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The Scottish Snowstorms of Winter 2010-2011

In November, it started to snow in the British Isles.  I remember this date well because on the way to Edinburgh from Manchester, my car hit a patch of black ice and skidded at roughly 60 miles per hour. The car was wrecked; I staggered away unhurt.  I wasn’t the only one to have a nasty accident on the first day and I was certainly one of the lucky ones.  There were many injuries and deaths on the first day.

Matters only got worse over December.  There was an unprecedented level of snowfall in Britain.  The roads were jammed up, even in the cities, making it difficult to travel around even on a local scale.  The railways cancelled many trains; airports were closed and even shipping was badly affected. 

To be fair to the local authorities, they had been making preparations for snowfall after the events of the previous winter.  It had been bad in 2009-10, but worse in 2010-11.  Even so, their logistics were badly dented by the snow; it was impossible, despite their best efforts, to grit many or even all of the roads before the snow fell again, clogging up the transport lanes again.

In Edinburgh, where I observed personally, the main roads were opened by the council, who deployed grit lorries to melt the snow.  It was not, however, a completely successful endeavour.  Accidents continued to multiply, while the roads gridlocked as traffic that would normally have gone on side roads poured out onto the main roads.  The bus services – normally fairly good – were badly impacted.  The buses were often packed so heavily that they couldn’t pick up new passengers and, on at least one day, all services were cancelled, leaving your humble writer with a two hour walk back home.

At first glimpse, compared to some of the other natural disasters that are reported on this site, it doesn’t seem that the snowfall in Britain is very significant.  It did, however, have a number of extremely worrying implications for the future, should the SHTF on a wider scale.

-Food deliveries into Edinburgh were delayed, quite badly.  The smaller shops ran out quickly – milk was a particular problem – and even the big supermarkets were adversely affected by the delays.  There was an air of ‘calm panic’ in the air, with people buying as much as they could, often without worrying about storage or cost.
-Fuel deliveries were also limited.  While there was no rise in the cost of fuel, there was a shortage of fuel in Edinburgh and elsewhere, as deliveries couldn’t get through. 
-Private transport of all kinds was badly affected.  In the minor roads, cars were – quite literally – buried in the snow.  I saw people using everything from salt to boiling water to try to get their vehicles out of the snow, mostly unsuccessfully.  Even those who did succeed found themselves gridlocked when they got onto the main roads.  It should come as no surprise that the accident rates in Edinburgh rose sharply.
-Public transport was slowed or stopped altogether. 
-Crime rates rose as the snow made it easier for the perpetrators to carry out their crimes and then vanish.  The police were unable to respond as quickly as normal to any crisis.
-Death rates rose nationally as people, mainly the elderly, started freezing to death in their homes.  Community support services were badly weakened by the snow – worse, many elderly people were unable to afford to heat their homes in the snow.  A number of people were reported to have starved through lack of food.
-Water services were badly affected, both when pipes froze and when they burst.
-Electric power lines were damaged, causing blackouts in part of the country.
-Demands for cough medicine – indeed, any kind of medicine – rose sharply.

It is probably also worth mentioning, although an indirect issue, that the economic effects of the snowfall were extremely bad.  Insurance payments rose sharply in the wake of the snowfall, while businesses suffered badly from reduced personnel as workers couldn’t get into work on time. 

As I noted above, the local authorities did what they could.  The problem was that the scale of the disaster was simply too great for them to tackle immediately.  Most citizens had to fall back on their own resources rather than wait for the government to help them.  If the disaster had been much more serious, I doubt that we could have avoided a massive die-off. 

Three years ago, it would have been reasonable to say that we would never get such snowstorms in Britain.  There are no longer any grounds for refusing to prepare.  Therefore, I suggest:

-Stocking up on preserved food and drink that can be used as an emergency reserve if the stores run out completely.
-Stocking up on bottled water and other drinks.
-Preparing camping equipment, on the assumption that the electric services will cut out completely.  Store gas for campfires, battery-powered lights and sleeping bags.  A collection of old, but warm clothes would be very useful.
-Stocking up on de-icer, [tire traction] grit (if available), salt and sugar (for melting ice) and suchlike.
-Refueling the car prior to the first snowstorms.  Ideally, using the car should be kept to a minimum in such bad weather, but if you have to use it…also, familiarise yourself with emergency procedures for a crash.
-Consider the situation of any elderly relatives you have.  If they live with you that should be easier to handle than if they live apart.  If they live away, do what you can for them before the snow starts to fall. 
-It’s probably also worth looking into Britain’s often absurd self-defence laws.  The blunt truth is that the whole situation is a nightmare for anyone charged with using excessive force.  As I understand it (I am no lawyer) one can legally use the minimum necessary force to remove an intruder from one’s premises and no more.  Be careful!  There will be plenty of idiots who will look back with the benefit of hindsight and say that you used excessive force.  Even so, remember that your family’s safety comes first.

In the immortal words of the British Army, remember the Seven Ps.
“Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents P**s-Poor Performance.”