The Most Dangerous Weather Phenomenon in the Northwest

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If you live in the Northwest, what weather phenomenon is the worst threat to your life?   What type of weather has the greatest chance of causing you bodily harm?

Floods?  No way...although they cause the greatest economic damage to the region.

Windstorms?  Not even close..although most major windstorms do cause a few fatalities and injuries.

Thunderstorm winds or lightning?  Nope--a minor issue around here.

 Give up?   I think the clear cut winner is ice on the roadway, often known as BLACK ICE, even though it does have to be black or invisible.

Pay attention to this blog--it could well save your life.

I got sensitized to the threat of roadway ice in the first years after I started at the UW.   On occasion I would do legal (forensic) consulting and I was surprised that most of the cases were associated with lawsuits dealing with roadway icing.  I was stunned by how many people were getting killed and injured....the WA State Patrol statistics were depressing--a dozen or so were losing their lives each year on State Highways due to icing, and hundreds, if not thousands were being injured.  The whole situation was made worse by the lack of knowledge by highway maintenance folks regarding the causes of icing and the primitive state of pretreatment of highways to prevent icing.  I decided to make a study of the subject and began working closely with Washington State DOT to improve the situation (and they have made a huge effort that has paid off in reduced deaths and injuries).

But State DOT folks are not everywhere at all times and many icing deaths and injuries occur each year on our roads (17 deaths in 2009 in WA aline from Federal online stats).  So let me explain how you can protect yourself and your family.

Roadway icing has two major causes:  frost and freezing fog, and the fog is the worse threat.   Frost occurs generally on cold, clear nights--the earth radiates heat to space and the earth cools to the dewpoint..and if the dewpoint is at 32F or less you get frost.  Frost can make the road slippery, but it produces a relatively thin layer, which allows the roughness of the road to still supply some traction.  Yes, you can be killed by frost, but you got to be driving really fast or make a big error.

The big threat is freezing fog.  Classic situation around here:  clear, cold night....the roadway temperature drops below freezing..perhaps a little frost... but nothing bad.  Near the road, there is a boggy or wet area over which fog forms.   The fog then drifts over the roadway and lots of the fog droplets freeze on the roadway, leaving a thick ice deposit.  Very dangerous.  If you are driving on a cold night when temperatures are in the 30s or below and fog is around..SLOW DOWN IMMEDIATELY.

Now lets talk temperature!  On cold, clear nights the road surface is often colder than the air above.   Official temperatures are measured at around 6 ft, and the road surface can be 2-5F colder than that on such nights.  You have a temperature sensor on your car?  That sensor is a few feet off the ground and could well be warmer than the road.  BOTTOM LINE?  If you car thermometer or reported temperatures reach the mid-30s, icing is quite possible on the roads.  Slow down.

Another major piece of advice--bridges and elevated roadways ice up first.  Why?  The ground conducts heat into the  roadway, especially early in the season.  Bridges and elevated roadways don't have this heat source and thus cool down faster than roads in contact with the soil.  Half the cases I have consulted on have been on bridges and elevated sections.

Bottom line--if weather is going to kill or seriously injure you, chances are it will be from roadway icing.  Slow down when the warning signs noted above occur.  Be sure to purchase a car with Vehicle Stability Control (many new cars have this now), which lessens, but DOES NOT ELIMINATE, skidding on icy roads.

If you want to learn more about this topic , check the webpage I have created here.

Seattle School Board Race News

The Seattle times published ANOTHER story today  about crimes and scandals in the school district: one of the individuals involved in ripping off the district had an escort service as well. 

Another Times story revealed that outside individuals...many connected with high tech and Microsoft...are sending large amounts of money to the incumbents because the incumbents are on board with "school reform." (mainly blame the teachers and judge their performance based on "objective" student evaluations, hire Teach for America applicants, etc.)  The great irony is these high tech folks are supporting the wrong board members that have contributed to the degradation of math education in the district.  All the challengers want first-class math instruction with curriculum and books similar to those used in countries where the kids do well in math.  The incumbent school board folks have supported fuzzy math, with lots of calculators and group work, with very poor content.  The Gates Foundation, Microsoft millionaires and other supporting the incumbents are contributing to folks that are cutting off the supply of math capability students to the high tech industries of the area.

Most local community groups (e.g, Democratic party), unions, and local math-education groups (e.g., support the challengers. So does the Stranger.  Pathetically, the Seattle Times supports the incumbents.  Here is what the Times editorial board said today:

"Board members and district officials also cannot escape blame for the thefts in the district's Regional Small Business Development Program....Blame must be shared again by the board and district leaders for allowing, tolerating, inviting — pick your verb — a district culture of indifference and dishonesty. Board members showed too much confidence, or a stunning lack of curiosity, about the superintendent's management." ...
In the upcoming School Board election, this page endorsed the incumbents...The Times believed the incumbents are most knowledgeable about the inner workings of the district and best able to repair the damage"

Can you believe this?  The school board incumbents have been entirely incompetent in running the district, but they should be retained, because they know how they screwed up and thus can fix the problems they created?  The Seattle Times editorial staff is very disappointing--such sloppy work is not what you would expect from the main newspaper in such a major city.

Support the challengers if you want improvements in the Seattle School District.
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