Posted tagged ‘snowfall’

SNOWFALL IN SEATTLE: Oh, the Humanity!

January 23, 2012

Pike Place Market, nearly deserted during a rare snowstorm

I was standing in the middle of the street, intently looking through the viewfinder at a neon sign on the roof of the Pike Place Market, when I heard a shout from inside the market and a fishmonger pointing at me:

“Look out!”

My first thought was: “hey, you talkin’ to me?”

Then my brain kicked in and I turned around to face the threat–a dark sedan sliding somewhat sideways down the hill directly toward me. Adrenalin pumping, I backed off the street as the car managed to slide into the turn successfully at the bottom of the hill. Death averted.

Seattle and snow blend about as well as slugs and salt. It just isn’t something that people here deal with very often, so Seattlites don’t have the infrastructure or the driving ability to deal with these snowstorms that happen every few years.

Seattle is so full of kindly liberals that people knit sweaters for the city’s trees (actually, this is part of Suzanne Tidwell’s wonderful exhibit of knitted trees in Occidental Park)

This storm brought perhaps 5″ of snow to downtown Seattle. If you come from a part of the country that experiences macho snowfalls (as I did, coming from Syracuse two decades ago), 5″ will seem puny–hardly worth dragging out the snowblower for. But Seattle has hills … really steep hills right downtown that cause your calves to scream with rage as you hike upslope. And there are few snowplows. During a big storm in the 1990s that took many days to clean up, I remember the mayor saying pitifully that “we only have seven snowplows!”

Cross-country skier commuting to work on 1st Avenue

There is also a Seattle aversion to salting the roads. In the last big snowstorm, several years ago, the city government expressed a horror about the environmental impact of salt and the salty runoff trickling down into Puget Sound. My first reaction was incredulity, as in: “Puget Sound is already … SALTWATER!” Fortunately, the old salts prevailed and the city now uses salt, though not really enough.

Snow affects Seattle politics. In December 2008, then Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels was the guy who refused to use salt on the roads, so they were icy from December 13-27, causing traffic problems and accidents for the whole two weeks. I remember barely making it to the airport that year for our Christmas flight, after getting ensnared in a traffic jam on back roads that were so completely coated with ice that they looked like skating rinks.

Cyclamens and ferns enduring the snowy day in Waterfall Garden Park

Seattle’s mayor had a second PR problem in the snows that year. I recall a media report that the city’s road maintenance department took it upon themselves to plow a road directly from the mayor’s home to city hall, rather than plowing out major streets first. Of course, citizens were outraged, even after the mayor exclaimed that he had nothing to do with that decision.  Largely as a result of the snowstorm problems, the mayor didn’t even make it through the primary elections the next year.

Hammering Man, a sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky to celebrate workers, works 24/7 through the storm

On the morning of the heavy snowfall this year, Karen and I trudged from our Bremerton apartment to the ferry bound for Seattle, wearing waterproof L.L. Bean boots, the parkas we wore on an Antarctic trip a decade ago, heavy mittens, and woolen hats from Kathmandu. Karen was heading to her job in the marble corridors of a law office, and I was going to spend the day documenting the Seattle snowfall. It was a cold and wet day, with constant light snowfall, but I was able to get the selection of photographs you see here.

Seattle was virtually deserted that morning, save for a few hardy office workers who were able to take transit of some sort, since ferries, light rail, heavy rail, and some buses were operational. The buses wore chains, as did most delivery vehicles. That night, when returning home, Karen had trouble descending the steep hills on foot, as the colder evening temperatures turned slush to ice. The problem?  Not enough salt to keep the sidewalks safe. So she telecommuted the next day.

The Smith Tower, once the tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi, rises above one of the old brick buildings of Pioneer Square. The brick building has a faded ad for the Washington State Ferries that says “Have Lunch Over Seas,” which is a playful thing to do when crossing Puget Sound.

The homeless were still on the streets during the storm; after all, where else would they be? I asked one homeless man if I could take his picture; he was wearing a gray snowflake-covered blanket draped over his head, and he was smoking a hand-rolled cigarette, exhaling a cloud of blue smoke that hung in the air in front of his dark face. Alas, he said “No, I don’t think so.” I offered him money, and he said he didn’t need any. So, that one great picture will just have to stay forever etched in my mind.

Space needle with satellite dishes pointed toward space

Alaskan Way, nearly deserted of traffic on this snowy morning

Photograph I was taking while a car silently slid toward me down a hill

Snowboarders hoping to find a steep hill with enough snow downtown

The homeless have it especially tough in this weather; yes, there are warm shelters, but some people choose to sleep in doorways

A woman making her way through the sidewalk slush of Pioneer Square

People out and about in Pioneer Square, enjoying the rare snowy day

Suzanne Tidwell’s exhibit of knitted trees in Occidental Park, looking especially festive against the simple backdrop of snow

Tsonqua sculpture by Chinook Tribe artist Duane Pasco in Seattle’s Occidental Park, with a gull surveying the scene at the top of the totem

To fulfill their delivery mission, UPS trucks wear tire chains on these slippery and hilly streets

Cabs were a good way to get around the city, though it would have been a challenging job to be a taxi driver on a day like this

Cross-country skier on a pier, with container cranes in the distance

Snowman with pansy corsage I observed along the waterfront

Home of The Jetsons–actually, it is the monorail from the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair passing through Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen’s addition to the city–the EMP Museum (think Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana), designed by Frank Gehry

