Cars sliding down a snowy Seattle hill: crashing steel Ice Capades

Here's a brief, excruciating video of cars losing traction on Seattle's Capitol Hill during this week's snowstorm and caroming downwards, out of control (the clincher is a city bus, and what appears to be the same white SUV that just keeps on trying to make it, as though the owner can't believe that his giant ride can't contend with puny black ice).

As someone who's been in a couple of high-speed, freeway ice-accidents (including a childhood trauma in which I was thrown from the car!) this was nearly too painful to watch -- though, as the closing credits remind us, no one was actually hurt on Capitol Hill that day. Which, I suppose, makes this into a kind of crashing steel Ice Capades.

Sliding Cars in Seattle Snow on 11/22/10 (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)


  1. I’ve often thought small sand dispensers placed in front of each tire could help.. Push a button, a little shake of dry sand falls out, right where you need it.

    BTW – audio on this is a fail.

    1. That’s a great idea to implement in cars! They’ve been doing this on trains, to maximize adhesion between the wheel and the rail, for ages.

      Or maybe, instead of sand, a little nozzle could just leak a few drops of gasoline in front of the tires, to melt the snow and ice away.

    2. That’s what is happening when you hear a spraying sound (a short ssshhhht sound) on a locomotive,the engineer can hit he button for his ‘sanders’ but it happens automatically when there is ‘wheel slip’.

  2. I wish this was rare, but it seems to happen all over Seattle during our snowpocalypses. Our hills suck for driving in winter storms, but they are awesome for sledding!

  3. I lived in Seattle one winter, and had an excellent view of an intersection on a hill from our apartment window. The couple of times it snowed, we’d pull chairs up to the window and watch the cavalcade of cars sliding through red lights.

    Things that are common-sense to those of us who drive in snow regularly (e.g. living in southern Ontario) are lost on these poor saps. Simple tips like: decelerate early and gently, and use your brakes sparingly.

    However, the municipal services aren’t at all equipped to handle it any more than the drivers are. Apparently they’ve never taken high school science, or have never heard of salt.

    1. yea u r right abt the salt but what gets me is that the cops and firefighters cant drive in it also. i remember two yrs ago when we had the big snow storm. i pulled out some many ppl and a few of those ppl were cop cars!! the only thing i was driving was my stock 89 jeep Cherokee 4×4 with aired down tires..

  4. hawkd — not sure about local laws there but chains are not allowed in many places. I do like the idea of a sand-dispensing car though! When it comes to ice, nothing but sand is going to help much…we have all wheel drive because we live in a hilly area with snowy winters but on black ice all you can do is skid and hope (and ideally avoid it altogether by driving slowly and carefully to begin with!)

    1. Even if snowchains WERE illegal (other posts seem to indicate that they AND studded tires are not in ST), I’m thinking that this is where the great American tradition of civil disobedience comes into play. I’m at work and an ice storm starts — I put on my snow chains and I’m guessing the local constabulary won’t be equally equipped to catch me. (although, gotta imagine even if you WERE navigating successfully, your chances of getting whacked by a fellow citizen are pretty great.)

      Plus, that’s a ticket I’d fight: Yes, your honor, I wanted to get home without killing anyone or myself, so I used tools…

  5. hmmm. My name is Cory and I also was thrown from a vehicle as a small child. But it was in LA and warm, so I guess no disastrous serendipity there.

  6. I didn’t know that, Cory. I flipped a car in the rain in Ohio ten years ago and have similar aversions. I am glad nobody got hurt.

    1. I can understand why they made fun of her….she put chains on her car!! Why didn’t she just put the chains on the tires alone?

    1. Or just winter tires. They’re made of a rubber that is more flexible and sticks more to ice than regular tires.

      The downside is that they wear much faster in above freezing temperatures.

  7. I live in Seattle, and we were all a bit taken by surprise. The amount of snow was well above forecasts, and it wasn’t sticking for most of the day. Suddenly, the temperature hit that critical point, and if you missed your window (at about 3.30 pm when I went home), you were up s___ creek.

    1. I know how it is. Every year in Wisconsin, we have to re-learn how to drive in slippery conditions like this. Sometimes the only option is not to drive at all and wait for the road crews to throw down some salt. I doubt Seattle has that big of a plow fleet or even a stockpile of road salt. It could take a while to get home, but at least you’d get there safely.

  8. Didja notice how many people had the brakes locked and weren’t steering?

    And I wonder how many people are unaware that 4WD helps you go but it doesn’t help you stop?

    The insurance companies should run a free skid pad in good weather so people can learn. It’d be fun too.

    1. Brakes jammed on, screaming inside, and totally unaware that brakes on just extends the slide and maintains your loss of control.

      The only time I span out on ice (hey, it’s England, we don’t get much practice) I was happy to do everything right. I’d been playing Carmageddon obsessively in the months before, and I swear it was the skid skills from the bloodthirsty nerdfest that stopped us going in a ditch.

  9. Was that white car that hit that blue car just pulling aside, or were they leaving the scene of the accident?

    I guess they kept the city busses running in an effort to give people an alternative to driving. But, I do hope that bus driver doesn’t lose his/her job over that accident. S/he was trying to go slowly and be very careful, but driving that bus on that ice was a no win situation for that poor driver.

    So glad no one was hurt. I actually gasped out loud a couple of time during the video even though I knew realistically what was coming.

    Oh, Cory. Your accident baggage. *hugs* *extra hugs*

    1. I wondered the same thing. Was the car turning because the intersection was blocked straight ahead and he wanted to put his car safely out of the way before going to check on the driver he hit, or did he realize he could get away at that moment?

      I know which option I’d bet on.

  10. At what point would the person with the camera put it down and try to help the situation, say like, put up something in the street at the top of the hill or call the police to close the street?

    After some pedestrian was hit by a sliding car? When a car had a serious collision with an injury?

