Thursday, February 3, 2011

Snow happens

As we continue to dig ourselves out of the third worst snow storm in Chicago's history, newsprint, the internet and the air waves are all filled with rants about the city's mishandling of the situation. At the center of the controversy is the incident where hundreds of people were stranded for hours in their vehicles on Lake Shore Drive as the thoroughfare came to a standstill after multiple wrecks blocked the road.

The snow piled up rapidly and in a matter of minutes the stopped cars became stuck, rendering them useless. Not to mention the frigid 70 mph winds coming directly off of the lake that created a truly hazardous condition for the members of the CPD and the CFD who eventually came to the rescue.

There are many tales of people living along the route bringing food and offering shelter to the stranded drivers, and others of the heroism of the rescue workers and hospital staffs who tended to the victims, but those stories took a backseat to the whining and finger pointing about inadequate preparation, and implementation of emergency procedures. First and foremost the naysayers say, the city should have closed Lake Shore Drive before the problem happened.

Perhaps. There is certainly no doubt that when this situation happens again as it certainly will, those who have control over such things will be very sensitive about what happened during the Great Blizzard of 2011 (Snowmageddon as it has been dubbed), and close the Drive pre-maturely which will no doubt bring criticism for strangling traffic by cutting off a major artery. The decision not to close LSD earlier ultimately proved to be the wrong one. It was a judgment call, the type of decision not unlike that of a baseball manager who chooses to walk a good hitter instead of pitching to him. If the next batter up hits into a double play, the manager is a genius, if he hits a home run, the fans demand the manager's head. Taking the metaphor to its logical conclusion, in the case of Lake Shore Drive, the next batter hit a grand slam.

Now I'll be the first to say that I was safe and sound at home by the time those folks were stuck in their cars, so I'm in no position to knock them. However, like the rest of the city I had been aware for at least three days that a storm of epic proportions was headed our way. Here is a link to an article that appeared in the Chicago Tribune the day before the storm. It's predictions turned out to be right on, off only in its underestimation of the force of the gusts coming off the lake.

Admittedly I dismissed the reports as bluster. I thought it was over-reacting when my employer suggested we all go home three hours early and take the next day off, even before the first snow flake fell. As our group had work we needed to finish, we stayed almost the full day. By the time we left the snow was coming down pretty hard and the Loop, at what would have normally been the heart of rush hour, was deserted. My prediction of "five inches at the most" would prove to be way off. When I got off the train nearly an hour later it became evident that this was a very serious blizzard. Mind you this was a full two hours before all the trouble on Lake Shore Drive and in those two hours the intensity of the storm only grew worse.

In all honesty I would say that the city did a magnificent job of assessing the situation and passing along the suggestion in no uncertain terms that people should go home before the tempest began. That action prevented a major catastrophe.

Yet for some reason, nearly 500 people chose to ignore the advice and paid dearly for it. Of course many of them no doubt had jobs that forced them to work into the evening hours. But I would guess that few of them did not have an alternative to driving that day. True, taking public transportation might have been an inconvenience for some of them but not anywhere close to what came to pass.

A Facebook friend posted the following:

You really know something about entitlement and self-pity when you hear the call-in whining of these idiots who ignored all warnings and got on Lake Shore Drive two hours into whiteout and then... surprise!... found themselves trapped without anyone (ANYONE!?! Shocking!) helicoptering in to rescue them.

Strong words to be sure but not off the mark. A commenter to the post noted that in his state of Arizona, when people get in trouble doing things they are warned not to, they must pay for their rescue. As far as I know, the city came to the rescue of the stranded "victims" not to mention their cars, all at the taxpayers' expense. My favorite comment to the post was this:

They see their vehicles as security, comfort, and empowerment. Love seeing Nature teach lessons.

Truer words could not have been said.

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