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Sunday 5 February 2012

There’s No Business Like Snow Business

For many people, there are events in their memory that serve as salutary reminders and inform their reaction to similar events. One such event that I remember all too well happened in January 1977. More specifically, it happened on Thursday the 13th of that month. At the time, I was working in Leeds, and had a regular lift from an account executive at the office.

In the early afternoon, the snow began to fall, and by home time it was lying and swirling. And it was already dark as the journey through the city’s inner ring road and towards Bradford began. Progress was slow. And by the time we got to the Stanningley by-pass, everything stopped. When we finally approached Bradford city centre, driver and passenger took turns to nip into a roadside pub.

It was only me who had a beer, though: my host took the opportunity to phone home. That was a good move, as we were not through yet: roads in central Bradford were strewn with abandoned vehicles, and by the time I got home it was 2215 hours, or around four and a quarter hours later than usual, for a journey of less than fifteen miles. The next day we both took the train (which was packed).

The lesson was clear: when the snow falls and lies, traffic disruption follows with the certainty of night following day. So travelling by road is going to take longer – a lot longer – than planned. Having a rail travel alternative is A Good Idea. Not travelling at all is also A Good Idea, and as the latest snowfall happened on a Saturday, there must have been less work related journeys being made.

So it’s difficult for me to work up much sympathy as the why-oh-why merchants trotted out the righteous indignation today. The Mail told of journeys taking several hours on a variety of motorway routes, but in the first line of the piece states “It was forecast days ago”. The Met Office had issued warnings days ago, too – something we didn’t have back in 1977.

Many of those journeys were taken by folks going out for the evening – something they did not have to do. None of the hacks and pundits seems to have got into their heads that it might have been A Good Idea just to put off the night out for once. Sometimes, exceptional weather events happen. Winter had been free of them thus far, but after a cold snap there is always likely to be snow.

In fact, the only imponderable about the severe weather is why the Express, which had made this subject its front page lead for four days out of five, was absent when the snow finally came down. The Desmond hackery had instead gone back, just the once you understand, to being the Sunday Maddie. For Des’ sake, I hope he got the lawyers to read it before publishing – for once.

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