It looks like Can I have snow "near" (somewhere with the climate of) San Diego? is going to be closed due to "lack of clarity". I don't understand why it is unclear, and despite requests for help improving the question, no one is explaining why it is being closed.

Is this just the way things work? Is it not considered impolite to vote to close someone's question and refuse to offer any help improving the question, or even explaining what was wrong with it?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ It seems to me you have received some comments addressing the lack of focus or, to use the previous terminology, why your question is too broad. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch Mod
    Feb 13, 2020 at 20:16
  • $\begingroup$ What is "focus"??? Is asking if two well-described biomes could coexist within some degree of proximity "too broad"? Your comment has the exact same problem; it is vague to the point of uselessness. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Feb 13, 2020 at 20:19
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    $\begingroup$ Does this answer your question? Enforcing mandatory comment when downvoting $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Feb 14, 2020 at 5:53
  • $\begingroup$ Or this: worldbuilding.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/228/… $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Feb 14, 2020 at 5:54
  • $\begingroup$ Or this worldbuilding.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3885/… $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Feb 14, 2020 at 5:57
  • $\begingroup$ Related, anyway... but note also worldbuilding.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3773/… $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Feb 14, 2020 at 15:44
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    $\begingroup$ This isn't a dupe but it should be closed because its source material is now unavailable. Having read the answers: Is this just the way things work? Yes. Stop asking yes or no questions. And IMO, stop asking why questions. What, who, when, and how. WHO are the people not explaining CVs? You'd have to ask them. Which is obliviously moot. Otherwise you're eliciting opinions. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Feb 17, 2020 at 2:53
  • $\begingroup$ I see yes-or-no questions being asked all the time. As I understand it, there is an implicit expectation that people will back up answers with sources or other evidence. I don't see a problem with such questions when the objective is to understand why something is or is not plausible. Where things go sideways is when people don't take the time to understand the nuances of the question. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Feb 17, 2020 at 16:00

4 Answers 4


The main problem with the question is that it admits the trivially simple answer "yes". Since most people would find it unlikely that you have put a lot of effort in writing a 500 word question just to get a one word answer, they would assume that what you actually expected is real world examples. The trouble is, there are many such examples.

Including the actual San Diego, California, USA.

Before reading this question all I knew about San Diego, California, was that is was the northern half of the international San Diego–Tijuana conurbation. But then a quick look at the relevant article of Wikipedia provided the information that in the eastern part of the San Diego county there are "mountains that receive frost and snow in the winter". With the help of Google Maps, one can easily find that the San Diego county is about 100 km wide west to east. So the actual San Diego county, California, qualifies.

Since the question asks whether there can be a place with the climate of San Diego, California, which is close to a place where it snows in winter, and the actual San Diego, California, is such a place, it follows that it is not at all clear what the question really asks.


The question includes requirements for a rather small flat area in the part with the snow, and puts restrictions on the travel time. But those details are irrelevant.

It is obviously perfectly possible to find such a small flat area in the mountains. And travel time depends on how good the roads are; it is perfectly imaginable that one can go 60 kilometers in half an hour. It doesn't matter whether there is such a flat area in the mountains near San Diego or not, and whether there are such roads in the area or not; there could be a flat area in those mountains, and there could be roads. Their possibility is all that is needed in order to say "yes, it's possible".

