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More Dogs on Main Street

Tom Clyde, Record columnist

The photos of the earthquake damage in Haiti are astounding. In a place synonymous with poverty and despair under the best of circumstances, seeing a city of a couple of million people flattened is really incomprehensible. For generations, Haiti has had a reputation of being unfixable. It’s hard to imagine it could get any worse, and now this. I don’t know what the best avenue for helping them is the Red Cross or other organizations that specialize in disaster response are the logical places to give but as we look around a community that has an excess of everything, let’s all find a way to help people who now have absolutely nothing.

I’m always a little puzzled that earthquakes seem to fall under the "weather" department at most news organizations. Natural disasters really aren’t weather. I sort of understand it when the cause of the disaster is rain, a hurricane, or a tornado. At least that is a lead to the story, though the conditions on the ground seem like hard-news stories. But an earthquake doesn’t even begin with a weather event. An earthquake is an earthquake. It came from deep inside the earth, not in the atmosphere. The weather people really don’t have much expertise to offer on the subject, other than a footnote that the homeless people in Haiti are also getting rained on.

The local weather people here haven’t had much to report on. The best they could come up with this week was a couple of inches. It’s so thin that we ought to start reporting it in metric units, just to make it sound like something actually happened. Seven-and-a-half centimeters sounds like more than 3 inches, especially if the reporter mumbles or coughs when saying "centimeters." Of course, when it comes to filling the reservoirs this spring, it doesn’t matter what we call it. There won’t be much. Your lawn is already dead, so start planning how to use all that time that won’t be spent mowing the lawn.

The big weather news is that the Wasatch Front has topped the nation for the worst air quality. We’re number one! Los Angeles may have invented smog, but Logan, Salt Lake and Ogden have taken it to new levels. The air down in the valley isn’t just marginally worse than the places we really think of as filthy. We’re off the charts bad. Salt Lake was scoring 142 while Los Angeles County readings averaged about 40. Nobody else was even close to Utah’s foul-air readings. Our legislators are about to start their session. They don’t believe in any of this environmental stuff. There’s nothing wrong with Utah’s air quality that more freeways and coal-fired power plants can’t solve.

The state issued "red-alert" air-quality warnings day after day. In response to that, the public pretty much did business as usual. We just had the headlights on at noon. In theory, on a red-alert day, we’re all supposed to quit driving, and do whatever we can to avoid making air pollution. We should park the car, and ride the bus to work. In practice, the last thing anybody’s going to do when the air is world-record bad is go stand on the corner choking in the exhaust fumes while waiting for the bus to come along. People might duct-tape the heater intake vent closed, but they’re driving to work.

Every night on the weather report, they show another photo from the Cottonwood canyons, where people have enjoyed brilliant sun at Snowbird (and a $20 discount on their lift tickets on red-alert days), and appear to be driving into a lake at the mouth of the canyon. It’s like a muddy Lake Bonneville has returned. With no apparent sense of irony, Channel 4’s weatherman took to the air, literally, to show how bad the red-alert day was. On one of the official "no drive" days, he drove to the airport, fired up a private plane and went up to shoot some video. The still photos submitted by choking viewers aren’t enough. I’ve got no idea how the exhaust from an airplane compares to that of a Ford pickup, for example, but the fly-over seemed like an odd way to demonstrate the need to restrict engine use.

We’ve had the inversion here, though certainly not as bad. From the top of the mountain, it’s easy to see a layer of mucky haze filling all the local valleys. Heber is sometimes completely hidden by it. Kamas, at a higher elevation and not quite so surrounded by mountains, seems a little less choked. There’s a pretty good layer of it over Park City and Snyderville. It’s perfectly clear on top of the resorts. The skiing is uninspiring, but at least you can breathe.

Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for more than 20 years.


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