Meditations on an Ice Storm
Growing up in Michigan, I always laughed at winter storms in southern cities. Every couple of years, you’ll see some normally warm-weather city get blanketed in snow and ice. People up north see these news stories and scoff. And why wouldn’t they? When you deal with ice and snow for a third of the year, it’s hard to feel sympathy of a city paralyzed by a single ice storm. But after living in Dallas for a few years, I understand that a southern ice storm is no joke.
Snow storms and ice storms are very different. Snow is less slippery, so you can still drive on it, and because snow is powdery, it doesn’t stick to leaves and branches and wires the same way that ice does. Which leads me to my next point.
When it comes to crippling ice storms, much of the problem has to do with the trees. Here in Texas, the trees don’t lose their leaves like up north, so when the ice coats the leaves, the branches get weighed down and snap, taking the power lines with them.
If the power lines were all underground, the ice storms wouldn’t play such havoc with the power grid. But unfortunately, underground lines are a lot more expensive, so every time there’s an ice storm, the power goes out. And since a lot of houses here have electric heaters, the heat goes out as well, crippling the entire metroplex.
Snow on the roads is bad, but ice is much worse. But the thing that really messes things up in southern cities is the lack of snow plows and salt. And who can blame the city for not spending tax dollars on equipment that would be used once every other year or so? It doesn’t make a lot of fiscal sense. So when the ice storm hits, and the city is crippled. The best they can do is bring in plows from Amarillo and throw sand on the roads for traction. But sand is not salt, and it doesn’t do much to melt the ice.
Every region has its perils. If you live in Los Angeles, you have to worry about earthquakes, and if you live in Miami, you have to deal with hurricanes. By comparison, the occasional southern ice storm doesn’t seem so bad.