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    $\begingroup$ For what it's worth, I disagree, and this is why I included some of the details in the question that were declared "irrelevant". Specifically, that the area receiving snow is not distant in travel time, and has a large town / small city and flat areas. Neither of which are likely to apply to the "obvious" answer of the snowy location being a mountain. San Diego itself does not meet my criteria. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Feb 13, 2020 at 23:47
  • $\begingroup$ That said, I'm going to choose to read your answer as "people don't bother to read and understand the details", because, unfortunately, I can easily believe that. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Feb 13, 2020 at 23:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew: How are those details not irrelevant? The required flat area is very small; it is obviously perfectly possible to find such a small flat area in the mountains. And travel time depends on how good the roads are; it is perfectly imaginable that one can go 60 kilometers in half an hour. It doesn't matter whether there is such a flat area in the mountains near San Diego or not, and whether there are such roads in the area or not; there could be a flat area in those mountains, and there could be roads. Their possibility is all that is needed in order to say "yes, it's possible". $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Feb 13, 2020 at 23:53
  • $\begingroup$ Possibility is not plausibility. Show me a mountain with a population of 50k and I'll believe you that it's irrelevant. In my experience, mountains have very low population density, which would cause plausibility problems for how I need the location to work. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Feb 13, 2020 at 23:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew are you looking for somebody to do all the research for you? Because I'd definitely class that as too broad. If you're looking for "is it possible" then it's already said it is. It's then up to you as a worldbuilder to flesh out the details - the plausibility check has been passed. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Feb 14, 2020 at 0:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew: Abha, KSA, 2270 m ASL, pop. 781,206. Ávila, Spain, 1132 m ASL, pop. 57,657. Segovia, Spain, 1005 m ASL, pop. 51,683. And, of course, Bogotá, Colombia, 2640 m (8660 ft) ASL, pop. 7,412,566. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Feb 14, 2020 at 0:09
  • $\begingroup$ Abha is a mesa, which is sort of the point I was trying to make, and anyway it doesn't get (much) snow. Ávila is very continental, and (like Denver, CO) isn't on a mountain. I'm not even sure why you mentioned Segovia; just because much of Spain has higher elevation? Besides looking like it's on the dry side, are you claiming an Ávila geography and climate could be within an hour's drive of a San Diego-like climate? If "yes", that would be a useful answer. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Feb 14, 2020 at 0:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew: You asked for localities in the mountains with population over 50,000. I gave examples. No relationship with the snow thing. (The average elevation of Spain is 650 m ASL. Both Ávila and Segovia are quite a bit higher than the average elevation of Spain. In particular, Ávila is "built on the flat summit of a rocky hill, which rises abruptly in the midst of a veritable wilderness". Segovia lies at the foot of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Feb 14, 2020 at 0:41
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP, but all of those are on relatively level terrain, which was exactly the point I was making; you don't typically get high population density without level terrain. (San Francisco, CA and Saint Louis, MO are relatively unusual in that respect, but even there, you aren't dealing with elevation changes in the 1000m range.) $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Feb 14, 2020 at 15:41

It is a courtesy, but not a necessity, to explain when you VTC.

Personally, I think it's really valuable to offer constructive feedback as a comment before initiating a VTC. If someone can edit their question before a close vote, it's a lot easier to get answers than trying to reopen it first. If a question is already in the close vote queue, I still try to comment or upvote existing comments before voting to close. People can't really improve without specific feedback.

L. Dutch notes as a comment that you did receive some feedback. It may not have been clear, but the resulting discussion gave you some of people's reasoning.

Still, commenting is not a necessity. When a question is closed, the reason (ex. needs to be more focused) will have a link to the relevant help guide. If it's unclear what "focused" means, that link is supposed to make it clear.

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    $\begingroup$ "It is a courtesy"... right, and IMHO it's discourteous to say nothing, especially if the OP asks for help. (Note: not just for my question in particular, but in general, and for downvotes also.) That's why I generally try to comment when I downvote, unless a question or answer is just wildly off the mark. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Feb 14, 2020 at 0:01
  • $\begingroup$ Rephrase Zxyrra: is a gift of time and effort to explain a VTC that not all questions earn. It is not a requirement nor even an encouragement to add anything beyond the boilerplate text. The reasons are listed. Five independent voters agreed to a standard reason for close. Adding a reason can often muddy the waters rather than clarifying. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Feb 14, 2020 at 6:11
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    $\begingroup$ @SRM I never said it's a requirement or an encouragement - just that I personally think it's valuable to people. Help isn't a "gift" that people "earn," it's a basic part of using the site or interacting with others. Furthermore, five independent voters can all make the same mistake; I've seen several questions reopened after meaningful comments changed people's perspectives. Discussion more often approaches the truth by presenting the full picture, imo, than it muddies the already muddied waters created by discussionless ambiguity. $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Feb 14, 2020 at 6:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Zxyrra My apologies if I put words in your mouth. In my view, if a question appears to have put in the basic effort to be a good question, then it has earned the gift of even having that conversation. All too frequently, such effort does not appear to be present, and needs of the community to kill off the problematic questions has to balance the desire of the OP to figure out how to play by the community rules. Discussion is earned by effort. It is not something that can be demanded by complaining about why a VTC was given without a comment. The reason for close is always listed. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Feb 14, 2020 at 14:38

So... it's been a while, and I want to share my take on what went wrong.

As others have pointed out, one issue is that I phrased my question as a yes/no. That in an of itself isn't necessarily a problem, as:

  • A yes/no question, if answers provide sources or other evidence to back them up, can still be useful.
  • The phrasing ("is there such terrain") should have implied that a "yes" answer should include more information than just "yes".

Nonetheless, this didn't help.

