SURVEY SAYS: How Do You Get to Work When Mother Nature Intervenes?

February 18, 2010 ( - The past couple of weeks have presented many all over the country with the challenge of how to get to work despite the obstacles Mother Nature sometimes places in our paths.
Now, realizing that some are lucky enough to live in places that don’t have snow storms to deal with (though based on the past couple of weeks, there don’t appear to be as many of those as one might have thought), this week I asked readers what they did when the elements “conspired” to keep you at home.  

The results – as you might expect – were as varied as the climate(s) in which we all toil, but it’s also clear that teleworking is making significant inroads in our ability to work “elsewhere.”

Consider that a plurality – 37.6% – said that they would work from home, in contrast to the 23.1% who said they would keep trying to get to work, 4.3% who would wait till after rush hour and then try to get in, and 8.5% who said they would “hope they close the place for the day.” 

Nearly 7% would take matters into their own hands (by taking the day off), and 2.6% – well, they (already) work from home every day (though, as one reader noted, “Some mornings I just cannot do that commute from the bedroom, down the hall, to the right and into my office.  Grrrr. ;-)”).

“Other” Thoughts

Now, the mathematicians among you will notice that that leaves a full quarter unaccounted for – and, as you can see from the sampling that follows, these were truly “other” (and all the more interesting because of the widely different geographies represented):

I work from home, but how much I can do so is limited. With a snowstorm big enough that it closes our office, I am going to have 5 to 8 hours of shoveling ahead of me if I’m going to have any chance of making it to work the next day. That doesn’t leave much time to get work done.

Now that I’m older n’ wiser, I’d like to say I try my darnedest to get in but “duh” I’ll catch some additional zzzz’s before I even think about it.

That’s why I live in Florida!

I’m a New Englander. We don’t close for weather and we don’t stay home.

Have yet to miss work because of the ‘elements’ – despite living in NE Ohio where we can get huge amounts of snow.

It depends on the day.  If there isn’t anything too pressing, like running a payroll, I take the day off.  If there is some urgency to get in to the office I will get there, come hell or high water.

Living in the southwest, I can’t remember the last time I couldn’t get to work.

My husband drives me in the 4-wheel drive.

though generally not a full day since I have to shovel!

A kick-a** snowstorm that keeps you stuck at home is a special little gift from Mother Nature.  I’ve been secretly hoping for one all season, to no avail.  In this age of constant connectivity, it’d be a welcome relief to be stuck at home (preferably with no power, lest I be tempted to work remotely) when all you can do is curl up by the fire with your family and play a game or read a good book.  Ah, heaven!

No choice–gotta be there

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I live and work in DC and my normal commute is to walk.  I made it into work each day last week.

It seems the advantages of a 5-minute commute has disadvantages when the blizzards hit.  Because I live so close and have an AWD vehicle, I'm expected to be there.  Period.  End of discussion.

Generally consider it a sign from God to stay home and attack the household chores, but often times chores win and I end up watching movies with one such encounter leading me to get a cleaning lady.

Go in early before too many idiots are on the road

I live in Central NY.  There is typically no such thing as too much snow in relation to whether you make it to work or not.  That would be the only weather that might possibly deter our travels.  We have top notch snow removal capabilities and the amounts of snow that seem to  paralyze every other city is business as usual for us 99% of the time.  My southern friends kid me about what we call a 'dusting' of snow vs. what they consider Armageddon...Long story short, if it's our day to come into the office (a lot of us telecommute anyway), we come into the office.

I live in Southern California so the elements rarely conspire against me.  In fact I can not remember a time when mother nature prevented or even impeded by ability to get to work.  After the earthquake in 1994, the office was closed for a week, but the reason was that the building was damaged -- I had no problem getting there.  Usually man made problems (traffic) are the biggest impediment to getting to work.  Of course traffic can be much worse when it is raining, but it still the traffic and not the rain that is usually the problem.

The office closed three time this year due to inclement weather.  Once I was traveling and actually made my connecting flight.  Twice was at quarter end and I went in anyway, early to avoid other drivers, to meet my deadlines.

