questionsanybody else caught in the southern snowpocolypse?

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When I got into work I saw that the advisory had changed to a warning. To credit the NWS: they completely nailed the forecast. By 10:00 I had heard it was snowing farther south: by 11:30 I saw snow on the traffic cameras and traffic starting to slow: so I left was soon as I could, about 12:15 or so. Under normal conditions at that time I could make it home in less than an hour.

Traffic was moving OK for about 75% of the way there. The snow was now coming down pretty hard: fat flakes with temperatures about 28 or so. Then it just slowed to a crawl. I attempted to use some back roads to try and get home: not smart. I should at this point make my commentary on road construction and development here in the south.

The concept of "ice" is not considered in planning. Some of the roads (specifically the grades on them) would never be built in the Northeast: they wouldn't be considered. (continued again)

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You would be declared insane if you even proposed some of them, let alone built them. This road I was on (Riverside Drive) is one. Plenty of steep hills and curves. I saw traffic stopped and realized what was happening. I turned around and barely made it back to the interstate (two cheers for automatic traction control).

It was now about 2:00 or so. Traffic continued to crawl. I got about 9 more miles, then was able to leave the interstate, and (for a few minutes) make some progress on secondary roads toward home. It is now 5:30 or so. I made it another mile, then traffic just stopped. No movement. At all. I moved about 300 yards in 2 hours. I was only 3 miles from home: after one false start (my wife convinced be to stay with the truck, after moving 20 yards in 1 hour, I overrode that objection) I parked the truck off the side of the road (well out of traffic, and behind several other vehicles) and started walking.

The 3 mile walk home was instructive. (continued)

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I should have left the vehicle long before. There was a huge knot of stalled and wrecked vehicles several hundred yards from where I was (just out of vision). Nobody was getting past. I walked by 4 other spots where something similar was going on. There was no way I was getting home via vehicle that night.

About an hour after I left the truck I got home to a very frantic dog. It was now about 8:30. My wife was still stuck in traffic, which wasn't moving anywhere. The entire metro area was in complete gridlock. I've never seen anything like it. She exited the interstate and hoped to find a hotel: no joy there. After wandering to a few places, she managed to make it to a firehouse, where she got shelter for the night: this at about midnight.

The next morning roads had cleared enough so that she could drive the rest of the way to the entrance to our subdivision, which is up on a hill: roads at this point only good for sledding. (one more entry)

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I overrode another objection and we drove her car and retrieved the truck, brought both back to the entrance, parked them there, and walked home.

I'd never seen anything like this. In terms of what else could have been done: I don't know. If more schools were cancelled it would have helped some, but not completely. Unless a state of emergency was declared in advance (good luck with that: prohibiting people from going to work with not a flake of snow on the ground) the same thing (more or less) would have happened.

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I am in NW MT. We got new snow for the first time in 2 weeks. I went skiing & snowboarding. Your story reminds me of driving through 2 blizzards in the 90's before I moved out west. One of them stretched across 5 states and shut the entire state of PA for 24 hours by Governor's decree. Philly was just stopped dead, so much snow the plows couldn't even get down the streets. I went skiing then, too. Hey, when life hands you lemons go skiing but don't eat the lemon-colored snow.
Tragically, the west coast is in the worst drought in 100 years of recorded history and all the ski areas out there are in horrible shape.

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The problem is that us southerners do not know how to drive in ice and snow. Add to that a mayor who was too busy campaigning and hobb-knobbing to do his job efficiently.

I don't live there, but I live around Houston. It happened to us last week, though not as bad. It took one of my drivers 7 hours to make a 1 and a half hour drive last Friday and that was just ice. Glad you and your got home safe.

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No, I've been caught in the actual snowpocalypse. The one where we're expected to be at work during states of emergency, with snowfall totals listed in feet.

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My area escaped this Snowmageddon, but @wilfbrim what a great story to tell when you get old! That's what life is all about - who has the best stories to tell!

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@pyxientx: It's easy to say "They don't know how to drive!" While true, it is only part of the story. When the roads are sheets completely iced over there isn't much anybody can do. The time of day (when everybody was at work) was an issue, as was the speed of accumulation, the temperature (cold enough to stick, warm enough to compact, then got colder and froze), and the design of the roads.

The governor took some of the blame, but probably needs to take more. The Emergency Operations Center wasn't manned until 9 AM on Tuesday the 28th: when the snow began to fall. That is about a day late. EOCs generally should be manned up and operating 24 hours before an expected event (snow, hurricane, flood) happens. The state emergency manager told the governor the day before that this wasn't anything to worry about. He should be fired. The governor didn't declare a state of emergency until 7PM. At that point traffic was gridlocked in a >600 square mile area.