    More likely just keep the camera going for web yuks. Har har look at that accident!! Here comes another one! Hee Hee.

    1. Q: At what point would the person with the camera put it down and try to help the situation, say like, put up something in the street at the top of the hill or call the police to close the street?

      A: The same person that would put that video to the horrible, horrible music that they did. Where the hell is Yackety Sax and the video sped up x2?

    2. “hey everyone! Watch this video I took of these people that got hurt while I stood around and did nothing to try to stop it from happening”

    3. What are they going to do, stand out in the middle of the road and get mowed down? No one other than a first responder should have been on foot anywhere near that road.

      1. Well, here’s a couple alternatives that come to mind –

        Call the road department or police to report a dangerous situation

        Go put a sign or a few trash cans or anything in the street at the top of the hill to stop traffic

        How about being a citizen “first responder”? If not YOU then who? If not NOW, then when?

    4. Maybe I’m a bad person, but if I had a balcony view of such events… Would I A) further the danger of the situation by putting another obstacle (myself) on level with multiple tons of colliding steel or B) sit back and watch as a bunch of doofuses receive rudimentary physics lessons.

      It seems as though the cops were already aware of the situation, hence their appearance at the end of the video. Perhaps the people filming were the ones who informed the police of the dangerous conditions?

  11. Did anybody else say a prayer for the pedestrians in this video? A couple of them came close to being roadkill, and nobody seems to notice.

    1. Ack! Yes! I kept flinching because there were a few times when it looked like the video was going to degenerate into pedestrian bowling. But, Cory’s caption had already said that noone was hurt so I just kind of held onto that assurance.

      But, yeah, total cringing!

  12. In my experience chains are almost always more hassly than they are worth. (I grew up in Central Alberta)

    Proper tires and appropriate driving habits can cover almost anything. Included in ‘appropriate’ is ‘not going driving when conditions are too hazardous’.

    If a boater goes out in a hurricane people get pissed off at him for endangering himself (usually a him) and rescue workers when things go awry. And rightfully so – a boat operator is singly responsble for ensuring that conditions are safe.

    Yet if a person is driving a car and makes the exact same decision – driving in conditions they cannot handle or their vehicle is not able to handle, then for some reason nobody even blinks. The driver is responsible for being safe.

    Honestly, getting home or whatever isn’t worth dying for, and it isn’t worth killing some other schmuck for either.

  13. I see people suggesting snow chains and winter tires. I have winter tires and I just put them on in Wisconsin. But then again, in an average year where I live we get between 50 – 100 inches of snow.

    I did live in Seattle for 7 years. There was probably a total of 10 non-consecutive days where there was snow on the road. It simply makes no sense to have winter tires or chains there. When it snows, just wait a day or two. But don’t drive. Even if you are a perfect winter driver, you’ll still probably get rear-ended.

    1. There was probably a total of 10 non-consecutive days where there was snow on the road. It simply makes no sense to have winter tires or chains there.
      I live in Melbourne, Australia where it never, ever gets like this. But I own a set of chains for going skiing.

  14. Minneapolis here, with a memorable road ice incident.

    Several winters ago … Christmas Day … freeway clear of snow, but icy. Sparse traffic, everyone driving safely, plenty of stopping distance.

    Behind me … I see these events in my rear-view mirror:

    The driver of a Bronco (or somesuch model) signals a lane change … makes the lane change, all very orderly and correct, no sudden moves … and then spins. Spins three hundred and sixty degrees while sliding laterally. Slides off the freeway into a shallow ditch, back-end first. Back end strikes the base of a lamp post. Vehicle seems amazingly okay, I can’t be sure but it seemed like a pretty soft impact and the occupants are probably okay ….

    And then the lamp post, which is designed to shear easily at the base when struck in such a manner, falls gracefully … oh, so slow and gracefully, like a tall pine chopped by the most expert lumberjack … falling neatly across all three lanes of traffic going my direction … I was the last vehicle through … amazingly, nobody hit the barrier, but of course traffic piled up immediately … that’s the last I saw … must have been an hour or more before the obstacle was removed and traffic started moving again.

  15. In case you ever lose control on ice like these folks, just let go of the brake for a second, you will regain control — but it won’t reduce your speed.

    Prior to ABS brakes, people would “pump” the brakes on icy surfaces, you press the brakes for a second and let go for a sec, then press again for a sec, etc. It won’t do miracles, but it’s the best you can do in such a situation…

    If there’s a part of the road that has more snow on it, you can go over that, the snow will slow you down — as the Volvo did when it went on the sidewalk.

  16. IF your car is not equipped for the conditions, don’t drive.

    What is so important that you had to be out on the roads? Hell even a day of work isn’t worth the insurance deductible. Sure your wife’s in the hospital or you’ve been paged for that new kidney but beyond that why not wait it out with a cup of tea and book at home?

    Now being Canadian stuff like this doesn’t phase me.

    Get proper tires or get off the road. If it gets below 7C (44 F) winter tires make huge improvements, even if you don’t get the snow.

  17. Chains are legal in Seattle, you’re required to carry them when driving through the mountain passes whenever the weather is bad. I don’t understand why everyone in Seattle wouldn’t have a set. They’re not that expensive and if you use them once, they have likely paid for themselves.

    In 2008, this is what happened when a bus tried to navigate an icy hill in Seattle:

  18. There should be snow days for adults, or at least ice days.

    When there is ice on the road they should declare an emergency and order most businesses closed.

    1. I live in Northeast Arkansas. Folks here just aren’t equipped for snow and ice. Yet, last winter we got some ice with 14″ of snow on top, and the winter before that had a horrible ice storm (even my Canadian friends were freaked out by the ice storm that hit down here). That ice storm was truly horrific.

      I’ve lived in places with real winters before so I know how to drive on it, but that doesn’t mean I’m not fair game to get clobbered by a redneck speeding in his pickup thinking that 4wd makes him invincible. Ice/snow around here equals accidents, vehicles in ditches, clobbered power line poles, CO poisoning because of improper attempts at heating, and lots and lots and lots and LOTS of fires.

