Why Seattle Shuts Down When it Snows Two Inches

When we moved from the Midwest to Washington ten years ago, our first winter felt balmy.  We ran around in capris and flip-flops, our new neighbors shivered in parkas, the kind I hadn’t worn since daily trudging a mile across the University of North Dakota campus in blizzard conditions.

On the average, WA was 60 degrees warmer. It was like being on spring break all winter long. 

 One Sunday in January someone from our church called.  “Church is cancelled today.” 

We were shocked.  We’d never heard of cancelling church.

“Why?” my hubby asked.

“Did you look outside?”

Hubby pulled the curtain aside and saw a dusting of snow on the ground. He asked, “Yea, so why did you cancel church?”

Our friend repeated, “Did you look outside?”

“Yes,” answered my husband, “but why did you cancel church?”

“There’s snow on the ground.”

“Yea, I see the snow, but why did you cancel church?”

“Because there’s SNOW ON THE GROUND.”

We laughed.  We laughed and laughed and laughed.  After all, we survived the winter of 1996-7 with 117 inches of snow (that’s nearly TEN FEET, people!) and the interstate shut down 13 times, followed by  the Red River Flood of 1997.

We laughed for a few year years, until we finally understood how and why 1/2 inch of snow is treacherous in our new climate and terrain. 



Seattle and Snow

1. People don’t have snow gear. 

If you shovel once every couple of years, why would you keep a shovel? I piled my shovels, scrapers,  and snow blower on the sidewalk with a free sign when I moved, I use a pancake turner on my front porch.  Seriously.  I use it smugly and wisely. My library card scrapes my car windows.  I’m very happy with this arrangement.

Obviously, my new neighbors don’t have snow blowers or a blade on the front of their pickups. Wait, most don’t have pickups. The cities don’t have garages full of snowplows that run on a regular basis.  Being unprepared is frustrating, but spending money you don’t have on equipment you rarely use isn’t tax money worthy.


Sidewalks and streets aren’t cleared.  Maybe I should loan the city my pancake turner.

2.  The hills are treacherous.

  Two nearby hills  are so steep that only a guard rail come between a sliding car, and the houses below.  Most hills don’t have guard rails.

Not a stunt driver. Don’t try this next time it snows.
Actual footage. The sliding bus happened more than once. Mute if you don’t like the music.

North Dakota  is extremely flat.  You slide forwards or sideways, or into a small ditch you could drive out of and not tell your parents.

3.  Many drivers aren’t experienced in snow driving.

I’m not worried about me, I’m worried about them.

Even ND drivers drive into  ditches or “accidentally” spin a cookie.  But people in snowy climates have six months a year to perfect their winter driving skills, not six hours or six days.

Many Seattleites didn’t grow up with parents who taught them how to drive on snow, ice, snow on ice, black ice, slushy snow, and slushy snow on ice.  Add  wind speed, air temperature, and visibility to multiply the weather conditions winter drivers master.  

In the Pacific Northwest you learn to drive in overcast with rain, overcast with fog, overcast with occasional thundershowers. 

4.  Front wheel drive doesn’t work on slippery hills.

No  amount of “I think I can, I think I can “  will get you up the hills without the right vehicle, tires, and ability.Many people don’t understand how front wheel/rear wheel/four-wheel drive works, so they just head out.  Yea, we see SUVs in the ditches, too.


Others know it’s better to walk up the hill in dress shoes, than slide down in your car. (Review #3 if you are still confused.)

Parking overnight is common, but so are car pile-ups on the bottom of the hills.

5.  People Wanna’ Play

When it snows, you stop and play.  Almost every snowfall makes snowball snow, can you believe it, Midwesterners?  It’s amazing.


My neighbors, Rick and Sandy,  sculpted this amazing Seahawk.  Actually, Rick did most of the artistic work, we “coached” him.  I provided some pictures,  a few shovels of dirtless snow, and the food coloring, but they included me in the picture, anyway.

Seahawk and Beka 011

There are forts to build, snowballs to throw,


and snowmen to create.


Kathy –  Facebooking on my front porch and enjoying the snow and also the cars trying to get up our hill.

Vanessa – Please oh please, please stick around until morning, snow!! (We must be the only place on the continent who WANT snow right now).

Sonja – I realize this will NOT be exciting for my friends and family in Minnesota, Ohio, Connecticut, etc., but IT IS SNOWING AT MY HOUSE RIGHT NOW!!! It almost never snows here!! I love it!

LouAnn – It’s a beautiful snowy day in Lacey, WA! Hey! It can happen!

Marilyn – Measured 3-1/2″ so far – yippee!! Hot tub here we come! Love soaking while snowflakes falling

Laura – IT’S SNOWING!!!

Linda – Dreams do come true, Snow is not a fantasy.

Kathleen – I have to say… my aim with a snowball is pathetic, now. More opportunities to practice, please!

Living with six months of snow can be drudgery.  You’re always shoveling, bundling up, warming up, scraping windows, and surviving.

