City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

We Need More Know Snow or It's No Go


By Dylan Matthew - Posted on 07 December 2010

Snow Again in New Town

Early last month a friend and I took our bicycles, and cycled from Edinburgh to Berwick-on-Tweed through East Lothian enjoying the coastal scenery en-route. It was a cold, but clear day and I remember pointing out several large formations of what I thought were migrating geese heading South in typical ‘V’ formations.

Now I’m no David Attenborough, but it seemed a bit early in the year to be seeing this as Autumn was still dragging its heels with half the nation’s yellowing leaves still firmly attached to the trees. I did think "maybe they know something we don’t" and I recalled that scene in The Day After Tomorrow when New Yorkers witness thousands of migrating birds getting themselves the hell out of Dodge shortly before a new ice age strikes.

It almost seems as if Roland Emmerich’s daft blockbuster came true in Edinburgh, for now the novelty and delight of that first day over a week ago, of seeing a massive dump of thick, gorgeous, fluffy snow blanket Edinburgh and the rest of the country, has firmly worn off as we snivel under duvets wondering why the central heating is making little difference.

It’s become a bit of a tedious bore quite frankly, and as motorways and roads ground to a halt in Central Scotland yesterday, it’s evolved into a serious situation.

First snow

So it snowed heavily for an initial couple of days, enough to bury and immobilise half the nation's cars it seemed. Most of Scotland’s schools closed for a stretch and I was one of the many to enjoy a day out with the kids for a spot of sledging and snowball fights.

We ended our frolics in the Holyrood Palace café with some hot soup to warm us up where ironically BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce was lunching at the next table with her media team. I say ironic because she’s on the TV right now as I write this, reporting on the hazardous developments for commuters across the country.

But now I and everyone else has had enough and the failure of some local councils to deal with the situation effectively has become more evident as the week progressed.

I, personally, haven’t been hit too badly. The worst I’ve dealt with is freezing wet socks and shoes, a slow cramped train journey to Glasgow and taking longer by foot to get anywhere.

I did have one hairy moment though on a double decker bus struggling up a steep hill on the outskirts of Dalkeith. The bus ahead of us started to slide back down the hill towards us, gaining speed and twisting sideways as it came.

My driver couldn’t stop or reverse as he was on the same slope and I had visions of our bus being hit and pushed back down the hill, eventually plunging off the edge of the stone bridge we’d just crossed.

Luckily, both drivers managed to stop with only a few feet left between us. I asked to be let out and many passengers followed my lead, gratefully stepping into two feet of snow in blizzard conditions. For once it felt safer to be exposed to the elements.

Edinburgh's elusive gritters

While there’s plenty of the blitz spirit developing with people in every street helping the elderly or fallen, pushing stuck cars with spinning wheels, or clearing pathways there is some head-scratching going on about why we’ve been caught with our pants down when there’s supposedly gritters, snowploughs and redeployed bin men with shovels working around the clock.

Edinburgh City Council says it has 600 workers and contractors working to get roads clear today, with 29 staff working with 22 gritters clearing the roads through the night.

I’ve seen a couple of gritters in action, but only a couple.

The curious thing is seeing major roads cleared once only for more snow to fall on their efforts, turning everything into car-spinning piles of slush. Surely the ploughs and gritters should be working non-stop going over the same territory repeatedly for how else can the main arteries stay clear?

It’s been reported that we have magnificent mountains of grit and salt, so is the issue that there aren’t enough vehicles to spread it in anything other than a token way? 

Pedestrian pandemonium

The most astonishing thing is the pavements. Some are so treacherous it’s actually safer to walk on the roads amidst the traffic. If there’s so much grit available then where are the bins for us to help ourselves?

Maddeningly, those who do have it are spreading it on top of the snow. You can’t grit deep piles of snow that people are walking on otherwise it turns into deep piles of dirty slush. It's not rocket science or am I missing something here? I’ve also seen people using cat litter to make paths safer. It’s surprisingly effective.

