Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Mountain in DC

With another 10-20 inches of snow projected for the Washington area today, the Wall Street Journal has a story about a snow mountain in DC. A couple of paragraphs caught my eye:
For Washington, the winter of 2010, which blanketed the capital with about 45 inches before Tuesday, seems likely to break the record 54.5 inches set a decade after record-keeping began in 1888. "I don't know any staff member that's been around that remembers snowfalls of this magnitude," Mr. Howland said.

The bigger Washington's bureaucracy becomes, the worse the consequences of shutting down. Some 230,000 federal employees have been off work since the once-in-a-century blizzard dumped about 30 inches of snow on the capital last weekend

Residents of more northerly cities may scoff at how little snow it takes to bring the capital of the richest nation on earth to its knees. Upon arriving in Washington last winter, President Barack Obama chided residents when a couple of inches of snow shuttered schools, saying they would do well to emulate "flinty Chicago toughness."

Some Japanese cities use hot water to melt the snow, an option most U.S. cities dismiss as too expensive. Cities once melted the snow by dumping it in rivers, but the accumulated salt and chemicals fouled the water. So for the most part, cities engage in low-tech, time-consuming efforts to shovel the snow into trucks and cart it to vacant lots.

Earlier this decade, the D.C Department of Public Works bought an industrial snow melter, but it broke down and they haven't been able to replace the parts. "We got a big contraption that melts 30 tons of snow an hour," spokeswoman Nancee Lyons said. "It didn't really work that well for us."
OK. I am clearly not going to deny that this is a lot of snow for this area of the country. It is and as the guy in my family who has to shovel a lot of it, it sucks.

But the Nation's Capital and the DC government is reporting that 25% of its plows are working and the industrial snow melter is broken and they can't get replacement parts--probably because they have no money. True there are some years when DC only gets a few inches of snow, and inconvenience but not crippling. But when DC can't figure out a way to get rid of the snow, it is a problem. If you can't keep one machine operational, even if you don't use it every year, you have a bigger problem.

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