east of the city lies the Columbia River Gorge. The Gorge was carved out of volcanic basalt by a huge glacier, which came right through the Cascade range many thousands of years ago. This glacial force was carried out by the Missoula flood. The result is a natural funnel connecting west and east right through the mountains, called the Columbia River Gorge.

In the winter, cold air sits around happily hanging out in the eastern part of the state. When conditions are right the cold air can be sucked through the Gorge from the east and poured into the west, and where that cold front and warm front meet means bad winter weather. Portland sits directly at this convergence zone. When we get snow, it will generally be mixed with freezing rain which turns the city into an ice rink.

Oregonians are the subject of ridicule because, when snow is predicted we tend to close down schools in the Portland area and our newscasters tell us to stay home unless we absolutely have to go out. This is not because we are scared idiots; it is because we do not normally get snow but when we do, it can be assumed that freezing rain may accompany the snow. The fact that it happens so infrequently makes it difficult to purport the necessity for spending thousands of dollars to acquire and maintain expensive road-clearing equipment, not to mention crews to staff all of that equipment.

Because we've saved so much money not maintaining extensive road clearing tools, it takes a lot of time to clear everything with what we do have. The ice is very hard to deal with because it piles up so quick, not to mention is icy.

(Heh, ice is icy. Do I win some kind of Obvious Adjective Use award, or something? Because that one was a winner.)

It's a unique situation. Nevertheless, people from places like Buffalo laugh and scoff at what appears to be our timidness for inclement weather.

I for one, am tired of the scoffing and the laughing. I'm tired of hearing how other places get so much more snow and aren't we stupid for closing schools and roads because of a little snow? Ho, ho, ho. Well, no, actually, we're not. We don't have snow, we have ice, not to mention nary the equipment to keep up with buildup of ice which doesn't happen every year like it does in other places that rhyme with Fluffalo. You people get snow all the time, you have snowplows and sanding crews who, year after year, know that they will be plowing and sanding and are ready to do so en force at a moment's notice. Meanwhile, I'd like to point out that the Oregon Department of Transportation does not use salt to combat ice, which causes problems when it dissolves into the water in great quantities. We use a biodegradable chemical de-icer and sand. Take that, Fluffalo!

I like to be able to stay home and keep warm while watching the newscasters go out and tell you just how slippery it is in Troutdale because of all the ice. Besides, the thought of all those scoffers and laughers in snowier areas of the country trudging out into the cold to take their newly-plowed street to work is kind of nice. I think of them every time I am at home snuggled up in a blanket, listening to the roar of the fireplace, and watching the freezing rain make a beautiful icescape outside.

Because it's icy.

Forecast, from National Weather Service

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