When it rarely snows, it’s a gift to be enjoyed. The morning after our Glorious Snow Day, the rains melted our snow creations into memories. 

That’s the main reason Seattle shuts down for snow. 

Making your home sing Mondays


14 thoughts on “Why Seattle Shuts Down When it Snows Two Inches

  1. bdd3

    Sounds very similar to Austin, Texas. Here a local columnist wrote about how Texans drive on snowy, icy roads. First, step on the gas and avoid the brakes. Second, load up the back of your pickup with a bunch of people jumping up and down to help create traction (and toss in a couple of kegs of beer). Then the standard here the last couple of weeks is if the meteorologist even mentions ice, sleet, freezing rain, shut down everything (and they do). You have to love it.

    1. Mindy Post author

      Sounds like TX drivers are a lot like WA drivers! Loved the columnist’s view on driving habits, so true. I’d laugh more about the inexperienced drivers, but really I fear for them. And I am afraid OF them….thanks for adding your comments. It always livens up the day.

  2. Tandis

    It is crazy to think of cities shutting down after a few inches of snow but when you just don’t have the equipment to deal with it, it does make sense. As well as the part about folks not being able to drive in it. Pretty crazy for us Wisconsin people to think about. 🙂

    1. Mindy Post author

      Exactly, Tandis, that’s why it took us a few years to understand the new mentality. I have friends that moved here from India and California, they’ve rarely seen snow, let alone understand how to drive in it.

      Also, in the snow areas, people love to go out and snowblow or snowplow for others. The guys with the blades just LOOK for people that need help. In other words, a lot is done before the city snowplows make it through.

  3. Nessa

    And people were wondering why we skipped church yesterday– uh, because we live on Phinney Ridge… Is the word ridge not scary enough when combined with Seattle and snow? Sure Ontario is ten feet under, but they have snow tires, and plows as well as relatively flat roads.

    1. Mindy Post author

      I don’t even like driving on the hills in Seattle when it’s dry and clear. Especially someone pulls up to your bumper when you’re facing uphill at a red light and you have to ease up on the gas and accelerate without rolling back and bumping them into the Sound. I think one of the bus crashes in the video was in Seattle. Yes, good for you for staying home! 🙂

      1. Nessa

        We lived in an apartment on Elliot right on the waterfront when we first moved here. In March. I cried every time I had to drive because I kept sliding on the hills. I was actually happy when I popped a tire a week in because it gave me an excuse to replace my tires which were NOT fit for Seattle roads. When I’m coming out of parking garages where you have to pay, I wait at the bottom until it’s clear and I can drive all the way up. I’ve nearly rolled into the person behind me countless times.
        I just can’t believe that there are actually people here who drive manual transmissions! I did when I lived in BC and worked in Mission, which is built into the side of the mountain. But there, traffic was so light that no one was ever pulled right up to your bumper. And there were only three stop signs in the entire town that required you to stop going uphill.

    1. Mindy Post author

      You may snicker all you want, we are definitely sissies down here. I think you get as much snow in one storm as we get in a decade, so go ahead. We deserve the laughs from those of you that live at the North Pole, or close to it, anyway….:)

  4. Julie Posey

    We headed out when the snow was maybe only a couple of inches to go to my friend’s birthday party, but it was still coming down pretty hard. My husband is from Montana and he put chains on his truck (though those should have come off before getting on the highway on our return home as that had been cleared and the chains damaged his truck. Oh well… lessons learned). There were tons of cars abandoned though because people gave up. ESPECIALLY on the exit ramp. We had to weave around cars. I wasn’t worried about him driving (if I had been driving, we would have stayed home), but the other people on the road, especially when we were on a hill (Gig Harbor/Tacoma… our entire region is NOT flat), they’re what scared me.

    But hey, most of us that have grown up in the Pacific Northwest laugh at people that consistently use umbrellas, so… lol I only use mine when I’m dressed nice and have my hair done nice. Otherwise, bring on the rain. 😉 It all just depends on what you’re used to.

    1. Mindy Post author

      Oh, no wonder we hit it off at first meeting, you’re married to a Montanan. But, you definitely have more than that going for you. I grew up in Helena, and that is my favorite place in the world, but lived in ND for high school and college. So, I official can drive in snow on the Plains and in the Rockies.

      About the umbrellas, yea, we don’t use them. We want to look like we fit in. But rainboots, that’s a different story. They’re a fashion statement…

  5. Julie Posey

    Not to mention that sometimes our snow will start to melt, but then the temperature will drop again and that water turns to ice on the roads. My husband said what we get here sometimes would be bad even in Montana.

  6. Trisha Wenrich

    You forgot slushy snow on snow pack – that’s what we have here right now, but it is supposed to be in the 50’s this weekend!

    1. Mindy Post author

      Oh, you’re right, I did. I was going through the list in my head, but it’s been awhile since I had to use those skills. And, by the time the list is complete, our snow is gone, gone, gone, whoa.


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