I work from home if the office is closed (only has happened once in the past 5 years), or battle the weather if the office is open.

I realize that I will be hated for saying this in February, but since I work in Miami, this sort of thing doesn't happen, short of a major hurricane which hasn't threatened in the last 4 - 5 yrs.  If it did, though, I would work from home (if there was power).

My usual commute is about 35-45 minutes.  I generally anticipate weather challenges and leave about 1/2 hour earlier than usual.

Take the day off, but check email periodically anyway!

Wake up early to beat the traffic - I enjoy driving in the snow and lighter traffic

"Shovel before you go to bed, then get up earlier than usual and shovel again.  You can usually get out

and drive over 6 to 8 inches before getting stuck in the driveway.  Once on the road, I live on a country road, but it is a bus route, so the road it usually plowed for at least one lane so I can get to work."

The weather elements have not kept me from work for my entire 17 year career.

Weather has never conspired to keep me home.  Even the Northridge earthquake was on the MLK holiday!

Waiting until roads are passable, safe, etc. sometimes allows me to work at home part of the day and then come in.

We live in MN.  We always go to work.  It might take you longer to get to and from work than the actual work day.....but we get there.      

That said, here were some of my favorite comments:

I have a workaholic boss who has 4-wheel drive. With the exception of possibly the rapture my boss will expect me to get to work.

It's not so bad getting to work in a snowstorm. It's the ride home that gets to me. After working all day, who wants to take hours at a snail's pace to get back home?

It's awful. Frankly, I think New England is uninhabitable during the winter. To have to get all swaddled up in puffy outerwear and boots and go stomping out in the slush, yuck. The whole thing is just unnatural. My cat looks at me with such schadenfreude as I head out into the blizzard! (One of his three facial expressions: sleeping, curiosity, and contempt/schadenfreude)

Pray the children have school and the daycare is still open...or else productivity goes through the floor.  🙂

That's why I live in Florida!

I live in So Cal, where today 2/17 the high should be never keeps me away. Except when it's so good and all I want to do is go and watch the waves.

I realize that I will be hated for saying this in February, but since I work in Miami, this sort of thing doesn't happen, short of a major hurricane which hasn't threatened in the last 4 - 5 yrs.  If it did, though, I would work from home (if there was power).

But this week’s Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who observed, “We do not speak of 'elements conspiring' where I live -- the San Andreas Fault might hear & take action.”

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!  You’ll want to check out the following pages for some great “getting to work despite the odds” recollections!


This week I also asked readers to share their comments on the travails of getting to work under trying circumstances.  Here’s a sampling:

I'm very lucky to be able to work from home when the weather is against me.  Before I would be stressed out, watching the weatherman, cursing and hitting the road with my heart drumming ans fingers clutched to the wheel.  Once I got in to work (and hour or 2 later) I would start worrying about the drive home.  Now it is very relaxful and I am super-productive which is all good!

4 hours of commuting seems like time better utilized elsewhere

I live in sunny, but cold Florida, so our worst obstacles for getting to work are rush hour traffic, and heavy rains, the latter of which seems to turn people into one of three drivers: 1. the driver from the north, who reacts as though it were a blizzard, and must slow to 10 miles an hour, 2. the "late" driver who goes at a speed that could only be described as "balls to the wall", or 3. the rest of us, who continue on carefully, doing our best to avoid Drivers 1 and 2

I live in Wisconsin and we have lots of snow storms.  Since I only live 1.5 miles from work, I do not have a reasonable excuse not to make it in to work during bad weather days... the only time the short commute time works against me!!

I have been a long distance commuter for 25 years in Oklahoma's unpredictable weather.  Fortunately, I always make it.  Sometimes I've wondered what the heck I'm doing even trying it, but I'm just so darned dedicated to my job!!  🙂  Also, fortunately, over the years, I've had a series of vehicles that get the job done well.  Even with driving a gazillion miles over the years, you can still never be prepared for the freezing rain and glazed over roads we so often get.  But, I always tell myself, it won't be long until we're complaining about the heat and humidity!!!