      But, about snow days for adults: There are several factories, etc. around here that say, “Come to work no matter what or be docked pay/punished under attendance policy/etc.” Even when the state troopers say don’t drive. Even when the governor has gone to the press and told businesses to close and people to stay home. Even when the insurance companies have declared, “The state troopers have closed the highways. If you drive in this and have an accident, it is not covered.” The employers don’t care. They say their employees have to come in. Period. And, I’m not talking critical staff like hospital ER’s. I’m talking factories and regular businesses. And, this is a VERY impoverished area — the notorious Mississippi River Delta. This is a poor, poor, poor place. So, the folks who have these jobs cling to them. So, even though the state had declared a snow day, they have to drive anyway to go to their jobs or lose their jobs because their employers only see $$$ instead of the ice on the roads.

      It should be illegal. But, nothing ever happens to these employers.

  19. LMAO at the SUV drivers who think “this car has four-wheel-drive so I can do anything.” That’s not how it works.

  20. Screw chains. Everyone should carry a set of Autosocks in winter. I’m a Seattlite who got to use my Autosocks for the first time yesterday. They performed great and were really easy to slip on and off (<5min). Check it out:

    Anyone who suggests getting a set of studded tires in a city that gets snow maybe two days a year, should understand how much those things mess up our roads during the rest of the winter days.

    1. anon #34 re autosocks: look nice, but I’d have to put them on and off about 4 times during my commute as my local highway authority only grit the main roads leaving the rest of them to form a packed layer of squished snow… How long do they last? are they single use only?

  21. we should all know better. 2008 was miserable with snow and the whole city shut down because of it.

    slow down

    it’s not rocket science.

    we’ve got chains & 4wd and have 0 traction problems on ice. the best way not to skid is to not lose control in the first place.

  22. It was nowhere near as bad down here in Portland yesterday, but the mayor made a big deal of announcing that chains-required zones would be enforced.

    When I went for a lunch time run, there were big signs on Burnside leading up into the West Hills (where road icing tends to be worst) indicating tire chains were required. They’d even closed the right lane to make a chain-up area.

    Our mayor has been slammed in recent years for letting sneak ice storms disable the city, so this year they were especially shrill about it. Looks like next year Seattle is going to be in overdrive at the first sign of a potential storm…

  23. Isn’t Seattle big time Maker country? I can’t imagine it would take much to throw together a barricade for each end of the street, honestly.

  24. It should be illegal to drive in such conditions. After all, it does endanger the lives of others. Stay home or walk.

  25. I think people may not realize how completely abnormal this kind of thing is for us. A lot of people simply do not have chains because we don’t even get snow most years. On top of that, chains are great for snow, but this crap is mostly ice; I watched a few people with chains slide around almost as badly trying to navigate the same hill about six blocks south.

    So glad I ran home at 2PM.

  26. This cameraman is a huge ass! Instead of filming all this, you should be at the top of the hill warning people not to go down.

  27. What, exactly, was the person filming supposed to do? Help push cars up the hill?

    What gets me is the pedestrians, walking among sliding cars and buses like it’s no big deal.

  28. For those of you asking why Seattle isn’t salting the roads, it’s a decision by the Seattle Department of Transportation because of the ecological impact:

    Not saying I agree or disagree, as I’m complete crap on ice and snow (even though I grew up in the Midwest) so my opinion is pretty much void. I stay in and let folks who actually know what they’re doing drive.

    You’ll also notice that chains are recommended by the city.

    1. That was two years ago. The mayor who implemented that policy was voted out of office largely because of it. They were spraying brine on key streets the day before, and had what few snowplows and sand/salt trucks loaded up and ready to go when the storm hit. Our biggest problem, in addition to all the hills, is that we just don’t get enough severe snow storms to justify enough plows and trucks to cover the city.

  29. How about you buy 500 kg of salt a spread it out on the road !!


    It should be illegal for the government not to take care of it’s citizens driving on the road to and from work, on a bus, in a freaking fire-truck and so on.

    Question : Why else would you pay tax other then for the tax to be used to avoid chaos !

    1. Salt it, close it, put up a sign, do SOMEthing.

      Given that someone camped out with a camcorder and was recording this with commentary in real time, I have a feeling there WAS a crude hand-drawn sign at the top of the hill reading “ROAD SAFE – NO ICE – SPEED LIMIT 50”

  30. Ha ha ha…good times. Living in Portland, it astounds me how people are annually surprised by some ice. Growing up in the winters of North Idaho, I learned to know MY limitations, my CAR’S limitations, and to not trust other drivers. Guys especially seem to overestimate their abilities and their vehicles. A big one: if it’s super slippery out, DON’T DRIVE. Leave your car, walk, stay home. It’s better than the embarrassment, hassle, and danger you put yourself and others through.

  31. Y’know, where I come from, farmers would deliberately go out in storms like this on their tractors to pull drivers out of country ditches. It was like a hobby, helping people. Their own diesel, their own tractor, their own time. Often a thermos of hot chocolate too.

    Is it too much trouble to put on a hat and a coat and go to the end of the street to warn people off of a dangerous situation?

    1. I fully agree … Although it should be done on a bigger level. The city at first should shut that road down or as said before salt it. These people need help, not only by a stranger but but the government.

  32. To quote a friend: “There are two types of Seattlites: The ones who drive stupidly in the snow and the ones who watch (and sometimes record) stupid snow driving.”

  33. Attempting to tell people who drive in Seattle anything is totally useless. 2 years ago we had a bus that hit a patch of ice and almost fell onto the freeway. Seattle drivers are hideously stupid, the perfect conditions at the perfect time to make ice on the roads with about 2 inches of powder on top. This may be our only snow storm, so that’s why so many people don’t know how to drive in it. I get it, I stayed away from heavy traffic and got to work in like 15 minutes in my tiny little honda. I didn’t drive it home though, we don’t salt backroads and I almost spun out several times, not cool. The worst part is trying to go up a hill, and failing hardcore. Clearly the answer is, don’t go up the hill, but that person wanted to get home, it’s important.

