Fish and CHiPs all over the place
January 25, 2015 5:48 AM   Subscribe

In the 70s in Orange County we'd say there had been a SigAlert when the smog got unbearable. That doesn't seem to fit in with the posted article.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:21 AM on January 25, 2015

Worth it for the thread title alone. Never been to LA, but now I have some local trivia!
posted by arcticseal at 6:21 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

More Caltrans trivia: Botts' Dots
posted by Room 641-A at 6:40 AM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

My prom date (and good friend still) is the granddaughter of Sigmon! Hence why, going to high school in Oklahoma, we had to know the story behind traffic and weather alerts in California.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:50 AM on January 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

I spent a few year out in the Pomona Valley in the early 70s -- we also had SigAlerts that had to do with smog.

I think they added smog to the congestion reports or something?
posted by CrowGoat at 7:10 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Here's a slightly older LATimes piece that tells pretty much the same story. It does, though, mention a "smog alert" in a rather unclear relationship to the sigalert. Maybe there were some days in the 70s when the smog was so bad it disrupted traffic enough to warrant a sigalert?
posted by yoink at 7:34 AM on January 25, 2015

It's 9:30. There are fish everywhere.

fish everywhere
posted by ostranenie at 7:44 AM on January 25, 2015

His obit spells it out a bit more.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:46 AM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Big light in sky slated to appear in East. Sonic booms scare minority groups in Sector B.
And there's hamburger all over the highway in Mystic, Connecticut.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:39 AM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

There definitely were smog alerts. I can't find anything that links the CHP Sig Alert to smog, though, other than one story about a freeway accident so big "a smog-control officer took an accident report". It seems the smog alerts declined markedly from 1974 to 1998. Perhaps just some understandable semantic confusion.
posted by dhartung at 8:45 AM on January 25, 2015

The article states the Sigalert as being World famous.... Is that 'World' as in Baseball 'World' series or or has anyone outside the US actually heard of this system in any reasonable volume?
posted by Brockles at 8:54 AM on January 25, 2015

I hadn't ever heard of them until I moved to the region, and I'd hear friends who were lifers talk about them. I have no direct experience with them still - I tried to figure out how to get them on my phone but failed - and I use Waze and that seems to serve the same purpose.

CHP issues Sigalerts for fog and smoke, I don't know why smog would be surprising or counter to the purpose, if it was affecting visibility - or just part of an effort to encourage people to avoid unnecessary travel on bad days. A lot of regions include air quality alerts in their weather and traffic reports, particularly since a lot of public transit systems reduce fares on the worst days.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:26 AM on January 25, 2015

I remember confusing the two as a kid, I think mostly because SigAlerts and smog alerts both would come up during the traffic and weather segments on the local news and radio.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:28 AM on January 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Maybe you've wondered what a Sig Alert is.

Sadly not a text alert for when sigur rós happens to be in town.
posted by Fizz at 9:52 AM on January 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

In the obit they mention "Sig-alert sinuses", which has got to be a reference to bad air, not bad traffic.

I never actually heard one, being to young to be listening to the traffic report on the radio. But sometimes when we did the weekly mile run in gym in the morning you'd find yourself around lunch time just not being able to get much air with each breath and some kid would say that there had been a Sig-alert, implying it was a "restrict outdoor activity" warning.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:52 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

So if you have Sig Alert it means even more congestion than usual, which adds even more pollution than usual, creating a smog alert!

Like benito.strauss, the traffic reports probably didn't even register with me; all I knew was that on smog alert days it meant no recess outside.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:33 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not to be confused with a later invention, the Sig Alarm.
posted by effbot at 11:34 AM on January 25, 2015

Fizz: "Sadly not a text alert for when sigur rós happens to be in town.

OMFG, why can't it be both?

I'm laying claim to the Sigur Ros Sig Alert. Traffic starts to suck, and unintelligible vaguely Norwegian lyrics start pouring out of your car speakers.
posted by Sphinx at 11:40 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

In the obit they mention "Sig-alert sinuses", which has got to be a reference to bad air, not bad traffic.

I think that's a jokey reference to the sinuses being blocked--like the lanes of traffic in a SigAlert.
posted by yoink at 11:56 AM on January 25, 2015

There were definitely smog alert days into the early 80's. We wouldn't be allowed to have PE outside when the smog was bad.
posted by ApathyGirl at 12:08 PM on January 25, 2015

So they basically recorded and retransmitted police radio repeater traffic? Oh my. Couldn't happen in the UK and many other countries where unauthorized listening is an offence.
posted by scruss at 5:26 PM on January 25, 2015

No, the police sent messages to the system.
posted by bq at 5:58 PM on January 25, 2015

yeah i grew up in LA in the 70s and 80s and i don't think smog alerts and SigAlerts were the same thing… but never knew the SigAlert was a regionalism...
posted by joeblough at 6:51 PM on January 25, 2015

A SigAlert is actually a specific thing that's only supposed to be issued when two or more freeway lanes will be closed or impacted for two or more hours.

It basically means "This section of freeway is totally fucked up. Avoid it at all costs or you may spend 10-20 miles and more than an hour or two stuck in crawling, stop and go traffic."

In reality and in my experience, a SigAlert usually meant that traffic on that stretch of freeway would likely be impacted for much longer than two hours. The "impacted/closed for two or more hours" part only defines the closure and/or clearing work.

It doesn't define the limits of the resulting traffic jam and ongoing backup which may last for several (or more!) hours past the re-opening of the lanes.

I've never heard of a SigAlert being used for an actual smog related air quality alert, but maybe they stopped using it for smog before my time, where they had a separate system for air quality alerts. I could see them being used for fog/low visibility, if it happened to shut down a section of freeway.

Which happens. There have been multiple instances of huge pileups caused by low-lying marine layer/inversion fog where a given length of freeway is perfectly clear except for a dense pocket of fog in a hollow or valley.

But these likely were SigAlerts because drivers would plow into it at freeway speeds, suddenly slam on the brakes and causing an accident in the fog, which usually sets off a chain reaction pile up as more and more cars plunged into the low visibility fog bank and the waiting, invisible wreck. There have been a number of incidents like this in LA, sometimes involving a hundred or more vehicle collisions.

I have never heard of an actual SigAlert being used for weather alone. There has to be closed/impacted lanes of traffic specifically on a freeway or major highway. It doesn't have to be a vehicular accident. It can be spilled cargo, wild animals, debris - anything that requires CHP and/or CalTrans response to shut down or divert two or more lanes to respond to the incident safely and clear the lanes of whatever it is blocking/impacting them.
posted by loquacious at 10:55 AM on January 26, 2015

Yeah, the explanation that Sig-alert traffic advisories and smog warnings were announced in the same segment of morning drive-time radio and people started using "Sig-alert" for both of them makes a lot of sense to me.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:28 AM on January 26, 2015

There's a list of qualifications we have for issuing them. Hazardous spills, fatal collisions, and in general anything that will effect traffic for more than 30 minutes. Or if a Sgt says to.
posted by ericales at 1:58 PM on January 26, 2015

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