Snow-Clearing from SUV Roofs and from Fire Hydrants: An Informal Look

by John Trinkaus, Baruch College, City University of New York

John Trinkaus was awarded the 2003 Ig Nobel Prize in literature for meticulously collecting data and publishing more than 80 detailed academic reports about things that annoyed him. Since that time, he has repeatedly gotten annoyed, collected data, and written monographs.

This new study is the third in a series Professor Trinkaus is publishing in the Annals of Improbable Research. The first, “Hand Sanitizing: An Informal Look,” appeared in AIR 15:6. The second, “Hand Sanitizing: Another Look,” appeared in AIR 16:3.

(Image credit: Flickr user purplemattfish)

To glean some indication as to the number of drivers who clean the snow off their vehicle’s roof, and the number of people who shovel snow off fire hydrants, a small, informal enquiry was conducted during the first two days following a major snowstorm during the winter of 2010. The locale was a suburb of a large city in the Northeast.

What Was Noted When

On the morning of the first day following the storm evidence of passenger vehicle roof cleaning — as contrasted with merely clearing a viewing port for the front and rear windows — was observed.

On the second morning, fire hydrant snow clearing was noted. Some owners of homes near a fire hydrant sometimes choose to clear a working area around the hydrant — to permit fire persons access in case of an emergency.

Day 1 — Details

On the first morning the writer positioned himself beside the two city-bound lanes of a 4 lane state highway. As passenger vehicles passed their roofs were viewed for the presence of snow.

For the purpose of this study, they either had snow or they did not have snow. If a vehicle surface had both clear and snowy sections, it was not counted for there was no way of telling if some snow had been purposely cleared or simply had been blown off as the vehicle was driven. If the roof was clean and dry, without any trace of snow, again, for the purpose of this enquiry, it was not counted. It was assumed that the vehicle had been garaged during the storm. Of the 1,000 “qualifying” vehicles noted, 473 (47%) were sedans and 527 (53%) SUV’s (sport utility vans). One hundred forty-two (30%) of the sedans had roof snow, and 469 (89%) of the SUV’S had roof snow.

Day 2 — Details

On the second morning, the writer drove through the area consisting or modestly sized and priced single family homes observing fire hydrants. For the purpose of this enquiry, only two states of the world were considered: the area around the hydrant was purposely cleared, or it was not. If there was a question of “status,” no note was made. One hundred hydrants were observed. Nineteen (19%) were cleared; eighty-one (81%) were not.

(Image credit: Flickr user chbrenchley)


The methodological limitations of this study, such as subjective judgment, the use of only one observer, convenience sampling and the inability to replicate the enquiry, are recognized.

Similarly, acknowledged are such setting boundings as: use of a single community, absence of consideration of any applicable ordinances, lack of consideration of prevailing cultural norms and practices, and the want of factoring for other variables, such as day of the week and the prevailing weather following the storm.

Thoughts About The Findings

However, it might well be reasonable to advance some thoughts about what the findings or this enquiry could suggest about social morality. Ease seemingly plays an important part in the practice of social morality. If it is not too difficult for folks to do, they will probably do what society says is right. Removing snow from the roof of a sedan is certainly less of a job than clearing snow from the roof of a SUV. Too, leaving snow around a fire hydrant is easier to do than shoveling it away. Surprisingly, self interest does not appear to be too much of a modifier. Removing snow from a vehicle roof makes for safer driving. Removing the snow from a fire hydrant makes for more effective and efficient fire-fighting.

[caption id="attachment_57290" align="aligncenter" width="495" caption="Satellite image, taken two days after a snow storm of the general region containing the suburb (of a large city) where this study was conducted. Photo prepared by Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC."][/caption]


This article is republished with permission from the July-August 2010 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

Visit their website for more research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.

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I grew up in the northeast, but it never occurred to me to clear snow off my SUV's roof or around a fire hydrant. I assume that his social morality is not widely held.
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