Anatomy of a Snowpocalypse

The entymology of Snowpocalypse is a little hazy but it seems to have started around here back in ’05 or ’06.  I think it’s fair to say that any time a couple of inches of snow falls from the sky on the greater Seattle area and actually stays on the ground, it’s a snowpocalypse.  I’m not going to get into the justifications or explain why in Seattle that’s a big deal where in other places they just deal with it, but these things do have a sort of rhythm to them.

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It starts with a lot of breathless weather reports, of course.  A lot of doubt, and at least one false alarm.  Eventually though, it does happen.  It can snow in Seattle.  At the same time, you usually have to go looking for it, at first.

And then it comes down.  The city goes to sleep.  Everyone looks around and enjoys themselves as their employers try and figure out how to wrest some productivity from the cold disaster.  About this time the local news starts driving around the city in the van they’ve dubbed “Snow King” and crashing into parked cars.

I always forget how quickly a neighborhood of asphalt and dirt and grass and cars can be turned into breathless white.  After it all stops, when everything is calm and before the melting starts, there is one moment before the snow turns brown or yellow or other colors you’d rather not think about, when everything is perfectly clean and white.

Snowpocalypse Seattle, 2012 edition.  A good time to give thanks for the ability to work from home.

Pictures from Seattle Snowpocalypse 2010

It rarely snows in Seattle, but when it does, everyone immediately freaks out.  Partly it is because this is a very hilly city with few backup modes of transportation.  All it takes is a little ice (which usually accompanies even the mildest snowstorms) to turn many major streets into car-sized pinball games.  The other reason is that we’re just not used to it, and even in the best conditions, Seattlites are horrible drivers.  Nice people, horrible drivers.

As such, every snowstorm up here is a Snowpocalypse.  Here are a few pictures from the one currently gripping the city.

How it starts:

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Full snow accumulation.  Sorry about the blur – taken from my steamy living room:

Probably my favorite picture.  Mental note – things that are safe from the rain are not necessarily safe from blowing snow:

One last photo-note for everyone out there.  When you’re taking pictures in the snow, you want to over-expose.  In film, it really mattered.  With RAW, you can do it later, as I did here, but if you’re shooting JPGs and you want them to come out well, overexpose by at least one stop.  If you don’t do it all the time it might take some fiddling to figure it out, but unless you want dark pictures, you should take the time.

The theory behind it is simple.  Cameras are trying to make the scene average out to 18% gray.  If you fill the frame with something very bright (like snow, sand, or reflected sunlight), the camera will underexpose it to make it less bright.  If you actually want it to look the way it should, you need to have the camera over-expose.

This Is How It Starts

It isn’t usually that cold here.  Seattle isn’t known for snow, or freezing, or any real extremes.  This week, however, is not effing around.  My computer is telling me it’s 25 degrees out right now, on its way down to 16 overnight.  This is not normal or ok.  So far, it’s been freezing but dry.  At this temperature, however, just a little moisture and you get what we had last year, almost to the day:

Nighttime Snow in Seattle

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Right now it’s all happy and bare out there, but never forget people – this is how it started.  You remember what happened after that, right?

Snow on the Way

HDR of Gasworks Park covered in snow

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I don’t look at the weather report anymore.  It’s consistently wrong, which is sort of amazing if you assume they’re trying to be right.  As I type this it’s brilliantly sunny and beautiful, but when this hits the site, if the weather folks are somehow right, it will be snowing.  Again.  The only upside is that if my wonderful Subaru-driving friend sorts out his caliper issue, I should be in the mountains where snow is a good thing, not a horrible curse.  In any case, I leave you with another HDR from our last brush with snow a couple weeks ago.   I like how the paths up the hill in Gasworks Park are still visible and the Aurora Bridge peeks out in the background.

Tanks In The Snow

Coal Gassification Tank at Gasworks Park in the snow

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Another Gasworks Park shot from the snowstorm we had this morning.  It’s probably all melted by now, so I’m glad I got there quick.  Every time I come to this park, and really even before I moved to Seattle, I think about how to take pictures of these tanks.  Industrial equipment is just so fun to look at, but the big fence around the base sure is a photographic bummer.  This is one of the larger coal gassification tanks which happens to sit closer to the fence, which allows for a much nicer shot looking up at it.  Some day I’m gonna get inside that fence…

Winter Never Stops Around Here

Gasworks Park Snow HDR

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Just because the weather said it might snow overnight (again) doesn’t mean I believed it.  They *always* say that.  Today they were actually right.  After discovering the buses weren’t running, we got in the car – it really wasn’t that bad.  The upside of dropping my wife at work is that I was already halfway to Gasworks Park.  I always wondered what it looked like under the snow, and now I know.  The lighting was low and soft, so I thought it might be more interesting as an HDR.  I love the old towers and pipes – if they would just take down the fence, this place would be a photographic dream.  Just don’t break through the topsoil to the superfund site below unless toxins really do it for you.

The Last Reminder Of Seattle Snow

The Last Reminder Of Seattle Snow

The aftermath of the snow here in seattle is dirty streets, massive potholes, and broken tire chains everywhere. I don’t think it’s that so many people were driving with them – more like a good number of people driving with them for the first time. Lots of tire chains coming off, lots of tire chains to swerve around on the freeway. Here is the one occupying the corner of our driveway. I love the grain on this Neopan film for the Rollei – it’s almost circular or bubbly instead of being really… well… grainy, I guess. I’ve got a roll of color that I’m going to try shooting now that I know the camera works. We’ll see how that turns out.
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Night Snow and Photoshop

Night Snow and Photoshop

All the photos I post here take a very quick trip through Photoshop, usually just long enough to set some levels and resize. This is the first one I actually chose to edit for real. Everything I know about photoshop I picked up from a couple sources and I usually have to refer back to them each time. I find the best candidates for improvement in this way are pictures that have a cool subject but just look flat to start with. I loved the night look that this started with, but I like the final product more.

Updated 2008.12.26 – Since my reader has been kind enough to remind me that it might be more interesting to see what the finished product looks like when you can tell where it started, here is the original photo:


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  • DateTimeOriginal: 2008:12:22 21:09:21
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  • FocalLength: 24 mm
  • ISOSpeedRatings: 100