  34. Cory, there’s no white SUV that re-enters the scene, as you imply. The ones at 1:30 and 4:30 are clearly different. And I don’t drive a “giant ride”, but frankly, I’d probably behave the same if my Outback spun out all 4 wheels, since it’s never happened in 7 yrs of driving in the upper midwest. The cognitive dissonance of pushing the gas pedal & not being propelled forward would fog all judgment.

  35. As other folks have mentioned, this is unusual weather for us. It’s currently 22°F in Seattle, whereas the last couple of years it’s been in the 50s.

    Schools are closed again today. If the snow sticks around for Friday, it’ll be interesting to see how many inexperienced drivers try to make it to the malls.

    I live on a dead-end street, so I feel pretty safe.

  36. Hope this never happens in SF: my street alone has a 31 percent gradient.

    Priuses and Volvos will be flying like the Dukes of Hazzard. . .

  37. As a Seattle native, I think I need to speak up for all the folks from snow country laughing at the hicks/idiots in Seattle.

    1. Seattle gets snow a couple of times a winter, at most, in normal years.

    2. Normally, when it does snow, it then warms up almost immediately, rains on top of it, and then goes away.

    3. Every few years, Seattle gets 1 to 3 days of real snow that sticks. The city shuts down when this happens as there are only a few snow plows in all of King County, where Seattle resides.

    4. Seattle was originally built on seven (now six) hills. There is a LOT of up and down angles on Seattle roads.

    5. When it does snow and stick a little, it still usually warms up enough that things are covered in ice to add to the snow.

    6. Seattle drivers never get to practice in the snow since IT NEVER SNOWS. The only people that know it are from flyover country (I mean “The American Heartland”).

    So, you do the math and figure it out. Smart people learn to stay in or leave their cars somewhere when it gets bad and hike home. That said, I still managed to spin 360 degrees in a snowstorm about nine years ago trying to get home before I parked my car and the real danger, after I quit moving and parked, was all of the OTHER people on the road.

    1. Funny how you imply protestation at Seattle-ites being called rednecks, then go on to make a jab about “flyover country”.

  38. Oh, and as people have pointed out, Seattle doesn’t salt its roads because we actually care about the environment of the non-human things in the area that it poisons.

  39. Some of the hills turned in to sheets of ice, there is no stopping on them without chains or studs. The main problem is even with a person standing at the top of the hill waving people away and explaining that nearly every car has slid all the way down, people will still attempt it (same result). Also, the 4wd owners who still think that 4wd will help you stop on ice aren’t helping either.

  40. It’s always FAR worse in Seattle than what it should be. We’re talking 2 inches of snow followed by a freeze. Local govt’s are utterly incompetent- no advance de-icing of major roads/ intersections I’m from NYC and the first thing they do (BEFORE IT SNOWS) is salt the bus routs so you don’t have to deal with 30 foot road barriers. If the street in the video had been salted, the cars would have had much better traction. Of course generally, Seattle drivers are the worst I’ve ever seen in these conditions.

  41. Yes, it’s stupid to be out driving on hills when the roads are icy, but keep in mind that this was on a Monday afternoon when everyone was still at work. It’s not like they left their homes to go out driving, they left work to go home. Also, downtown Seattle is lower than much of the rest of the city. Getting home to nearby residential areas such as Queen Anne and Capitol Hill requires going uphill. Would it have been smarter to leave the car and walk? Yes, but I’m sure you can understand why many decided not to.

  42. I don’t think mid-westerners would have much luck in those conditions, unless they’re from an especially hilly area. I live in Lake Tahoe, and I’ll tell ya, the mid-westerners are sometimes the worst- if only because they think they’re experts at driving in icy conditions, forgetting the whole “mountain” factor.

    Driving on steep, twisty, and icy roads is an art of its own. A harrowing, nerve wracking art, but there you go.

    Still, I couldn’t help but want to shout advice to the drivers in the video. It’s definitely a tricky situation, but not impossible. Though I winced the whole way through at the people going too fast, and locking up their brakes, and all the rest.

  43. Seattle did start salting late last year after the whole city was shut down (except the road to the Mayor’s house) for 10 days. Some of the trucks have salt and some have brine.

    There are hundreds of roads just like this one – shut them all down? Maybe… But this particular one, (John St, right at 14th I think) is a major arterial. There’s a hospital at the top of it.

    Salt, sand, plow. Yep. But Seattle only has 22 plows (and most – like maybe 20 – of them were bought in the past 5 years or so!)

    But, as everyone else has said already, anyone who grew up here doesn’t have a clue how to drive in it. And as someone who grew up in NY and “knows how to drive in it”, I have to say there’s a huge difference between a plowed and salted road and one that’s only “clear” because everyone has packed the snow down.

    I stayed at home until it was time to go sledding down the street.

  44. I witnessed this first-hand when I lived in Seattle: there is so little snow that the city shuts down if there is even a dusting, and nobody seems to know how to drive in it. When I lived there I never saw a single snow plow, with the exception of some private pickups that probably drove in from the other side of Snoqualmie Pass to try and make a quick buck.

  45. Anyone else notice how the Acura/Honda motored right up just before the first bus did it’s slide dance down?

    Hilarious to watch that ride climb right up the hill and watch the SUVs spin struggle. +1000 internets to that person.

  46. I live in New England, so when I heard Seattle friends talking about a blizzard I was imagining a good 2 feet of snow, but 2 inches!? They’re worse than LA during a rain shower!

  47. Also, chains for this level of snow/ice are so beyond overkill that I can’t even comprehend it. Drive slow and brake early people.