People should learn to be more courteous when driving in bad weather (well, all the time really).  Thank goodness for the radio to keep calm!

In New England we pull on our boots, suck it up and trudge through snow, rain, sleet, slush and Nor'east winds. I take a boat across the harbor to get to work and trust me ... the wind is the worst part.

I work in Wisconsin. In my 36 years at my employer, they closed the office early once (one hour early). I happened to be lucky enough to be meeting with a vice president at the time. When I got to my truck an hour and a half later, my wife, who had been waiting for me, was steamed. When we got home I pullled in the driveway and got stuck about six feet in. When I tried to open the door I couldn't because the snow was deeper than the bottom of the door. Fortunately the next day was Saturday. I spent a good part of the weekend shoveling. After that I bought a snowblower.

With a 15 minute walk to the train, a 20 minute train ride, followed by a switch to a light rail for a 30 minute ride (almost always standing in a car packed like sardines with people of questionable personal hygiene), followed by a 15 minute walk to my office around Ground Zero, I jump at the opportunity to work from home.  Just writing this make me question my sanity.

I have a workaholic boss who has 4-wheel drive. With the exception of possibly the rapture my boss will expect me to get to work.

Last week, our Northern Virginia bank opened 4 days while the FDIC was closed 4 days.  Once I was out of the neighborhood, my commute was much shorter since the "nonessential" Federal employees were home...

We live in a rural subdivision in Wisconsin, which is one of the last areas to get plowed when there's a snowstorm (which happens rather frequently).  Still, it takes at least 4-5 inches or more before we consider ourselves "snowed in"; if there's less than that we just drive through it.  However, after this winter my next car will definitely be a 4-wheel drive.

Despite living in VT we usually don't get a lot of snow.  However, we did have a big valentine's blizzard a couple of years ago and stupid me drove into work.  I almost went off the road before leaving my neighborhood and should've heeded the warning.  My supervisor at the time was completely oblivious about letting us go.  Finally around 1 or 2 pm I said I was leaving.  Got home to 3 feet of snow in my very long driveway and about 4 feet at the end of it from the plow and no snowblower.  None of the neighbors with snowblowers would help me.  I had to shovel my way to the garage and by time I got to the bottome of the driveway, there was another foot at the top.  Never again.

The city of Bloomington, MN does a good job keeping the streets cleared, so I generally don't have much of a problem getting to the office.  I'm fortunate that I don't have to travel any freeways which get clogged with traffic.

I still remember a friend one time, originally from Detroit, who was getting prepared for work when his children came back from attempting to catch the school bus.  He asked why they were not headed for school.  They said school was closed because of the "threat of snow".  It didn't.  It snowed there about once every ten years.  He couldn't believe it.  In the south, we sometimes tend to overstate the possibility of inclement weather conditions.  Probably the hurricane effect.  We worry because when it does come, the effect is really bad.

It's not so bad getting to work in a snowstorm. It's the ride home that gets to me. After working all day, who wants to take hours at a snail's pace to get back home?

I leave for work at my normal time and figure I will get there when I get there.  My normal commute is 50 minutes but it has taken up to 4 hours in the snow.  Believe it or not, the worst was my commute home during a storm, that took a whopping 7 hours to travel 42 miles.  Whew.

It's awful. Frankly, I think New England is uninhabitable during the winter. To have to get all swaddled up in puffy outerwear and boots and go stomping out in the slush, yuck. The whole thing is just unnatural. My cat looks at me with such schadenfreude as I head out into the blizzard! (One of his three facial expressions: sleeping, curiosity, and contempt/schadenfreude)

I made it very clear when I got the job I currently have that if it snows or is icy, I work from home.  Last year I got snowed in for 12 straight days, but was able to do my job remotely.  I told everyone I was testing our 'disaster recovery plan'.

In my prior home I had a flat driveway and no hills to contend with on my drive to work so I would pride myself on getting out and going to the office. I've since moved and have a very steep and long hill to travel down. Now, I tell everyone that if there's any snow, the hill will be iced over and I won't make it to work.

