Paris' 'Monster' Blizzard

photo: bar le 16, paris 3
In the Temple quarter, Le 16 Bar in the Rue Pastourelle.

Night of Total Chaos Followed By Normality

Paris:- Sunday, 17. January 1999:- Last Tuesday about 17:00 I looked out of the window and saw that it was snowing. Wind was blowing the tiny flakes in waves as if it were washing powder. In a half-hour, the ground was white. From inside, it looked harmless.

At the same time, Paris and the Ile-de-France were just getting into the usual evening stride of rush-hour. Some of the commuters looked out their windows too, did a calculation and decided to dine in town; until the traffic mess that would surely develop, resolved itself.

But most commuters and other travellers blithely jumped in their cars, vans, trucks and motorcycles, and set off for home or their usual destinations.

By the time it quit snowing, there was a measly five centimetres of it lying on the ground, and around Paris there were 300 kilometres of solid traffic jams.

There wasn't much snow but what there was, was very slippery. Paris has its own heat, melthing it, but 40 or 50scan: le parisien 13.01.99 traffic lights that failed in a crucial moment, did not make forward movement any easier.

Every major route out of the city was jammed tight, and the crush rolled backwards into the city. Highway trucks lost all traction and slid into the emergency lanes. It was chaos total.

Le Parisien's front page on Wednesday.

Some drivers managed to reach home after taking nine hours on the road. Others abandoned the effort and slept in their cars. Emergency services were stuck in the jams too and got nowhere. There were hundreds of thousands of people stuck inside their little tin wagons, running low on fuel, without anything to eat or drink, and in many cases, with absolutely no way to escape.

The portable phones did not help much, other than to phone home. Radio broadcasts did not help much, because they only told drivers that they were in a horrible jam.

Where drivers could, they assaulted hotels for rooms and restaurants for food. Strangers shared rooms and the restaurants ran out of food. Commutes normally lasting 45 minutes, turned into four-hour marathons.

On Wednesday, Le Parisien ran photos of the chaos. TV-news showed kids having harmless snowball fights under the Tour Eiffel and on the Champs-Elysées.

There were no TV shots of the A-13, the west autoroute that runs across the ridge of the Marly forest - with only a couple of exits. This wasn't on the TV-news unless a news crew happened to be trapped in it.

On Thursday, Le Parisien was looking for someone to blame. TV-news reports about the recent terrible storms in the United States' midwest were fresh in the editor's minds when they went looking for culprits.

They learned that the weather forecasters had issued a bulletin Tuesday morning, predicting snowfall. Their timing was off by an hour or two, but it was a good prediction.

Somehow this prediction - and only five centimetres of snow fell - didn't reach or didn't impress the traffic control centre. The other concerned emergency centresphoto: sales at tati did not inform local authorities of the coming snow. Public and private radio stations were not informed particulrly.

Totally unconcerned shoppers at Tati on Wednesday.
Continued on page 2...
Go to page : 1 - 2
In Metropole Paris
Latest Issue
2008 Issues
2007 | 2006 | 2005
2004 | 2003 | 2002
2001 | 2000 | 1999
1998 | 1997 | 1996
In Metropole Paris
About Metropole
About the Café Club
Links | Search Site
The Lodging Page
Paris Museums List
Metropole's 1996 Tours
Metropole's 2003 Tours
Support Metropole
Metropole's Books
Shop with Metropole
Metropole's Wine
metropole paris goodblogweek button
Send email concerning the
contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
Metropole Midi © 2014
– unless stated otherwise.
logo, metropole sml midi logo No matter how good it tastes,
there is no such thing
as a free lunch.
Waldo Bini