Sunday, January 31, 2010


Note: All the photos in this post were taken indoors and were hindered slightly by grimy windows, sunshine, and snow glare. My apologies, but the camera and my fingers don't work so well outdoors when it is -6 to -11F. We'll have to make do!

I responded to about half your comments when I realized it was time to start pondering a post on the plowing, as promised. (when I started getting spam comments in a language I don't read, I got on the stick to write you a new post!)

The sunshine after a storm is remarkable here in Winnipeg. We have bright sunny days which would fool the heck out of you if you didn't, say, lean against the window a moment. You'd think it was warm. Except, it isn't. We were reminded of this yesterday, when the backdoor lock stopped working -again-with the dogs outside in the backyard. All is well, they were brought in quickly by the front door, and the professor has fixed the darn thing again. However, this level of cold [-20F(-29C)], yesterday morning-is the point where some things just don't work well. We have special ordered a storm door to protect the backdoor a bit and provide more insulation, but I digress...

OK, plowing. In upstate New York, in Ithaca and Buffalo, I lived on relatively main roads. In winter, I was lulled to sleep by a wonderful rhythmic noise...the sound of the snow plow. My head on the pillow, near a window, I'd hear a strong motor and the sound of the clink clink clink as the truck passed by. It was remarkably reassuring. I loved that late at night, fueled by coffee and overtime pay, these (mostly) men would patrol the roads, clearing the snow. During the storms and after the storms, as a result of their diligence, we got to school/work/appointments on time.

This wasn't entirely true. Secondary roads maybe didn't get cleared as fast. Also, sidewalks and driveways were all the homeowners'/renters'/college student's problem. Legally, one was bound to clear the sidewalks and so on. In Buffalo, as poor sorts just out of graduate school, we couldn't afford a "plow contract" with a private firm for our driveway. As a result, we were out shoveling our long driveway ourselves 3 or 4 times a week, every week from December through April. I am "in touch" with my inner snow shovel.

In the above scenario, most, if not all, people on the road were good winter drivers in snow.

OK, fast forward to the particular Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky, all places I've lived. For the most part, these are places that have few or no plows. There's an attempt to clear highways and such, but in general? There's little or no good provision for snow, and yet it still falls from the sky on occasion. Almost no one knows how to drive in it, and even good snow drivers stay off the roads to avoid the crazy bad driving. Back to that image of me with my head on the pillow? In Kentucky, late at night, I'd hear skidding as some young buck tried to bully his car up our snowy or icy hilly street. We'd giggle. Often, he'd have to park by the side of the road and wait for a friend to help in the AM. We'd giggle then too.

In Winnipeg, things are different. It does snow here, but statistically, not as much as parts of Ontario and upstate New York. First, there are few of the enormous dump truck plows that were common in upstate New York. Many of the plows seem to be heavy construction equipment, bright yellow things like Bob the builder with scoopers and bobcats with plows attached.

The first thing plowed -after- a storm (you don't see much plowing happening right in the midst of it), are main roads and bus routes. From our house, on a corner, you can see a main road on the left side of this photo. There's a parking ban overnight when clearing snow is a priority, and a website that details what will be done and when.

Next, secondary streets in residential areas and back lanes (alleys behind houses) are done. By the time the secondary plowing happens here, it's hard to get the streets 'clean.' Apparently, the standard is a packed snow surface. If you look at this photo, (embiggen it to see this clearly), you can see Dorchester St., a side road. It's entirely snow covered all the time now. This packed snow surface is fine if there is no icing. Of course, there's ice in winter, and due to our gloopy mild conditions last weekend, we've got a skating rink, covered by a bit of snow!

Concurrent with this, sidewalks are plowed by little bobcat construction equipment. The areas near bus stops are done frequently, and we have a bus stop right by our house. Sally the dog hates this bobcat, which beeps as it backs up right near our living room, so I know they are plowing when I hear beeping and Sally loses her mind with barking!

Sidewalks in the residential neighborhoods are plowed later, and the first day or two after a storm can be hard going on a dog walk. The professor and I often shovel our sidewalk and that of an elderly neighbor's out of habit when we're doing our front walk...often a day before the city plows come by. It helps commuters get to the bus stop a little, too. (it's the only place we've been where sidewalks were plowed!)

Meanwhile, great mounds of snow build up on street corners. These mounds are removed every now and again to snow removal sites around the city. The one we pass most frequently looks like it's being built into an enormously steep ski slope. It reminds me of Buffalo Street in Ithaca or the San Francisco streets. I can only figure this is the public work's equivalent of art, since there's no reason to build a snow hill so high on the -flat- prairie except as a landmark!

At first, I was surprised here at how snow was cleared. It seemed, well, substantially less clear on the streets than I was used to before. However, there are no hills really (aside from weird snow hills!) to worry over. A skid here might be dangerous, and you might run into a car or a telephone pole. You might end up in a ditch. You will likely not end up a** over teakettle careening down an enormous hill to your death. Unlike in Ithaca, there are no gorges with running water to fall into, and the rivers are, for the most part, frozen solid.

Salt doesn't work here; it's just too cold. Sand is put down occasionally, but not that often. Mostly, people are expected to know how to drive in winter, or they walk or take the bus instead. All weather or winter tires are the norm. Anti-lock brakes, all wheel drive and seatbelts--these are important things to have in the winter!

Native Winnipeggers just expect that this is the way side roads will be--snow covered- in the wintertime. To quote a friend: "That's winter time driving for you." I met a few folks from southern Ontario's snowbelt regions who nod knowingly when I say there is less snow here than I experienced in Buffalo. However, I'm still new here and I'm sure there's more for me to discover about how and why the snow removal works this way. I'm still curious about it. (The professor thinks there is a snow removal union, and it prevents plowing snow on holidays, weekends, evenings, or during storms. He may be right!)

Handling winter-and snow-is always interesting to me. It turns out that one makes assumptions about lots of things. How snow plowing works, how things are packaged in the grocery store, how the postal system works--and none of these assumptions are quite right when you switch countries! Everything's just a bit different. Makes life stimulating!

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Blogger Alison said...

We had a memorable Thanksgiving in New Hampshire where we were expecting guests, but the town decided to cut down on both overtime pay for the plow drivers and accidents in those 12" we got overnight--so they plowed the main highway and nothing else at all. You were where you were and that was that.

Sounds like your town's doing better than that.

--AlisonH at

January 31, 2010 at 8:51 PM  
Blogger cyndy said...

Oh my.

Here is wishing you a slow melt!

February 2, 2010 at 9:06 AM  
Blogger Cynthia said...

Interesting to think about. We moved from Minnesota to Oklahoma eight years ago and are still coming to terms with the snow (and especially ice) removal plan here: It Gets Warm. Because usually, it does. If it doesn't, though, the whole town shuts down. Crazy.

February 3, 2010 at 5:42 AM  

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