What Havoc 1/10 of an Inch of Snow Can Cause
It snowed in Memphis last night -- maybe the earliest snowfall on record, as reported to one dramatic pronouncement. The total was 1/10 of an inch, according to the weatherman. At our house, we could find the snow piled in little 1/2-inch drifts on top of a few shingles where the roof overhangs the house. We found it in the flowerpots and under the hedge (a scrawny hedge). And we saw its leavings in a puddle in a low spot in the driveway.
But it hardly ever snows in Memphis. Last year, we had NONE. The year before, there was one little snowfall that disappeared by noon. Storms from the west usually split at Memphis and go north and south of the city. Storms dropping down from the north? They go slanting off to the southeast of us. I have lots of boots that have never been wet, and we no longer own a snow shovel. It just doesn't snow, here. Until it does! And then what chaos ensues.
The weathermen missed it. The highway department wasn't ready. The traffic cops were off duty. And it snowed, and sleeted, and the temperature dropped to 31 degrees, and everything froze. You also need to understand that around here, the traffic-related weather problems tend to be caused by hard rains, so the roads are built with a hump in the middle, sloping off toward drainage ditches on both sides. But when those humps are covered with ice, everything--not just rainwater--slides off the road into the ditches.
By the time I got up, at a perfectly respectable 7:30, the world had come to an end. There were 25 multiple-car accidents on the traffic report map -- not just more than two cars per incident, but 7,8, and 10 cars at a time. Three people were dead, and a child was on his way to the hospital (slowly!) after his school bus crashed.
And the roads were parking lots. Traffic on the interstates was at a bumper-to-bumper standstill, and sometimes those bumpers were more than touching. There are two bridges that cross the Mississippi River at Memphis -- the only two bridges for 45-50 miles in either direction. They were both closed because of accidents blocking them. Traveling between Arkansas and Tennessee this morning? Wasn't going to happen! They did open one bridge around noon, and the TV coverage showed a few cars creeping over it at less than 20 miles an hour.
I counted myself lucky. I could pour another cup of coffee and poke my toes deeper into my fuzzy slippers. But 1/10 of an inch of snow ruined the lives -- or at least the days -- of much of this city. How does this happen in 2014? And what on earth would these people do if we suffered the blizzards that much of the country is experiencing today?