  48. Pumping brakes only works with non-ABS brakes: pumping ABS brakes turns them on and off…

    Where I live in South Dakota they use sand instead of salt on the roads. It’s less destructive to cars and gardens than salt, and it helps with traction (a bit). But once the sand and snow get churned up by traffic it turns into a thick, nasty slurry.

    One major downside to sanding is when winter ends. When and the snows melt, we end up with sand and gravel drifts on the streets, especially at corners near drains: it’s very treacherous for cyclists, who either have to go through it (risking a loss of traction and a crash) or swing wide to avoid it (bringing them further into traffic).

  49. Minneapolis here as well–I did live in Seattle during “Snowpocalypse 08”. I laughed my ass off! There was a total of maybe three inches of snow that stayed on the ground, people didn’t know how to drive, they were stuck in ditches where they’d parked, they didn’t know how to get their cars unstuck! As a native Minnesotan, I know all the tricks of the trade, so to speak–I think I made a hundred bucks one day just going around the neighborhood and offering to get people’s cars out for them. XD

  50. It’s not like it gets better in places with more snow, despite what people from snowy areas love to think about themselves. It’s times like these I am glad I live in Texas and not Michigan anymore.

  51. As for expecting the person with the camera to put it down and help warn people about the danger:

    1) The news was warning people about dangerous conditions constantly. There were numerous reports of accidents and recommendations to stay home.

    2) It’s a huge freakin’ hill. The person recording isn’t very near the top, so to catch the problem they’d have to put on a hat and coat and climb to the top on icy sidewalks. I know folks in Seattle are wimps when it comes to weather, but I used to live in the Midwest and still found it unpleasant.

    The best case scenario once the top is reached:

    Good Samaritan: Hey! Hey! Hey!
    Driver: What?
    Good Samaritan: This hill is BAD news!
    Driver: (Sarcastically) Oh, really?
    Good Samaritan: C’mon, I’m trying to help. You should go some other way.
    Driver: I can’t. I live this way.
    Good Samaritan: Can’t you drive that way until the hill isn’t as steep?
    Driver: Uh…
    Good Samaritan: It’s a REALLY bad hill.
    Driver: You make a persuasive argument. I’ll give it a shot.
    Good Samaritan: Whew! There’s one person I saved. Only seven more hours to go!

  52. What everyone is missing is that it ISN’T the snow, it’s the ice. They put salt/chemicals down Monday morning, it melted the snow and then the temperature dropped, so the diluted slush refroze and turned into ice. The whole city is basically composed of hills and bridges, so ice is a BFD. People don’t know how to drive, it’s ridiculous, but chains and studs don’t really help. The buses all had chains on them, and 200 (14%!!!!) of the fleet got stranded/abandoned. We’re doing the best we can (and it’s getting better) but as someone from the Midwest who scoffed at Seattleites before I moved up here, I can say I fully understand the panic.

    I’d much rather have 12-14″ of snow in Missouri than 1-2″ in Seattle.

    1. Thank you Lula!!! I’m originally from Niagara Falls (ish), Ontario, but what I saw here in Seattle from my cozy apt windows was NUTS!!!

      Admittedly, the locals are very unprepared, from what I saw. I brought my snow tires (which are just glorified rain tires) when I moved to Seattle just over a year ago, so I’m getting around ok, but I haven’t YET seen another car with plain snow tires, either. Plus, the city isn’t helping – as Lula said, the city trucks brined and salted Monday morning, and most of the evil started around 3pm. I didn’t hear of ANY trucks on the roads salting and what not during the “storm”, only before. BIG mistake.

      I find it funny that the local news didn’t know what to call “freezing rain”, which is what was falling, not snow. They were close a few times (“wet, frozen snow”, “freezing wet snow”, etc.) – you’d think that a city with so much rain would have, I don’t know, 231 different types of rain in its little book….

  53. Yes, the hills are bad in Seattle. But this happens every friggin’ year, every damned time it snows: people careening down a hill into each other. If a resident doesn’t know by now that negotiating a steep hill in snow and ice is a bad idea, they haven’t been paying attention. Or more accurately, they’re an idiot that thinks the oft-demonstrated laws of physics don’t apply to them.

    So as fellow Midwest transplant, I continue to scoff at Seattleites. Not because they can’t drive in the snow, but because they refuse to learn.

  54. I live in Sweden. This is nothing. Also salt + sand and for gods sake winter tires (here its the law that you have to change to winter tires during late autumn). Its wierd my brother lives in England and they have the same problems in the South of England as these guys seem to have. Since they drive around on tires made for dry, warm roads of course they’ll spin out of control.

  55. Watching that, I can’t believe so many of these drivers don’t understand the concept of pumping the breaks. Even the bus driver didn’t do it.

  56. Perhaps a little, tiny amount of salt is OK now and then but it’s mostly just a big waste of time. Ontario is the Salting capital of the world and accident rates are no different in places with similar climates that don’t salt at all. We keep doing it mostly to prop up various rackets like the salt industry and the seasonal workers who really don’t have jobs anymore since the recent climate changes. For the past three years Toronto has laid down far more inches of salt than there were of snow. I’m often tripping over shifting salt beds on top of dry, clear pavement.

    During all the years when it did snow here and when I lived in the Snow Belt up in Waterloo I saw maybe two or three people who didn’t completely forget about how to drive in icy conditions every year. My favourite was the hill behind U of Waterloo that goes up to the back entrance to the campus. One day it was covered in about an inch of ice. First thing in the morning it was covered with bumper to bumper cars whose drivers hadn’t discovered their lower gears. They all had their gas pedals floored. Each car would spin its wheels until they melted through the ice via friction; then lurch ahead a foot or so to the next patch. Man, what a stench of burning rubber!

    1. Agreed: Salting doesn’t work so well in Toronto. The weather there’s different, though. It gets bitter cold in TO and stays that way all winter, so salt doesn’t have as much of a chance to work. In a place like Seattle where it goes above freezing during the daytime, I bet salt would work pretty well.