A sign preserved from the Skid Road era of Seattle

Witch Hazel blooming in January, in Waterfall Garden Park

Alley in Pioneer Square

By the way, here are a couple of not-to-be-missed videos of a skier launching off a high park in Seattle:

http://blog.seattlepi.com/thebigblog/2012/01/20/watch-skiers-somersault-off-cliff-at-seattles-kerry-park/

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com (Just ask if you see a particular photograph you like; my website is not up to date) 

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

OLYMPIC PENINSULA: The Magic of Winter Nights

January 14, 2011

Snow falling on cedars at my Olympic Peninsula home

Huge snowflakes drift down from the inky sky, as if in a hazy dream, deep in the ocean at night, in a cloud of tiny, luminescent jellyfish. So much snow, an inch an hour, with school closures likely tomorrow. The snow reminds me of driving through an upstate New York blizzard on the way home from a New Year’s Eve party years ago, with snow so thick that I had to hold open the car door while driving to see the edge of the road. That night, a honking big upstate snow plow was in the ditch; we stopped our little Chevy to offer help, but he had a two-way radio.  Somehow we made it home, and the next morning I used our huge snowblower to clear the driveway and give my face a frosty beard.

A stairway into an enchanted evening

The place we live now–near sea level in the Puget Sound region of Washington State–doesn’t get much snow. Our winters are generally long, dark, and rainy. But once in a while we get a snowstorm, as was the case this week, when we got about six inches of heavy snow in an evening. It was a classic snowfall, with wondrous trillions of flakes falling fast and thick. Just the night to try out my favorite new photography technique on snow around my home.

Snowflakes illuminated by electronic flash on the camera; with a bit of orange light contributed by a high-pressure sodium streetlight

This technique is simple, and involves using an electronic flash on the camera.  I used a tripod and a high ISO and a powerful flash, and incorporated various street lights around the house to give a bit of color to some of the scenes.  These photographs are the result, and I think they show the everyday scenes around my house in a magical new way.  One of the aspects of photography that I have always loved is its ability to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.

An old bicycle in front of a massive cedar in my garden

Snow falling on a Western Red Cedar

Snowfall along the road near my home

The heavy, wet snow clings to every branch of the maples and alders

The high-pressure sodium light of the streetlamp adds interesting color to the nightscape

Photographing up into the night sky, with countless billions or trillions of snowflakes drifting toward earth

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com.

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.

For another view of the landscape at night, go to my weblog:  Yoho National Park at Night.


YOHO NATIONAL PARK: Early Snow in the Canadian Rockies

October 14, 2010

Canoe waiting for a hardy guest from Lake O’Hara Lodge to brave the cold and snowy morning

Late September in the Canadian Rockies is almost certain to bring light snow to the rugged peaks and valleys.  And so it was on the morning of 21 September, when we awoke to four inches of snow covering the trees and meadows around Lake O’Hara.

Our original goal for the day had been to hike up to the Opabin Plateau, a hanging glacial valley; unfortunately, we expected the steep trail and its switchbacks would be icy on this cold morning, so we changed our plans. Instead, we decided to do two shorter hikes. Our first hike led around Lake O’Hara, culminating in a close view of the stunning Seven Veils Falls, which looks like it could be sitting in the foothills of the Himalayas.

After returning to Elizabeth Parker hut for lunch, we set off on a trail to Schaffer Lake, which was ringed by golden Alpine Larches covered with snow. We spent some time here, enjoying the wildlife and beautiful trees, before heading back down the trail to the hut.

The photographs in this Yoho portfolio represent that one beautiful, snowy day, when ice and snow frosted the golden Alpine Larches and lay lightly on the Englemann Spruce boughs.

We awoke that morning to snow covering the landscape around Elizabeth Parker Hut

Stream burbling through the valley near Elizabeth Parker hut

One of the elegant cabins of the Lake O’Hara Lodge on a morning to gather near a cozy fireplace with an English China cup of Earl Grey

Looking across Lake O’Hara and up to the hanging valley of Lake Oesa

Cathedral Mountain floating above the clouds and the quiet waters at the outlet of Lake O’Hara

Snowy vessels and reflections of the peaks surrounding Lake O’Hara

Snow-covered Englemann Spruces reflecting in Lake O’Hara

The elegant cabins of Lake O’Hara Lodge; while we were visiting, the going rate was $800 per couple per night, including meals and tea

The turquoise waters of Lake O’Hara below Seven Veils Falls

Seven Veils Falls feels like it exists in an earlier place, when everything is fresh and new and the world’s natural rhythms go on without the interference of humans

Another view, showing two of the Seven Veils

Hiking the beautiful trail to Schaffer Lake through a subalpine forest of golden Alpine Larches

Looking down on Schaffer Lake through a golden Alpine Larch forest

Schaffer Lake with fresh snow and Wiwaxy Peaks distant

An immature Barrow’s Goldeneye fresh from a dive into Schaffer Lake

A Pika eating plant stems as it watches over the talus slope

Snow melting around rocks and tiny autumn leaves on the shore of Schaffer Lake

Snow on a stunning forest of Alpine Larches

This Seattle Mountaineers photography trip into the Canadian Rockies was ably led by Linda Moore. Yoho National Park is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place in the Canadian Rockies and perhaps in all of North America. For more information about Yoho National Park, go to the Parks Canada web site.

For other entries in my weblog about Yoho National Park, go to Ice and Wolverine.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com.

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.