In speaking with our public works employees last week and after reading two reports summarizing the impact of the last winter, if I didn’t know it already, was quite the winter.
- It was colder than the 40 year average.
- There was more snow than the 40 year average.
- Based on the 5 year average, we budgeted for 23 weather events. There were 38.
- Calls for service from residents increased 500% over the previous year.
- The ice storm caused the most extensive tree-related damage in 30 years.
I like this comment in the report from forestry: “As it may have been noticed by many in the community, this winter was marked by heavy snowfalls and unrelenting cold, which factored into the ice storm response.”
The winter of 2013/2014 is not over – not from the perspective of our public works employees. It will take to November to finish all the work created by the ice storm. Sand and grit accumulation in catch basins is keeping the drainage crew busy to prevent flooding. And the winter has been very hard on our road surfaces and they require extensive patching.
I have written previously about the condition of our sidewalks during the winter: A sustainable city needs usable sidewalks even in the winter.
A key finding provided in one of the reports is that our “5 day service level standard for winter sidewalk maintenance resulted in our inability to clear sidewalks of ice following the December 22 2013 ice storm. As a result, residents had to traverse ice-covered sidewalks through the city for the duration of the winter.”
However, this is clearly a bigger issue than sidewalks.
As the reports note, climate change experts have put forward a credible case that municipalities need to plan for increased frequency and severity of storm events. Jason Thistlethwaite, Director, Climate Change Adaptation Project, when asked if this past winter was an anomaly replied – “No, this is the new normal”.
Our public works employees are on the front-line of responding to climate change.
Will there be a milder winter in our near future? Likely. But the trends are real. And we need to adapt.