      Other places take different approaches that work alright. Driving through western Massachusetts in the winter, I found that they use fly ash. Everybody has dirty gray cars and they go through wiper blades like crazy. Some places use sand. Some rural cold areas don’t bother with plowing so much, but just run a snow cat over fresh snow and sprinkle some gravel on top.

      Guess this video just shows a combination of unprepared drivers in an unprepared city. Unfortunate.

  57. Cory, you should consider writing an autobiography. In many of your posts, you refer to some aspect of your own life that indicates you’ve faced and overcome all sorts of challenges.

  58. Re:
    “1. Seattle gets snow a couple of times a winter, at most, in normal years.
    3. Every few years, Seattle gets 1 to 3 days of real snow that sticks. The city shuts down when this happens as there are only a few snow plows in all of King County, where Seattle resides.
    5. When it does snow and stick a little, it still usually warms up enough that things are covered in ice to add to the snow.
    6. Seattle drivers never get to practice in the snow since IT NEVER SNOWS.”

    Looking up the history of frozen precipitation in Seattle (yes, I know I need to get out of the house), I found evidence that it DOES snow, there IS ice, and it happens with vague regularity.

    It is not a matter of practice. It is a matter of common sense. If you know you don’t have the practice to be driving in these conditions, don’t do it.

    Let’s say the average driver in Seattle is 35 (fairly arbitrary number), and has a 50/50 chance of being a native. If they are not native, they are either from a) somewhat warmer climes and, I imagine, freaked out by snow and ice on hills and not willing to drive or b) somewhat colder climes and, I imagine, aware of the danger of snow and ice on Seattle’s hills and not willing to drive (also afraid of natives and immigrants from warmer areas with less experience). So, if you are a 35-year-old native, you have possibly twenty years’ of driving experience, and even more experience with the snow and ice that DOES happen in Seattle.

    Don’t be surprised by the snow and ice, if it happens even once a year, or every other year. Watching videos of Pacific Northwesterners (I include silly Portlandians in this) sliding down hills nearly every year should teach us all something. Don’t drive on the hills.

    Criticizing the gawkers at their windows for laughing at stupidity, well, that’s like criticizing me for learning from someone else’s mistakes, and having a little fun. I am glad that no one was apparently hurt, though.

  59. Needs more Strauss.

    Actually, Toronto gets a day like this every winter, where wet snow rolls in during the afternoon/evening and the salt trucks don’t get out fast enough. Of course, many people in Toronto are used to snow driving, and have already put on their snow tires. I always manage to have my annual bike crash trying to get home on these sorts of evenings.

    Ironically, this year my annual bike crash happened on streetcar tracks, in the rain, in temperatures that were much closer to the norm for Seattle at this time of year.

  60. I really liked the bus. It was so timid and cute at the top of the hill and then when it skidded past help, I felt bad for it.

  61. As a non-native Seattelite I can say that many drivers here are unfortunately undereducated about driving in serious inclement weather (I learned to drive in northeast New Jersey in mid-February 17 years ago, so I’ve had some practice). While the accumulation was only about 3 inches, the layer of black ice and the severe drop in temperature were the culprits to the breakdown of transportation. And for all of you chains and studded tire proponents, they help for the snow but the ice is a bit tricky. Especially because some of the hills in Seattle are particularly steep and (here is where the idiocy sinks in) many people think they are good enough drivers to make it. Your skill and safety have nothing to do with physics. Seriously.

    And as a few have stated previously, another issue here is the poor preparedness that the city has to the snow. We don’t get much (that’s why 3″ is a big deal) and don’t have the best plans nor a large amount of plows and salt trucks.

    I live in a suburban and relatively flat area north of downtown and saw 3 buses abandoned in a 10 block stretch of road that has a grade of maybe 5% for the duration.

    And that hill you’re looking at, not the worst by a long shot. Search around for Queen Anne.

  62. There are definitely “ICE!” type warning signs and roads closed around Capitol Hill. Problem is, *every* east-west street gets steep at some point… the city probably doesn’t have enough signs to close them all, if they really wanted to. I think a lot of people know damn well they live on a dangerous hill, but unless you know exactly where to go to avoid the bad blocks, you’re gonna wind up on an ice ramp sooner or later.

    It’s been quiet on the roads since Monday’s freakout. I think the lesson has been learned for this year.

  63. Instead of filming all this, you should be at the top of the hill warning people not to go down.

    And how do you propose to get to the top of the hill? Drive? Of course, the person with the camera could walk, except that walking on ice is as dangerous as driving on ice, and there are out-of-control cars moving fast enough to damage other cars. But hey, the person with the camera should have risked his/her life to satisfy some guy sitting at his computer.

    Instead of commenting on this, you should fly to Seattle and repair their cars for free.

  64. I’ve spent most of my life in Western New York – grew up in Buffalo, went to university in Rochester. We get a lot of snow and ice. I’ve slid a few times (on empty side streets), but I certainly know how to drive it in (the first rule being to avoid it when possible).

    However, even here, most people *don’t* know how to drive in it. Those of us who do like to make fun of people who live in LA who can’t drive in the light rain they get there (I went to grad school for two years in SoCal so I know what that’s like, and that’s legitimately pathetic), and those whose cities shut down when they get 1/2 inch of snow.

    But seriously, look around in your own town next time you get snow and/or ice – many people are better prepared, but most aren’t. Most know to simply not drive in it, at least, which is perhaps why we don’t see things like this video coming from colder states as often – but then if you look, there *are* lots of videos like this taken in snowy states!

    Anyway, it’s funny for those of us who grew up in snowy states, and then move elsewhere. But I think the type of person who moves away from their home region is more likely to be the type of person who does actually know how to handle the snow and ice.

