Snow emergency? Really?

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Frank Schultz
Monday, March 4, 2013

As municipalities announced their “snow emergencies” on Monday afternoon, talk in the newsroom drifted, as it so often does, to a questioning of our local governments.

Is “snow emergency” really the term we should be using to describe a time period in which you’ll be fined if you don’t get your car off the street? Is snowplowing really an emergency? Reporters and an editor didn’t think so, but neither did we have a good alternative.

No one is saying we don't need our streets plowed. Nor are we saying car owners shouldn't be responsible for getting their cars off the streets. And, we are not saying that our plow drivers don't work hard. Hats off to them. But snow emergency? An emergency suggests there's some imminent threat to life or limb, such as a national emergency or an emergency transport of an accident victim. When a tornado threatens, we don't even call that an emergency. It's a tornado warning. The emergency would come if the tornado caused damage.

Dictionary check: Emergency is defined as "a sudden, generally unexpected occurrence or set of circumstances demanding immediate action." OK, so maybe a snowstorm big enough that it requires people to take action is an emergency? It still doesn't feel right. The snowstorm, after all, has been predicted for days. There has been plenty of time to prepare.

Snowplow alert? Maybe.

Later Monday, I noticed a tweet from UW-Madison, which I monitor because I have a son studying there. (Time out for a proud paternal puffing of the chest)

The UW doesn’t call it a snow emergency. It calls it a “snow action day.” It’s difficult to express how much I dislike that one. It feels like bureaucratic double-speak, which is to say, it’s a phrase that expresses almost nothing useful.

I’d go with snowplow alert, and I'd settle for snow emergency. Anything to avoid a snow action day. Anyone have a better idea?

Last updated: 9:25 am Monday, April 29, 2013

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