Here in Houston we don't get snow or ice but once every 3 years or so, although flurries will send the city into a panic.  When they do happen, I wait until (most of) the crazies are off the road, then come in.

In Minnesota, we're supposed to be used to the elements.  Unless the business is closed for the day, leave earlier.  Fortunately, we have not had a really good snowstorm this winter, just lots of little snowfalls.

I live in NE Ohio - this type of weather is to be expected.  I have to admit it seems like ODOT has been really good about keeping the roads clear this year!

We don't have a lot of bad weather in California, so when we get some heavy rain, everyone goes crazy and the accidents multiply like rabbits  The streets flood and cars float.  With our other "seasons", fire and earthquake, we come to work, too, unless we have to evacuate.

My company recently introduced a corporate wide policy that non-customer service personnel can work from home on snow days.  I get that all set up immediately, so I would not have to deal with all the other people driving cars that should not be on the road in bad weather.  I have an SUV, so it was never a problem getting to work, but I do like the option to work from home.

Pray the children have school and the daycare is still open...or else productivity goes through the floor.  🙂

When the weather is so frightful that the commute is going to take forever, it's just not worth valiant efforts to get to the office.  I encourage my staff to lay low and either work from home, take the day as an "oh well, can't get to work" day, or wait an hour until the rush hour traffic is at least gone.  It's crazy to sit in traffic all frustrated or worse, risk your safety, just to get to work.  The work will still be there if you come in later or the next day.

I would have gone out walking in the snow storms anyway so I might as well go to work.

but i can only hope. they have only closed the doors once in the 5 years i have been here due to the weather.

Travails is a strong word for a person who can walk to work in under 30 minutes on a decent day.  People with over 1 hour commutes despise me for thinking I could even have problems with commuting since its more than 1/2 done for me already.

I as well as quite a few others around here drive a 4-wheel drive vehicle.  If the snowplows have filled in the driveway, I just back out a little faster to make it over the huge pile of snow at the end of the driveway.  Side roads are sometimes a bit dicey, but even at 7 in the morning, our main roads are typically plowed and salted.

For the most part here in Colorado, we're blessed (or cursed) with excellent snow removal system.  Therefore, if you wait about an hour after your normal drive time, it is smooth sailing to work.  It's only when it dumps 3 to 5 feet that we get to stay home and thanks (or no thanks) to the internet, we "get" to work from home just like we were at work.

Buses are great for mass transit, but the DOT needs to realize that they take the shoulder and plow them!  Otherwise you are stuck in the same situation but with a bunch of cranky downtown workers.

With a 15 minute commute I don't usually have problems.

I'm annoyed at the people who don't even try to get into work, and/or don't plan for the weather by taking work home, and just take the day off (paid).

If I can get to the entrance of my worksite location, I can always get to work.  The worksite always has more plowed roads and clear sidewalks than the city I live in.

This has been our worst Winter in recent memory.  Getting to the office can be difficult and we will never close as we're the home office of a large public company.  I missed a couple of days when travel wasn't recommended but we were still one of the few businesses in town to stay open.

Living in the Chicago area we have many challenging days to get to work.  The biggest obstacle is the school buses because they rarely shut down the schools (poor kids).

The rear-wheel drive, California vehicle I moved to Ohio with just isn't cutting it in 20 inches of snow, but maybe it really doesn't matter what kind of vehicle you have in these conditions.

Here in Buffalo, N.Y., we haven't had any snowstorms lately; however, we do have the snow removal equipment which other areas of the country are badly in need of.  How much would you there in D.C., Baltimore, Philly, etc. like to pay us to borrow our equipment?  Our city needs in infusion of cash (as well as jobs, Fortune 500 headquarters, some of our 'expatriates' to return, etc.)!!!

"It is always interesting when only one lane of the road is plowed open and you meet

someone coming the other direction.  Usually you edge very slowly past each other, each half

in the snow and half on the plowed portion."