  65. Wait, so you folks mean to tell me that people who have a lot of experience driving in inclement weather tend to be better at it than people who hardly ever do so? Wow! Who woulda thunk it? That must reflect on their superior intelligence and/or hardiness!

  66. This is why UI live in the South. Yeah, we get hurricanes, but hell, I never have to go though this crap. It was in the 80’s today.

  67. It wasn’t just Seattlites. Interstate 5 ground to a halt.

    At about 2AM Tuesday night, all northbound lanes of Interstate 5 immediately south of the city were completely blocked by large trucks and city busses unable to make it up the slight grade. Black ice. I was in the southbound lanes and could see the stuck ones. Behind them was a row of solid-packed cars as far as the eye could see. Impressive.

    But behind *me* was no traffic at all. Very weird, even for 2AM. Something north of the city was halting all the southbound I-5 traffic.

    In my lane the electronic sign said “all lanes blocked at 599,” and I managed to exit just before the tail of that jam. Checking the map, I see that a southbound jam starting at SR-599 would have to be SIX MILES LONG. If I hadn’t heeded that warning sign, I’d have had to sleep overnight trapped on I-5, only a couple miles from home.

    Buy tire chains, use city streets.

  68. I grew up in the Seattle area, so I feel like I ought to mention a couple of things:

    While it is true that most of Seattle is built on hills, there are only a few of these that present big dangers when the icy conditions hit. Streets in the downtown area are so well-traveled throughout the day that they actually get dried out by the passage of vehicles and thus are not prone to icing over as bad when night falls.

    Folks headed out from work in the afternoon/evening are met first with these semi-dry streets (i.e. no chains or studs necessary), but then when they try to go up the hill towards home (Capitol Hill is notorious for this) they encounter the dreaded black ice and whammo – car hockey.

    Add to this the fact that, yes, your average idiot driver (from Seattle or anywhere else) has no concept of how to drive in slick conditions nor how to control their giant SUV when it starts doing its own thing, and you have a recipe for disaster. Road crews are also EXTREMELY slow to close dangerous roads, and you do see civilian intervention (signs, etc.) here and there but it is technically a crime to block access to any city street without authority, so you get what we have here – entertainment. That’s why the pedestrians are so nonplussed. They see this stupid crap every single winter and it’s just no big thing. You pays yer money, you takes yer chances.

  69. Plenty of people have already put down the STL drivers for not having winter tires. I don’t know the weather there, but maybe it’s not so common.

    Here’s a criticism I haven’t noticed in the comments: where’s the sand, salt or cinders? It wouldn’t have taken more than a dusting to prevent all that mayhem. Heck, even a little pea gravel would have probably done the trick. Is the city of Seattle so broke or disorganized that they can’t throw down a little road salt before a snow storm? If I had been a local resident I’d have probably sacrificed some cat litter or fireplace ashes at least, in the interest of keeping traffic from crashing through my front door :p

  70. What a big ego-fest this thread is.

    tl;dr version:

    1. Seattlites are wimps.
    2. You call that snow?
    3. I’m a very impressive driver!
    4. She should have done something!
    5. Without the benefit of hindsight, I would do the right versions of all the wrong things I see in this video.


  71. To all of you with comments about how this could have been prevented:


  72. Sigh… I guess I’m the only one who kinda dug the music. But hey… it’s me! Skippy Super Chunk, chocolate-covered cherries, Circus Peanuts, remember?

    Anyway, penguinchris speaks true: come to L.A. during the first drizzly day of the year and see twice the vehicular mayhem depicted in the above video.

    We can’t even drive straight in the shade down here.

    1. I thought the bad-driving-on-rain-in-L.A. thing was because the dry months leave a layer of dust which turns into a super-slick surface. Not so?

      1. Not so much the dust but the months of accumulated oil provides a super slick surface for that first rain storm. The subsequent bad driving is just because SoCal drivers have subnormal intelligence.

        It’s even more fun to drive up to Big Bear for the weekend – I have pushed so many cars out of the ditch and all I get is “aboot” jokes.

        1. Like Bulg Bracket said. And even with the new-fallen rain atop the accumulated grease and oil, it’s still not all that slippery for anyone who alters their driving habits even slightly for our barely-inclement weather. But those innumerable fools who get away with tailgating at 75mph from May through January suddenly start sliding into each other come February’s first sprinkle.

  73. “there’s no way I would be able to put on my rain coat and boots and walk up that street… like all those other people are doing. I mean, I called 911, I’m sure the police aren’t busy on a night like tonight, surely there isn’t ANYTHING else I could do except video tape this”

    1. Once the snow plow has finished its job, there’s more than an inch of snow left on the road. If they set the blade lower than that, it would pull the surface off the road wherever there’s any kind of bump or frost heave.

      1. Once the snow plow has finished its job, there’s more than an inch of snow left on the road. If they set the blade lower than that, it would pull the surface off the road wherever there’s any kind of bump or frost heave.

        No, that’s not true. Snowplow blades do just fine out here in Wisconsin, and they did fine when I lived in Montana as well. I’m guessing the reason Seattle doesn’t want to lower the blades is due to the way they mark the lines on many of the streets with Botts’ dots and raised pavement markers. Snowplows would shred them. Seattle has more raised pavement markers than anywhere else I’ve ever lived or visited. This isn’t a surprise due to the rain. But plowing the roads properly would cause enormous amounts of damage.

  74. Seattle is terrible at handling snowy roads. I wish the city could improve at it, somehow. I want to get snowchains but I don’t know anything about cars and have no idea how to put them on. (I drive maybe once a week on average)

    My girlfriend was stuck on an onramp, which wasn’t deiced in any way, and she said people even with snow chains were sliding around. Everyone on that onramp was stuck overnight. She got lucky and a nice family saw her and took her in overnight. I am indebted to them as I couldn’t do anything to help her. That’s the best thing about seattle: the people.

