Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Weather Chaos: The Usual Story

It seems this country just can't plan ahead for bad weather.

Just an inch or so of snow has brought most of the South East to a halt. What is it with these Southerners that makes them panic when driving upon seeing a snowflake? Why aren't roads gritted in advance? Who knows.

I made the journey from Portsmouth to Oxford and back again today, with only one problem. The A272 from Petersfield was fine on the outbound journey at 1pm, but by the time we came back a 6pm, the junction between the A31 and the A272 was turned into chaos because the road had some ice in patches. I had to turn back and use the M27 which was clear all the way to Portsmouth.

Why a major route like the A31 and A272 wasn't gritted when the snow started falling at lunchtime is a mystery. Certainly it wasn't gritted but drivable when we used it at 1pm, but still didn't appear to have been gritted 5 hours later. Cars were stuck trying to negotiate the hill up to Cheesefoot Head and they only started moving after a gritter (presumably the first on that road all day) finally gritted the hill. I decided that it would be better not to negotiate the A272 if this first bit of chaos was a sign of the state of the road further on.

I come from up North originally and I did my driving lessons in weather far worse than this. They were never cancelled, my instructor insisted on taking all his students out in challenging weather. Mind you, we got more of it up north. But at least once we'd experienced it, we knew how to handle driving in those conditions.

Even more recently, 10 years ago I rode a motorcycle in blizzard conditions from Oxford to London and back to commute into work. Never at that time were the roads closed or treacherous enough that I thought better of riding on two wheels. Today it would have been suicidal.

Just what is happening to our namby-pamby, risk-averse, never-plan-for-the-worst society? Its crumbling before our very eyes. Trains stop, we can't keep the roads clear, we shut motorways just because someones wing mirror dropped off their car, we panic at the sight of snowflakes.

I just think hope that I'm bringing my kids up with the right stuff, where stopping at a service station car park covered in snow is a good excuse to have a sliding competition and a a bloody good snowball fight (and no-one brought a gun).

Oh, and I can certainly say, using rear fog lights in snowy conditions is not recommended. It just blinds the person behind you. By all means, use them in foggy conditions, where the mist will absorb the light, but in snow, where its just white stuff falling with gaps between them and you can quite easily see normal tail lights, rear fogs just cause more problems.  Wipers on, heater on demist; yes, but rear fogs: no.
It has to be pretty bad snow to reduce visibility under 100m, which is the limit for the use of fog lights. It certainly wasn't that bad on the road today.


  1. In conjunction with the lack of gritting on the A272 I feel we have critically lost the art of patience. Coming from the Petersfield end the first sign of trouble was at the Cheriton turnoff when a rear wheel drive couldnt get up the hill, so swung around it dropped it to second and let tickover plus a bit pull me up. This was clearly too slow for most people, a 4x4 over took (ok) then a lorry, (just about ok) then a car that decided reving like mad was the way to go got past me, lost control and slid straight into my path broadside. Didnt take a crystal ball to see what was going to happen so had already stopped. reveresed back a bit set off again. Unfortunately the long drag up (where the police usually sit) was completely blocked. so turned around and headed back. Again patience failed far too many as a DHL driver in a RWD White van felt he could master anything a 4x4 could by going fast. Not entirely sure how he didnt hit anything other than the verge, but he did manage to block the road until a freindly tractor driver pulled him out.

    When driving in snow/ice realise that the person in front may know how to drive to the conditions and isnt deliberately trying to slow you up.. then maybe we can all get home a little quicker... Oh and forget first gear. its useless.

  2. Yes I agree, in bad driving conditions, patience, observation and a little experience help a lot.

    I did my winter driving lessons up on Saddleworth moor: snow banked up higher than the car at the side of the road and sheet ice and snow down any side roads. I managed to control the car and gained the knowledge that a feather foot on the controls pays dividends by not losing traction. In fact I remember my very first lesson had half an hour of learning proper clutch control.

    I just couldn't believe the driving out there last night. There was traction on the ice, if you took it steady. But many panicked on the ice and as you say, revved for all they're worth, or braked heavily and wondered why the ABS didn't pull them up quickly.

    Luckily I live by the sea, so the heat sink effect means the snow here has more or less melted.

  3. D was chatting with some mates about this. I suppose we could just shrug our shoulders and ignore it. However there is soo much going wrong that I smell a plot to get us used to not having modernity. Conditioning us for the life of serfdom planned by our betters. My mates just shrugged their shoulders though! Seasons greetings.


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