However, the real issue I see is that people didn't bother to read and understand the finer points of the question. AlexP's summary is quite appropos:

[T]he question asks whether there can be a place with the climate of San Diego, California, which is close to a place where it snows in winter

...and the flippant answers and CV's seem to follow this. It is also wrong; this simplification ignores (or fails to understand) the details that were in the body of the question. Other comments pointing out the "irrelevancy" of identifying the various locations exhibit the same problem (I'll get back to that).

The short, generic answer to this question would appear to be "because people can't be bothered with the details", which, unfortunately, is entirely believable.

(If you don't care about picking apart details of my original question which prompted this one, you can stop reading now.)

Because I deleted the original question since all it was accomplishing was attracting downvotes, here it is, reproduced for posterity:


I'm writing a story with several locations:

  • A boarding school. The campus is around 1km × 1km and should be relatively flat ground.
  • House A. Modest size building, relatively flat lot maybe 60m × 60m.
  • House B. Larger building (closer to 20m × 20m) on a somewhat larger lot (say, 100m × 100m). The lot is mildly to moderately sloped in back, but the house itself should be on a flat spot around 30m × 40m.
  • A zoo. Not flat; very similar to, or even an exact copy of, the real San Diego zoo.

I also have the following distance constraints:

  • Travel time between the houses, or between either house and the school, should be less than 30 minutes; 10-15 is better.
  • Travel time between House A and the zoo is at least 20 minutes but not more than 90 minutes. (About 40 minutes would be best.)
  • Travel time between House B and the zoo can (and possibly should) be longer, within other criteria.

Assume building and transport technology equivalent to our modern world (e.g. "travel time" implies driving in a modern car, with modern US-like road systems). However, the story takes place somewhere other than "our" world; it might Earth in an alternate universe, or a totally different (but still Earth-like) planet.

The houses and school should be located in or near a large suburban area. (I don't need New York, NY, but the population density must be higher than middle-of-nowhere, WY.) The area should not be overly arid (temperate forest would be perfect).

The zoo should be able to support vegetation similar to what occurs in real life San Diego. Said vegetation should be green and healthy nearly year round (in particular, through mid-autumn), but the surrounding area can be semi-arid (like San Diego), i.e. it's okay if the zoo needs a bunch of irrigation.


Given the above constraints, is there a biome / terrain that would allow me to have deciduous vegetation at House B which change color come autumn? Can I have (regular, not fluke) snow at House B, or somewhere within about an hour's drive?

Again, this doesn't need to actually be San Diego or any location that exists on our planet. Something like having a significant elevation different between the zoo and everything else, or having the zoo's vegetation only able to survive because of some geothermal heat source or specially sheltered valley, is acceptable, as long as such features could plausibly occur on an Earth-like planet.

(I'm assuming that covering the zoo in a giant dome is not feasible, as the technology to do so would not be available.)


Offhand, the most plausible explanation would be that the houses and school are on top of a mesa, where the top of the mesa has a midwest-like climate, while the bottom has a California-like climate. Is this plausible, both from a climate perspective, and for having roads that would allow driving between a city on top and a city on the bottom in about a half hour to an hour?

Answers that "it snows in San Diego County" are inadequate. Some of this could have been stated differently (lesson learned), but the additional requirements are:

  • The general area must have a minimum population of at least 2 million people; 3-5 million would be better. Further, the zoo must be located somewhere that is reasonably "central" to the majority of said population. If these requirements are not met, the zoo won't exist or will be somewhere else.
  • The school can't be up in the mountains, if they are mountains. Mountains don't have light suburban population density, and they don't have mostly level school campuses. Level areas in the mountains of the requisite size are rare and tend to have rivers or lakes in the middle of them if they do exist, and lack the surrounding houses to be anything other than "isolated". Plateaus might meet the requirements (Abha, Bogotá), but this excludes simply asserting that "California already has snow".

This isn't exhaustive, but the above are the requirements that seemed to be most critical as far as viable answers and also the most overlooked.

So what would constitute a good answer to this question?

  • Showing what terrain would make the different climates possible, preferably with examples of each that would plausibly share similar geographical influence (ideally two places that are actually near each other). Additionally...
    • ...showing an example of terrain that would support the school and surrounding suburbs. (Bogotá is actually reasonable here. The mountains in California are not.) And...
    • ...showing an example of a road that traverses the required elevation distance for the two locations in the desired travel time, keeping in mind the need to allow extra time at the beginning/end to get from said road to the destination endpoints.
  • Or: Showing that no reasonable change in elevation can supply the desired difference in climate.
  • Or: Showing that the required elevation change cannot reasonably be traversed in the allowed time.
  • Or: Showing what modifications are necessary to achieve the stated goals.
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    $\begingroup$ Honestly one of the more frustrating things about SE in general is that they'll skim a question and dismiss if it sounds trivial, and then figure out a justification for it. The beta community process also develops a culture that will decide to close questions when in doubt. That's why there's so many questions closed as a "duplicate" on SO. You have to phrase the question in a way that gets them to read the details. $\endgroup$
    – Muz
    Feb 19, 2020 at 3:34

It is NOT impolite to close without further comment

This gets asked about a lot: the desire for an explanation of why the question was closed. When voting to close, the reason is listed, and there is text there to help the person reask their question... if it can even be saved.