  75. Yep, nearly as amusing as the sledding hills. A solid sheet of ice three blocks long, with heavy street barricades at the bottom, and this was long before parents thought to put helmets on their kids noggins. About 90% of the parents on the sledding hills back then were dads. It’s as though they were using their kids for curling practice – at Mach 2 – dads launching kids at the top of the hill, other dads sweeping the ice at the bottom of hill to knock other bloodied kids out of position. The goal was to mow down the barricades. Sure, it sounds mean, but it was arch seasonal parental entertainment then. There is a reason Christopher Titus is so popular; his dad’s attitude toward his offspring was closer to the norm for alot of us growing up in the sixties.

    The footage of some of the more infamous and reliable intersections for car carnage in Seattle is an annual event. I viewed it every winter for most of my life. Nothing about it has changed. Next winter, same carnage. The body shops in Seattle love snow.

  76. Sorry for the oneupmanship, but this is absolutely nothing compared to a couple of nice long hills in Toronto that for some reason manage to accumulate black ice even when it’s nowhere else in the city. I saw one where more that 30 cars came over the top, then just helplessly slid down the other side into the accumulating mass. Nobody hurt, but a lot of bent metal.

    In the video, I really feel for that one guy who got safely stopped, only to get punted down the hill by the jackass behind him.

  77. I love how the most ignorant people are almost always the first to speak up, and the loudest when they do. It’s like a Tea Party convention in here… If any of the following terms or places are unfamiliar please see Google for some answers.

    There’s no sand on the roads because there about one and a half sand trucks in all of King County. There’s no reason to spend A LOT of money on a fleet of snow equipment when you’d use them once a year.

    There’s no salt used because the run off takes it directly into Puget Sound, which would be environmentally damaging. And again, there are no trucks to spread it.

    When it snows in Seattle people put their chains on, if they have them (which most don’t since they’d so rarely use them), and if they know how to put them on (which most don’t since they so rarely use them). But even when they have chains on they don’t know how to drive in the snow.

    People in Seattle don’t know how to drive in the snow, because they so rarely do it, and it is something you need to learn. Simple as that.

    The guy who shot the video could have done nothing to stop any of those people, and it’s hardly his responsibility (or his prerogative) to shut down a main road in Seattle (and this is the main east/west arterial for the area). I’m glad he shot the video, it’s entertaining, as schadenfreude as that is.

    Take your assumptions and your judgements elsewhere if you have no idea what you’re talking about.

  78. Ya there seems to be a really pathetic amount of misinformation in here. I’ve spent my entire adult life driving in Canada and here’s the deal:

    Snow Chains:

    Never used them. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen them on anything but transport trucks. But more importantly THEY ARE ILLEGAL FOR A REASON. They tear the crap out of the roads. Do you want to pay extra taxes to repair all the damage for people that could have just driven properly to begin with? So if you think the solution is mouthing off in traffic court well good luck. The judge needs to say something like “well thank you for being such a good samaritan. you can continue the habit by paying to re-pave the street. here’s your fine”.

    Road Salt:

    It works. I don’t know who’s under the impression that it doesn’t work in Toronto. I lived in southern ontario most of my life and the highways there are usually bone-dry even when there’s three feet of snow. They salt the **** out of them. Sure their might be a few weeks in january-feburary where the black ice hangs around because it’s just that cold, but you can usually count on seeing christmas come and go before that kind of weather arrives. It wasn’t until I arrived in Calgary did I find a place where they skipped the salt and went to sand because the temperatures were too consistently low.


    Road clearing is a bit ticket item. Look around any big winter city and you’ll see salt storage sheds that have to be maintained. No doubt that hill could have been salted and problem solved, but when you don’t have the salt you don’t have salt.

    And just to play devil’s advocate….. Isn’t Puget Sound already full of seawater…which is salt water? I would think that Toronto sitting on a freshwater lake would have more environmental concerns with salt runoff.

    1. TNGMug:

      Seattle is not Calgary or Toronto.

      Chains are legal but people don’t own them, don’t know how to use them, or they put them on and do their best.

      Salt works great, yes, no one is debating that, but they don’t use salt in Seattle because of environmental concerns. Plus with a grand total of 27 trucks for the entire county their response time is quite slow, so a surprise storm (this one was not supposed to be as bad as it was) throws a wrench in things. The hill in the video would not have been salted by the time it was shot.

      “Look around any big winter city…” Again, Seattle is not a “winter city”, in that it rarely ever sees snow, so it has few of these facilities. It’s like comparing Seattle to a desert city when it doesn’t rain for two days, it’s a worthless comparison.

      Yes Seattle is on Puget Sound, which is salt water. As people have noted here also Seattle is basically a series of hills, all of which funnel runoff directly into Puget Sound, increasing concentrations of salt beyond what environmentalists deem prudent. Whatever Toronto’s concerns may be about runoff they are obviously not concerned enough to not use salt, while Seattle is. Perhaps in both cases, shockingly I’m sure, both cities have their reasons for doing what they do, reasons which probably go a bit beyond “salt walter has salt, fresh water doesn’t”.


      Maybe in Toronto. In snowy mountain passes in California, Caltrans REQUIRES their use. And no, we’re not all beaches and sunshine here.

  79. the only car that handled the situation was the golf and it got hit the hardest ;P

    but you could see that nearly none of the cars had ESP and some not even abs making it impossible or at least very hard to keep the car on a straight

  80. Icy hills that are impassable happen often in Madison, WI. And when it happens, various public service workers set up at the nearest location and stop traffic from entering the dangerous areas, or force people to all enter the place in one direction and metered. Does it take longer to get home – yes. is it profoundly better than “every man for himself” like above, yes. And the mass transit system uses alternate routes and drops people off as close as possible given. Do such plans exist in Seattle? Maybe this was recorded before the plan had time to go into action ?

  81. You: AWD summer tires
    Me: RWD POS ’78 ‘Stang with Blizzaks

    ME > YOU

    It’s the tires, stupid. Not Midwest “skill”, not forethought.

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