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@wilfbrim: While I agree with the majority of what you say, I stand by the drive comment. People up north drive in ice and snow every winter. Did the construction of the roads play into the issue... I haven't a clue. I guess that would be for DOT to figure out.
Maybe this will be a learning thing for your local government, and will enable the changes needed going forward. However, if your local government is like mine, I would not hold my breath, as blue is NOT a good skin color.

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@pyxientx: Keep in mind that winter driving up north is usually with the benefit of snow plows and salt/sand going down on the road. They didn't have the infrastructure for that.

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@omnichad: True, but we (Houston) did have sand and it did not help us drive. Also, sand only helps after the ice. I have no idea about salt, though, as it was not used here. We do have a northerner that works with us, and he had no issue driving in on the same roads my husband and I did have trouble with.

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@pyxientx: @wilfbrim: I can answer the question about the roadway design....after lunch :-)

it is an issue

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@nmchapma: Much appreciated. I like learning new things.

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Before I get into things I'll say I have worked on Roadway designs in NC, SC, VA, TN, TX, FL, GA, and now CO. I cannot quote the design manuals but most of them are on the shelf beside me.

Ice and snow are not taken into account when designing roads in most of these states. The only line in most manuals says to "use engineering judgement" when considering design criteria for areas prone to poor weather conditions such as ice. Some mountainous areas are excluded from that but those are a different beast entirely; the same way they are in Maine and NY. The maximum grade is certainly a factor, especially in urbanized areas. As a general rule, larger capacity streets have lower maximum grades, lower design speeds, and smaller curve radii. Urban collectors usually do not go above 8% though in areas with more ice 6% is preferred. Structures are rarely built on grades above 6%. In rural areas the maximum grade is 12%. cont.

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None of this really takes ice into consideration. But it's not just the design manuals and safety, its the money. Lower maximum grades are more expensive to construct and very difficult to obey in many southern states due to terrain. This is going to sound cold (almost funny). There are calculations ran to decide if the added safety is worth the additional cost. These calculations often include a cost per life (yes there number of accidents (and fatalities) by category are calculated for larger road projects. Your time and convenience during 3 days of ice per year are not taken into account by the designers or the DOT. These occurrences are the responsibility of you and your local government.

Another factor that changes in areas prone to Ice are maximum super elevations which I have discussed in this forum before. I won't go into detail but steeper SE's allow drivers to maintain faster speeds around curves. cont.

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One factor that does not change for areas prone to ice is the pavement design. This is based solely off of traffic data such as AADT and VPH during peak times.

I have read several studies which examine driver behavior during such conditions. What is found is that someone who drives in snow and ice often has a better understanding of the way the car behaves under those conditions. Myself as an example, I have never felt the Traction Control engage in my car until last week. I really didn't know exactly how slow I had to drive or when I should start breaking depending on the grade I was driving on. unfamiliar drivers also do not know how to react when something does happen. Small skids are often made much worse by a driver who has panicked or simply doesn't know what to expect.

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@pyxientx: Sand helps after and somewhat before ice. salt helps before the snow or sleet falls by lowering the freezing temperature. Most states now have stopped using just salt or salt water and now use brine which has chemicals added as well. Nothing dangerous or unnatural just more effective.

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@nmchapma: They used magnesium something or other here, but it did not seem to do well according to the news. Thanks for the info. I had read a little after the roads froze over here, but that was about the sand, I could find nothing on the other stuff. I read that they do not use salt or salt water here because of corrosion.

As the EH&S Coordinator here, I wanted to make sure my drivers would be safe. When the freeze was supposed to happen here last week, but didn't, I kept my drivers in so they would not be subject to the same conditions as the week before when my boss overruled me.

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Another factor for you to consider when you think about the differences between the northern and southern state DOT's is the size. NC and TX have the largest DOT's in the nation. By largest I mean total road length owned and maintained by the state. Usually more northern states have smaller DOTs. While these larger DOTs are split into divisions they are coordinated by a central office using state owned equipment or on-call contractors. It's often difficult to prioritize where to go first and the most efficient way to handle clean up when you've got so much to maintain. This is usually the cause of straining DOT budgets. It's more affordable and less painful for local governments but it does centralize problems.

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@pyxientx: Salt certainly has it's issues, many places experiment with other methods. It's hard to guess how well it will work on a larger scale.

Good to see someone who cares about their employees. We have to make up all the hours we miss (even thought I'm salary). Most of us work from home those days but its a real pain to have to come in over the weekend when you worked 60 hours the week before

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@nmchapma: We have to make up hours we miss with the exception of extreme weather. That is one of the first thing I implemented. During a hurricane you can't always get to work, and life is way more important.