> In the United Kingdom, snow is somehow seen as both a wonderful playground and chilly Armageddon. Why are we so inept at dealing with it, when most of Europe cope just fine?
Don’t you all hate driving in the city, especially during the winter time? A few mornings of de-icing the car for ten minutes and careful manoeuvring out of spaces and we are all ready to up-sticks and escape to somewhere warmer. Except we cannot, much like last winter; the majority of airports declared a state of emergency and thousands of people were told to return home or wait for another flight.
Two winters ago this was acceptable in our usually mild climate, or just another case of British eccentricity and over cautious natures dominating how we live our lives? It seems to be a mixture of both, combined with an over zealous media desperate to make us aware of the perils of stepping out of our own front doors. The arctic temperatures and treacherous conditions brought Britain to a standstill in December 2010. Whilst much of the countryside was transformed into a winter wonderland, the countries airports and roads were awash with travellers desperate to get home or away. But whilst Europe suffered a similar fate to ours, it was the British Government who was predominantly targeted for a lack of preparation and resources with which to battle the conditions.
Of course the extent of the bad weather and the depth of the snow were no doubt serious, but is it really the responsibility of the government to pay for these infrequent weather conditions? In an interview in December, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson urged people to be patient and stressed that the government were “doing their best” to clear the snow from the major roads and airport runways. So whilst the snow was slowly moving from being a national treasure to a national disaster, the government were crumbling under the pressure of having to spend their precious savings on salt and grit. Poor Boris was even heard mentioning to an aide “I may well be in trouble for this” after he boarded a flight to Zurich to oversee Britain’s World Cup bid instead of remaining in London to oversee the relief efforts.
In mainland Europe the situation was not much better. Let us agree: it was much worse. In Germany the icy roads contributed to more than two thousand car crashes. Over a thousand people were evacuated from Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport after fears that the 60cm (24 inch) of snow on the roof would lead to its collapse. In Lithuania, the freezing conditions and heavy rains lead to nearly eight inches of ice on the roads and thirty-five inch snowdrifts. Russia, a country which is known to be “snow-fearless” was suffering from this severe weather too. Up to 50,000 people in areas of Kursk and Belgrade were left without electricity. But only little of this was reported on an inter-national level.
With Boris Johnson’s mind full of footballs and David Cameron’s full of fire extinguishers being thrown off buildings, is it any wonder we have little preparation for the conditions?
Last year, a cousin of mine moved over to Switzerland, subsequently returned for Christmas with nothing, but contempt for the British and their abysmal efforts regarding the weather. In their opinion they would had a lucky escape. I realise this all sounds terribly shady and Von-Trapp family-ish, but they did have a point. When you compare the Swiss snow defences to the British, ours more than pales in comparison.
The majority of the daily-used Swiss websites flag up weather warnings so everyone knows if it is safe to drive (and most of the time it is). In Switzerland the country is prepared weeks in advance, with snow ploughs, winter tyres, and a better infrastructure. Every night vehicles plough all the roads, even small tracks and residential roads; they then rinse the roads with a saline solution, to reduce the risk of ice and then grit. This continues throughout the day, on roads, pavements and even trains platforms. Compare this to London, where Boris’s 90,000 tons of grit did well, very little, and the trains and tubes were stopped at 7pm.
For those students who are drivers, I wish to draw another comparison to our Swiss friends. Whilst sliding down Park Street in the early hours may seem unavoidable, it is often not, and there are many things the European’s do that we do not. For example winter tyres: you dress yourself for winter so why do not you do the same to your car? Winter tyres are not cheap, but the risk of skidding and crashing is greatly reduced. In no country in Europe are they compulsory, but in Switzerland, everyone has them. Drivers also carry a shovel, blankets and food in their cars in case they get stuck.
Surely though, we know this, we hear on the news, read it in the papers and most likely our Mothers tell us about the dangers of driving on ice. But still we do not prepare. Do we need more shock tactics? The answer is yes, my cousin tells me.
“We are shown graphic images of the aftermath of car crashes and accidents. This not only warns people of the danger, but the picture stays with you. Therefore everyone is more than happy to invest in their own safety and convenience”.
It would be understandable for Britain to invest less time and money into preparing the country for snow; we are so infrequently frequented with it. But the problems run deeper than this. Britain is less prepared not only because we don not have the money, but because we do not have the infrastructure to support the weather. The railways in England are the only in Europe still using the third rail, a system that is unsupportive of bad weather, especially snow. We also do not have snow ploughs and gritters and winter tyres. But with all the money the country has lost from being unprepared, surely investing is the best thing to do.
In the opinion of many UWE students the best way to handle these extreme conditions is to plan ahead.
“It seems the government have little regard for our safety at these times, they are more concerned with saving money than helping us be safe, and get home for Christmas”, said one student.
In order to really change the way we cope with snow, we need to change our mindset. We need to pay heed to the early weather warnings, and to prepare our homes and cars, and remember not to drive unless it is completely necessary.
If, as is predicted, the freezing weather will return this month and next winter, it is up to us to take the necessary precautions. Make sure you fully equip your cars, grit your drives and stock up your freezers in case you get snowed in. It seems this is a case of prevention being better than cure, but with the all important matter of our tuition fees taking president, those government funded snow ploughs seem to be a long way off.