Friday, 13 February 2009

Authorities shouldn't be blamed over snow chaos

For the moment at least the Met Office reckon the cold snowy spell of weather that has been affecting so much of the country is at an end. During the last couple of weeks there has been plenty of disruption on the transport network, people not being able to get to work and schools closing. This in turn has led to the usual complaints about this country being paralysed when the white stuff starts falling. I have to say that as I do not have to commute and in fact don't have to leave the village too often the weather hasn't been a problem for me. Being low down in the valley the snow has largely passed us by, I think we haven't had much more than one snow shower!

So I haven't got an axe to grind about the way the 'authorities' have dealt with what Mother Nature has been throwing at us. Nevertheless I would like to speak up in their defence:
  • Firstly, and I know others have made this point, because of late we haven't had many severe winters the councils and the Highway Agency have restricted their investment in snow clearing machinery. Of course this is the problem in the UK - we might find that next winter has similar weather to this, on the other hand it might be 20 years before this sort of snowfall is repeated. It's pointless surely to compare Russia or Canada as examples with ourselves. They know they will get snow and plenty of it so can pre-plan accordingly.
  • This time the lack of salt has proved to be a headache for some local authorities but I don't think that Devon and Cornwall have fared too badly. I do get the feeling from my own observations around here that the roads maintenance budget has taken something of a hit. Council expenditure is being squeezed and I would say it's reasonable not to invest huge sums in snowploughs, but stockpiles of salt and grit - that's another matter. Interestingly there has been quite a difference between the various councils as to how much salt to purchase but in fairness those running short might have had far more ice to deal with already.
  • Topography. It's not only Devon and Cornwall that are hilly, other counties are as well. More hills = more chances of vehicles becoming stuck. A week ago I recorded on this blog that 200 or so vehicles got stuck on that part of the A38 trunk road at Haldon Hill because of a severe snowstorm. Ideally no part of such a dual carriageway would be steeper than 1 in 25; the topography here though is such that if memory serves me correctly this dual road ascends at 1 in 14. Fairly obviously a vehicle on that sort of grade has a greater likelihood of not making it.
  • Traffic density is another aspect. It's well known I think that the UK has a particularly high density of traffic so logically the chances of vehicles colliding in the snow or stopping others getting past when they stall has to be greater I would have thought than in some countries. More vehicles littering the highway in turn makes it more difficult for snowploughs and gritters to get through.
For a number of reasons then it is a nightmare to keep everything on the move when we have some snow. I don't think we should berate those trying to deal with the situation, in the way we tend to do. Did I mention it before, I can't remember, but one satisfying aspect of this season's snowfall is the fact that children have had a chance to enjoy the snow especially with so many schools being closed. It's been a great experience for them, not to mention parents having a second childhood!

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