Baltimore is not known for particularly severe weather so generally if I can't drive to work, light rail is typically an option.  However, with the back to back blizzards road travel was not possible and neither was the light rail.  This is the first time, outside of hurricane Isabelle that I missed more than one day of work because of weather.  The funny thing is that March is typically our big snow month - who knows what Mother Nature has planned for us then!

I don't understand how the mayor can be on TV telling residents to stay at home unless there is an emergency, yet they don't close the office and charge us a day if we don't come in or WFH.  Apparently, I AM expected to risk my life to get to work (and to get home again).

For those of us who can effectively work from home, the weather circumstances that push us to work from home (for at least part of the day) have become less dire than they once were!!

Its been pretty good this year (Chicago area) although a little dicey last week with a foot of snow.  Snow removal has been much better this year.   Does Daley stand for reelection in 2010?


And here are some of my favorite “getting to work despite the odds” stories:

While living in northern Michigan, I once snowshoed to a main access rode and was picked up by my snowmobiling co-worker.

I consider every day I make it through my commute a "getting to work despite the odds" story.

Every day I drive in rush hour traffic and make it to work (home, too!) alive becomes my favorite "getting to work despite the odds" story! 

Every snow day is an adventure in Omaha!

Best of the Rest

And here’s the rest:

This is a getting home from work during a snow storm story.  During a particularly heavy snowfall during the day all the business in the area decided to let employees leave early at the same time.  It took me over 8 hours to get home for what would normally be a 20 minute trip.

Every day I drive in rush hour traffic and make it to work (home, too!) alive becomes my favorite "getting to work despite the odds" story!  Especially when I see those people who've rolled their cars over in bumper to bumper traffic.  I've come to grips with the fact that I may never understand how one can perform such a feat in standstill traffic!

"At the time this happened, I was working only a few miles from home. However, my roommate was working in the city of Boston. The winds during a Nor'easter got so bad, the boats had to stop running because too many people were getting sick and getting tossed around. Her boat got part way out and turned back for the city. I ended up driving my Jeep in to the city in a blizzard to rescue her and three other stranded people and take them back to the south shore.

Of course, then there was the time they had to send the Coast Guard cutters out to break the ice in the harbor to get the boats through. Oh yeah, gotta love New England in the winter."

Not really.

I have never sweated a commute as much as the one earlier this year, but it wasn't to work, it was to the shopping mall.  I took the day off as vacation to Christmas shop with my mom and sister.  Although there was just a skift of snow, there was a layer of ice underneath.B efore even making out of our small town to head towards Indy, we saw 4 cars off the road, but that didn't deter us; we kept going. Took routes that avoided hills.  In total before finally making it to better roards we saw 2 semis and 12 cars off the roard.  The question is, if I'd be going to work would I have turned around and gone home?

I knew an actuary who drove into the office at 5 AM during the height of Hurricane Alicia in 1983.  At the time, I was studying to be an actuary myself.  I never completed the tests to get Enrolled.  Perhaps I didn't have the "drive" necessary to get that designation.

The Halloween snowstorm of 1991.  I lived 4 miles from work, so I was the designated person to open the department in bad weather.  All the other employees in the department lived many more miles away - up to 60 miles.  There was 14 inches of snow, my neighborhood was not plowed and the nearest bus was a mile away.  I finally caught a ride with a neighbor who was driving a tow truck.  When I finally arrived at work, in my warmest winter clothes, I was greeted by everyone else.  They were all appropriately dressed in suits and heels!

I hit black ice and did a 180 on a busy highway.  I ended up in the median after crossing two lanes of traffic, but was untouched.  After collecting myself, I proceeded to turn around and continue on my way to work.  That's dedication!

No, because I stubbornly refuse to encourage or participate in such foolishness for the sake of work that will still be there the next day.  Fortunately, I'm at a point in my career where I don't need to do such valiant efforts to impress anyone, and my staff knows that they certainly wouldn't be impressing me if they did that!

when i lived in the black hills in SD, my husband drove me to work in our 4 wheel drive vehicle. we were driving down the hill (i dont think we crested 25 the entire drive) and the people trying to go up the hill were getting stuck half-way up and sliding backwards. they couldn't seem to go fast enough to pick up the needed momentum to crest the hill...

