Combine high winds and falling snow — and much of civilization as we know it is paralyzed.
You would think, though, that Quebecers would be used to big dumps of snow and blizzard conditions. That’s their reputation, right?
As the winds whipped yesterday’s falling snow around on Highway 10 in the Eastern Townships, drivers of some 50 vehicles steered themselves into a massive pileup that resulted in the road being closed overnight Tuesday and well into Wednesday. On Highway 20, a truck carrying bleach somehow (think excessive speed?) lost control and spilled its load, stranding people behind in their vehicles for 5 hours or more as the mess was cleaned up.
Even more disgraceful for Quebecers, an accident on Highway 13 south in the evening stranded people in some 300 vehicles overnight — for 14 hours into Wednesday morning! — before officials got that mess sorted out. Some vehicles ran out of gas, apparently. Officials brought in buses in the wee hours of the morning to keep people warm, but the tow trucks didn’t show up until after 6 a.m., according to reports.
And they call this the land of the ice and snow? They say Quebecers are a hardy bunch who laugh off snowfalls?
Not really. It’s a myth. A lot of people didn’t report to work today.
So, what about the numerous car accidents, pileups and vehicles wiped out and abandoned? Well, video footage I’ve seen of the Eastern Townships pileup (above) show drivers weren’t slowing down — until it was too late. That’s a common problem: some drivers refuse to slow down when it is snowing, and when one wipes out, bang, bang, bang, bang . . .
I’m betting that most of the accidents and wipeouts on the roads yesterday were caused by drivers who were travelling too fast.
And then there is the matter of timely — or not timely — road clearing. You would think a province like Quebec would be on top of that. You would think they would clear snow from highways as soon as 5 centimetres of snow has fallen. You would think wrong.
Major highways like the 13 and 15 are often left until 10, 15, 20 or more centimetres of snow has fallen. Why are the people in charge waiting so long?
After this latest disgraceful performance by road crews and many drivers, the government must act to be sure we are ready for another big snowfall and blizzard. Perhaps laws should be passed reducing the speed limit on highways to, say, 60 km/h when there is more than 5 centimetres of snow on the road. And road crews should be on hand to keep major thoroughfares clear during storms, going up and down the same highways.
Quebec has disgraced itself with how it handled this snowfall — which will total about 40 centimetres in the Montreal area, a lot, but not that much for a place like Quebec.
We don’t look like hearty Canadians anymore.
We look like wimps.
Photo: Screen grab from YouTube video of pileup in the Eastern Townships on Tuesday, March 14, 2017. Source: Andrew Johnston/YouTube
These rather late-season storms have really wiley things, haven’t they?
This last one was pretty big, in terms of area, but I had thought Tuesday’s storm was supposed to be strongest down on the south end. Instead, NYC and Boston only saw about 4-8 inches, far short of the 16-24 expected. But, Vermont saw the 2nd most snowfall ever in a March storm, something like 29 inches.
The storm last Friday evening was smaller, and more of a southern thing, but very much an example of very avoidable road accidents. As I drove through New Hampshire, I encountered snow squalls which turned the highway into black ice, and soon I came upon five or six vehicles off the road on both sides. Probably a chain reaction when one lost control and set off the others. Good news was that the rest of us slowed down, and avoided adding to the malay. We just had to sit for the better part if an hour, cars backed-up for miles, while emergency crews sorted it all out. One fire truck ended up rolling off the highway, too.
What bothered me was when traffic did start moving again, instead of staying in just a single lane, some drivers felt compelled to try to pass the rest of us in the left lane. We all ground to a stop a quarter mile down the road, at yet another crash scene, and now the emergency vehicles didn’t have a clear path, thanks to those impatient ones (who were stuck right there with the rest of us, of course.)
Once we got passed all that, it wasn’t long before some idiots decided to tempt fate and they started passing at higher than a safe speed, apparently forgetting what we’d all just witnessed. Humans are such irrational beings.
I know just how you feel. Had to swerve to avoid hitting a Vancouver Island cherry blossom today.
C’mon, fess up. It was a B.C. bud, not a cherry blossom.
I’ve notice similar problems even here in SW Ohio. Drivers don’t slow down, something unexpected happens and things go crunch! Drivers are notorious for ignoring speed limits, so I suspect that simply reducing speed limits based upon snowfall depths would be ineffective and also would be incredibly hard to enforce. But why do they not slow down? What is is the real root problem? I think that there may be a similar problem in both the northern US and in Canada.
In my opinion, there are two issues at work here:
One is a driving skill / equipment issue:
The road crews are pretty effective most of the time. They clear the streets well enough that most “city bred” northerners don’t really learn how to drive like those, “hearty Canadians” of days gone by. Because of that zeal for clear, dry streets, cars are not set up to have effective traction in snowy conditions & one cannot become proficient with the skills and reactions required for low traction driving. How can one know what is an appropriate speed for such conditions if one has not experienced low traction driving often enough.
Possible solutions? Perhaps an adjustment in the expectations for winter driving. Until the late 20th century, roads weren’t cleared down to dry pavement for every snow storm. People needed to learn to drive on snowy, icy roads and they had to equip their automobiles for winter driving. Another possibility would be to limit access to high speed roads when the storm comes. If they can’t keep the road clear enough to be safe at the customary speeds, close the road. We currently make token attempts at this, but it’s usually done too late, if at all!
The second is a societal issue:
I believe that this is the bigger of the two issues. Modern society, especially in the cities, does not often take Mother Nature into account in its planning. We have all sorts of devices & systems to allow us to ignore the weather in our business planning. We expect that our government agencies will adequately control the environment to allow “business as usual” at almost all times. However, sometimes weather is just too big to ignore. Unfortunately, we, as a group are often too arrogant to admit that is the case with snow storms. There seems to be a business expectation (official or unofficial) that, no matter how bad the snowstorm is, the shop must open on time, the meetings must happen, the widgets must be manufactured, etc. . . This attitude only encourages people to drive too fast on slick roads and even drive when no one in their right mind would be out on the roads.
In the old days in many rural areas, when a big storm came, people exercised common sense and slowed down. Work and social events were delayed until conditions were more favorable. We do not hesitate to cancel schools and government offices for snow storms, Why not in the private sector? I believe that part of the reason is “the bottom line”. Businesses don’t want lost production time and don’t want to pay for time off for snow days. Even if the business offers to allow employees to take some of their vacation days for a storm, the employees often won’t for fear reprisal in their job performance evaluation, which is often an influential factor in pay and promotion opportunities.
Possible solutions? That is a difficult call. Perhaps a law could be passed that requires private businesses to shutter their doors to the degree that governmental organizations shut down for severe weather. This is often a stepwise approach, using tiers of employees from part-time employees to employees required to maintain the safety & integity of the physical structure. Given a little thought, I’m sure that other methods could be found to encourage people slow down or stay off the roads in truly bad conditions.
There are lots of good suggestions in your response. I wish the people in high places would consider them.
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