Hey, coulda been worse!

February 19, 2003

AS USUAL, there was much to complain about during our siege by snow. But this time, the usual suspects were not to blame.

You could shake your head at people who ventured out in cars ill-equipped for the weather and got stuck. Or shake your fist at people who roared around in trucks and SUVs, impatient with more careful drivers and pedestrians; they weren't all ferrying critical hospital workers (though many were indeed ferrying less mobile neighbors, and even strangers). Railing at the television for its lousy fare, or even at the heavens for ruining one of the peak shopping weekends of the year, was justified.

Those in charge of digging us out, though, have done as well as could be expected. Not even northern states well-accustomed to snow are used to coping with a 2-foot dump that comes all at once.

By yesterday morning, two lanes on the main roads were mostly clear, as were a lot of side streets. Access depended greatly on location. Some Baltimore neighborhoods were still socked in, but some commuters from suburban counties moved freely.

Another variable was self-reliance. Those who started digging their cars out on Sunday were far ahead of the game when the snow finally stopped yesterday. By contrast, those in the city who hadn't bothered to move their cars off central thoroughfares impeded progress for everyone else.

Public transportation wasn't much help, with buses, light rail and the Baltimore subway not running. But Amtrak, the much abused national rail system, kept chugging along - no doubt reinvigorated with the fresh infusion of cash Congress approved last week to keep it running until the fall.

Airports were shut, but who really wants to fly through the snow? And as for those poor souls stuck in Florida, well ... they'll manage to tough it out.

Timing of the region's heaviest snowfall in at least 80 years was actually a great stroke of luck. It came well-announced in the middle of what was for some a three-day holiday weekend. Salt and plow crews were poised with their engines running before the first flakes came. Saturday night movie-goers could hit the early show and be home before the driving got dicey. By Sunday morning, the snow was already too deep to contemplate going anywhere without a Humvee.

Merchants suffered at the shuttered malls because of the timing, but surprisingly few people got hurt or killed on the roads.

The next challenge will be floods that result from all that melted snow. Maybe this is an opportunity to save some of that white stuff in barrels or even jars. We're likely to have a very green spring thanks to all this moisture, but by summer flower gardens might be eager for some liquid snow.

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