One really bad Monday in Seattle

Cars sliding down a snowy Seattle hill: crashing steel Ice Capades
[Via Boing Boing]

Here’s a brief, excruciating video of cars losing traction on Seattle’s Capitol Hill during this week’s snowstorm and caroming downwards, out of control (the clincher is a city bus, and what appears to be the same white SUV that just keeps on trying to make it, as though the owner can’t believe that his giant ride can’t contend with puny black ice).

As someone who’s been in a couple of high-speed, freeway ice-accidents (including a childhood trauma in which I was thrown from the car!) this was nearly too painful to watch — though, as the closing credits remind us, no one was actually hurt on Capitol Hill that day. Which, I suppose, makes this into a kind of crashing steel Ice Capades.


I had a meeting in downtown Seattle on Monday but I canceled it because I was worried about the chance of snow. Turns out I made an excellent choice. For some people I know, it took them 8 hours to get home.

At one time all the southbound lanes of I-5 – the major N-S interstate – were blocked, requiring them to route traffic going south through the express lanes, which were normally set for northbound traffic at that time. This completely clogged up the resulting northbound traffic on the mainline.

Once a car has broken loose on a slope, it is almost impossible to even slow it down, no matter how you are pumping your breaks. Even in AWD. All you can do is hope you make it off the ice to a place where you wheels can get traction.

I’d driven in Colorado in storms but none were ever quite as bad as these. Not for the snow, because Colorado had lots of snow.

It’s the black ice. I don’t know if the wet snow here is the problem or the ice more easily forms or what but they are nastier than anything I ever saw in Colorado. The hills make them ruthless.

Once, about 20 years ago, one of these storms hit and we had to go to the airport, which was south of us. Being a little more stupid than I am today, we decided to go for it. It took us about 2 hours to drive the 30 miles or so. And that was with no traffic in our direction on the interstate. I don;t think I ever hit more than 20 miles an hour.

In the other direction, it was chaos. People were stopped dead because of the wrecks. Other people stopped, on the freeway, to put on chains. For a car that would not be moving for some time. People ran out of gas on the freeway waiting to move. They were still towing away cars well into the next day. Schoolchildren were kept overnight in schools because no one could get out.

We lucked out, although we had a nice episode where my Subaru went 3 lanes sideways before it gained traction. Very exciting and there was no traffic.

But that had a foot of snow to drop. And really big winds. This one did not drop much snow at all, which is what fooled many people, I think. It did have just enough water added to very, very cold temperatures to create a lot of ice. Add a hill or two and it was not fun.

I’m glad I was home in a warm house, watching it all on TV..

I was driving my AWD Subaru up an incline in a storm like this in the Cascades. We all stopped on the slope fine. I left plenty of room between me an the car in front of me. Good things too because after we both stopped, he started sliding backwards towards me. My only option was to drive forward and slide left around him as his car continued down the hill and hit the car behind me.