But only a handful of shopkeepers and locals seem to be bothering to clear their own sections of the pavement. If the bin men have been redeployed with shovels then where are they? There must be hundreds of guys available to do this since they’re unable to collect the rubbish, which is continually piling up. That’s no one’s fault but where is this army of bin men with shovels?

If the parents of pupils at Carrick Knowe school can take matters into their own hands to make the facility accessible then why aren’t all the neighbours of this city clubbing together to get these pavements cleared? You know folks, it really is ok to talk to each other.

Clearly many businesses and services are suffering too. Yesterday all of Edinburgh’s buses were cancelled for several hours and many shops and café’s have either closed or close early along with the libraries, pools and other services.

Scores of companies have been sending their staff home early to give them a chance of getting there.

Roads chaos

We've had airports closing, trains freezing up, bus services grinding to a halt, pavements turn into obstacles courses, but the gridlock on Scotland’s motorways and major roads all yesterday and through the night was the worst situation yet.

Even with the army being called out, hundreds of motorists spent last night stranded in their cars. Temperatures in Edinburgh were -13C last night. Let's hope everyone - including those who decided to walk out of the chaos - survived the night safely and didn't end up in a snow drift somewhere.

It’s extraordinary to think that when this latest blast of heavy snow had been forecast that the gritters and ploughs weren’t placed on standby, massed along the hard shoulder of the M8 and other major routes ready to swing into action at the first sign of the stuff floating down.

Instead handfuls of them went out after the snow had already fallen for a couple of hours and by then it was too late as traffic had already ground to a halt.

I’m not a driver so I’ve been spared this misery but I’ve seen plenty of vehicles sliding around uncontrollably on the main roads of our capital city over the last few days. I’m both amazed that people are still daring to venture out with two wheel drives and no snow tyres and that in the year 2010 whilst we can point state of the art telescopes to the other side of the universe and unravel the mysteries of black holes and dark matter that we still can't clear a few inches of snow from the roads before rush hour. We need to phone up Scandinavia, Canada, and the Eastern seaboard of the US and ask them ‘how do you do it?’.

Obviously, there are times when they can't. There are ‘acts of God’, there are extreme and freak weather incidents and there are accidents that block roads. But this weatherfront was forecast along with the time and place. I know because I watched the BBC weather and satellite predictions at regular intervals throughout the previous day.

Today government officials and transport ministers are stating that this snowfall was unexpected. Are they lying or did they just not check the news?

The evidence is there, this weatherfront and its severity was predicted down to the last snowflake. It was very clear in my head on Monday that ‘tomorrow it will snowing heavily across the Central belt of Scotland from early in the morning till late afternoon’ and that’s exactly what happened.

If I can read a weather map why can't the chaps in charge do so and extrapolate some common sense predictions from it?

Special campaign

Of course, all of this must be put in perspective. As many of you will know a woman in Kent was struck by a heartless weather related crime. All it took was a glance out the window for her to dial 999 and report with a degree of concern that her snowman had been stolen.

The audio of this call was played by radio and television stations throughout the day to the astonishment of the nation. But it really touched my heart so I’ve organised a local search team and set up a fund to find the missing fella (a.k.a. Frosty). I’ve also despatched my own private forensics team now based in Maidstone to assist the emergency services in any way they can.

Since new snowflake profiling techniques have been developed, if we can match Frosty’s body flakes to the garden he was stolen from then we may have a breakthrough. I’ve already sent this woman an emergency kit containing a scarf, two pieces of coal and a carrot to keep her company in the meantime. If you dear reader can help in any little way then please donate generously to the Find Frosty Appeal.

On a more serious note, stay safe and warm folks.

Severe weather updates

Edinburgh Transport

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Local and Scottish government both under-estimated the severity of the weather yesterday. Not for the first time. The City Council was expecting a 2-hour snow storm when it turned out to be 7 hrs. See story.

Talking of geese, don't forget to feed the birds - bacon rind, old cheese, pastrie bits are all good.