You may not believe this, but Dublin has a lot in common with Birmingham, AL and other big cities in the southern states. Okay, before you wear yourself out trying to figure out how, I'm talking about weather. Winter weather, actually and how Ireland's biggest city responds to winter weather to be precise.
I've never been to Birmingham in the winter (or anytime in truth), but my brother lives there and his description of Birmingham's reaction to snow sounds a lot like what we experience here.
On New Year's Eve it snowed in Dublin. It snowed so hard that Dublin Airport had to close until 10:30am New Year's Day. The airport's official spokesman said, "snow was falling quicker than we could clear it," but, as the Irish Times reported, the national weather service's station at the airport recorded only 1cm of snow. That's less than half an inch.
The airport authority wasn't the only state body that appeared to be frozen in fear in the face of a few snow flakes. Many of Dublin's roads were impassable and the police warned people not to venture out. The city's buses ground to a halt and even the train service was severely limited. Dublin was at a standstill.
While most of the locals either got angry or simply shrugged their shoulders, those of us who've come to Ireland from cooler climes adopted the smug, condescending tone that every race of people loves to witness among their immigrants and/or visitors.
We told them about our experience of 'real snow' - I grew up north of Albany, NY where we sneer at New Yorkers who complain about winter - and how the local authorities in our hometown would plow the roads clear even if there was a foot or two of snow. Salting and sanding are standard and Dublin's dusting last Thursday night wouldn't have registered.
Yet, there's no doubt the roads were like a sheet of ice on Friday. I'm not quite sure why so little snow can have such an effect, but I suspect it has to do with the fact that it's never really dry here. So, when the temperature dips below freezing for a stretch all that dampness freezes, and combined with the scrap of snow, creates real danger on the roads.
Of course a dose of sand or salt would relieve these problems, but Dublin (and Ireland generally) isn't equipped to deliver sand or salt to roads. You'll hear people talk about 'gritting the roads' - I'm not exactly sure what grit is, but we're assured there's a plentiful supply - yet I doubt there are more than a few trucks of the sort that I remember plowing and sanding the roads in my hometown. I've never come across one, but obviously there are a few.
But you need a whole fleet to treat all the secondary roads and it's really just not worth the investment. Despite the fact that our summers can feel like winter, we really don't have much of a winter. At least, not winter as I think of it. Temperatures below freezing are infrequent enough (see what I mean about being like Birmingham?), but it's very rare that the low temperatures combine with precipitation. Winter in Ireland usually means rain, wind and more rain. Snow's rarely an issue. Temperatures are usually in the 40s F.
These past few weeks constitute the coldest stretch of weather in decades, but local governments can't make decisions based on a few freakish weeks of weather, especially not in these straitened times.
So, we'll have to just grin and bear it. We'll have to continue to adhere to the old adage that, 'God put it there and God will take it away."