Adding further comment is something I do ONLY when I think the question is savable. If it is fatally flawed, I’m not going to bother. The boilerplate text says what the problem is. If it is non-obvious to the OP, adding comments just leads to a fight. I’m among the more forgiving on off-topic and too-broad, but hold pretty strict on one q per post and “opinion based”. But the consensus of 5 generally keeps us closing on consistent bases. People can study other questions to figure out what will fly and what won’t.

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    $\begingroup$ (1/2) I strongly disagree. The boilerplate text does not offer specific feedback on a case-by-case basis. Imo many new users who experience only that text and no human interaction will likely quit. Whether or not a question can be salvaged makes no difference; people need to learn better. Even if a question is fatally flawed, telling them your specific thoughts will prevent that flaw in the future. A catch-all explanation like "this is broad" without giving an example of a better scope, for instance, leaves the correct behavior ambiguous at best. $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Feb 14, 2020 at 6:25
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    $\begingroup$ (2/2) Furthermore, a consensus doesn't always reflect the truth. I've seen plenty of questions with conflicting close votes, and meta discussions about whether or not a question should be closed pop up frequently. If people didn't comment their specific reasoning, such discussions would never be productive. Another way of thinking about it is: any good argument has a claim, evidence, and reasoning. VTC without comment provides the claim "this needs closure" and evidence "here is what needs closing" but often very little reasoning that is meaningful to that evidence (at least to new people). $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Feb 14, 2020 at 6:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Zxyrra this discussion is older than World Building. VTC should not require further explanation otherwise we could be lost in semanthic labyrinths. $\endgroup$ Feb 14, 2020 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ If it is a new user -- something that we can see when closing -- I generally provide more guidance. That isn't the case with the vast majority of the questions closed. Yes, the salvageablity of a question is relevant: it isn't worth wasting my time on a conversation over a question that clearly fails the basic description of the rules of the site, laid out in the boilerplate. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Feb 14, 2020 at 14:40
  • $\begingroup$ Consensus always represents truth because the subjective judgement of the site is the only truth. There is no objective standard of the site. It is a consensus that we continually build by what we accept and what we deny. Indeed, frequently, my comments on VTC are not for the OP but are for other voters to explain why I think a question falls on one side or the other of the shades of gray. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Feb 14, 2020 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ i agree with @Zxyrra how can people even sure the rest of the VTC has the same mind or opinion ? i even see some discussion problem about people that VTC just following the first one that open VTC iam not sure the term but if iam not wrong its called lamb mentality or something like that which even i know happen here. i consider it unfair to leave people hanging there at least give the reasoning of the VTC, its not like you cant ignore the next reply or stop continue to argue either at least the OP know the reason even if it obvious or give people chance to disagree with the VTC point of view $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Feb 15, 2020 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ just like when renan VTC my question without giving a reason for example, which i see at least three people try to reopen it back after knowing the reason, when i ask in meta. or when elemtilas say my question VTC due to offtopic is incorrect or something and think mine was to broad which later follow up to vtc that until someone disagree and say interlink or related question something like that is ok and suddenly people stop VTC. (this base of my own memory so the wording is not exactly like that to lazy to check my old question) $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Feb 15, 2020 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ oh yeah also VTC need 5 people to vote it, you know people here is not in same timeline, and you need that 5 vote to even see the reason of the VTC or boiler text (i assume) show up which usually not specific or clear, so theres a lot of time lost to fix it quickly, just like my experience with renan VTC my question which the last VTC happen in night in my time while renan reply is pretty late and you know i need sleep too i believe other do, or have other job than staring 24 hours in this site, and even the vote to open get reset back when the time is out and really get closed. $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Feb 15, 2020 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ theres also people that have their own specialty or knowledge, not everyone is smart, or knowledgeable about what they ask, which i believe is the point of why they ask, so pointing their mistake even to you it obvious may help this people. $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Feb 15, 2020 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ @LiJun It might help. And I often provide that help. But not always, and I do not feel it impolite/discourteous/bad to not do so. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Feb 15, 2020 at 15:25

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