Not going to work but leaving work early on an early closing to "beat the rush" only to have a normally 15 minute commute (yeah, I lived even closer at another job) turn into a 2 hour ride behind a person who managed to constantly spin out his tires while the rest of us are idling forward and still needing brakes.

We had a horrible snowstorm here in 1990.  I only lived about 7 minutes from work (on a good day), so I just started out extra early to make sure I got to work on time.  The roads were nearly impassable, but I made it in.  When I got here, my boss was here as well and told me that I apparently didn't hear that the company had closed (first time in my 24 yrs. here!!).  He also told me I could stay if I wanted to as long as I was already here.  I told him he never saw me and braved the rotten roads all the way back home again!

Here in Colorado, it's more about getting home despite the odds rather than getting to work.  They don't release us until the blizzard actually starts.  Fun times.  Fortunately, there is more incentive to get home (you want to eventually get there) than there is if you're trying to get to work.

When you absolutely have to be there the next day, park your car overnight in a grocery store lot and walk to/from home.  Those types of lots are usually the first places to be plowed and treated.

When I first got out of college, I had a long commute through some not so well taken care of roads.  I tried to come in one day after a big storm.  I was driving down a hill, hit some black ice and my car spun completely around (a 180) but stayed on the road.  I decided the car had the right idea and went back home!

My worst commute came one day while driving north on 294 (our tollway).  A trip that should have taken only 25 minutes, turned in to a 2 1/2 hour trip.  It was the first time ever that I had to make a potty stop at the O'Hare Oasis on the way to work.  It took me 1 1/2 hours to get just to the oasis - a usual 15 minute commute.  It was a horrific snow storm and the plows and salt trucks didn't have a chance to clear it before rush hour.

"I will never forget an ice/snow storm about 13 years ago.  I got up and there was no power. We live in the country, so this happens a lot.  It didn't dawn on me that we had a bad storm.I got the kids ready for day care and we hit the road.  I had to back track on several roadsto find roads that didn't have power lines down.  When I got to day care there  was a sign thatit was closed due to no power.  Since day care wasn't far from work, I back tracked and found open streets to make it to work on.  I went in, to just report that I had to go home because I had my 2 year old and 5 year old with me.  I was one of 5 that made it in that day and had tostay.  So I worked with my kids ""helping"".  I actually got out a large mailing that day because my5 year old thought pushing the copy machine buttons was fun, so he copied and I stuffed.  The 2 yearold played on the floor and was really good until about 3pm.  He wouldn't nap, so I had to leaveafter putting in 7 hours.  Not a bad day considering what it could have been if the 2 year old hadn't been so cooperative.  PS.  It was such a bad storm that we were without power for 4 days.

But work had power (water & heat) so I didn't miss a day."

I'm too old and life's too short to risk my life getting to work (more than usual, that is).

In my former life, I was a newspaper reporter, so extreme weather guaranteed I was going to work, including a flood where the street outside my apartment was under two feet of water when I woke up one morning (the parking lot was higher up, thank goodness). I waded through downtown to city hall and fish literally swam between my feet on the way. I spent the morning and early afternoon, sloshing around town and calling in my reports to the office. It was a coastal region of FL, fortunately, and the waters drained away enough for me to make the six mile trek to the office by late afternoon.

In Florida we have hurricanes/tropical storms... usually don't hit the area I live in but a year ago we did have a 'heavy' tropical storm and our office did not close until the eye came through (never mind that the real damage was from the storms outside of the eye).  Getting in Thursday, not bad; going home Thursday, downed power lines, metal signs flying across the road without warning, trees & branches down all over, had to double back & start over, the normally 20-minute drive took over an hour.  Coming in Friday morning, worse.  They closed the office at noon Friday, which was actually the WORST of the storm, I stayed until early evening when things had settled down & it was just breezy & a little drizzly.  Then the boss complained when I didn't come in Saturday for the make-up day!