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If it doesn’t rain all night, we are in trouble

January 5th, 2009 · 22 Comments

Just got back (near midnight at this point) from several of hours of driving around the main streets in Vancouver. Don’t ask. Clearly an act of insanity, but the point is that I’ve been on the road for several hours since the snow started falling around 5 p.m.

The streets were and are at the worst ever, since there now seems to be a layer of very rough and patchy compacted ice on all the main arteries. It stays even after the ploughs go by, which I don’t understand since the main streets throughout Vancouver and Burnaby were generally really good the last three weeks, even if everything else still looked like a 19th-century Siberian village.

I’d love to know what the scene was like in the various engineering departments tonight, since my understanding is they were all preparing for flooding after the weather forecasts said rain and +7 degrees. (Speaking of which, why is everyone dumping on the snow-ploughing efforts around the city? What about those meteorologists who keep predicting rain and then are off by several degrees?) It must have been a fun job, calling everyone to start ploughing again.

And it doesn’t seem to be doing much good, as I said. Just when it looked like the end was in sight, too. I actually spotted a plough on a side street, in Strathcona, clearing Keefer but leaving huge piles of slushy snow to the side where the cars were parked and even blocking streets feeding into Keefer. You can’t win.

Anyway, as I said in my headline, if there isn’t enough rain overnight to melt those rough patches, it’ll be a disaster in the morning. They make driving very erratic, since your wheels will sometimes catch bare pavement but sometimes not. As well, even though I’ve been able to make it up my sidestreet the last 24 days or whatever, I no longer can. There’s so much snow that by the time I get halfway up, I’ve ploughed myself a little snow barrier that prevents me from going any further. So here’s hoping for some rain between now and 7 tomorrow morning.

For all of you who are wondering what the city of Vancouver’s post-mortem on this is likely to be, I’ve been told that, yes, there will be a review by the engineering department, which happens any time there’s a major engineering event (floods, trees down, etc.) but no, there won’t be a Royal Commission or a Blue Ribbon Panel to analyze the problem. (My snide wording, not theirs.)

One more thought on the snow situation from the irrepressible Jonathan Baker, former city councillor, former planner, now a lawyer who handles a lot of legal cases involving cities. He has a long, long memory and this is what he reminded me of in a message today.

I know that everybody at City Hall writes reports and nobody reads them, but it would be interesting to dig out a report that had been prepared by the City Engineer, Bill Curtis, back in the early seventies. The City Engineers had prepared a graph of snow fall going back as far as records allowed and showed that snow cycles occurred with sine wave regularity over twelve year intervals.

Curtis, who was one of the most brilliant people and certainly the best civil servant I ever met, accordingly timed the sale and acquisition of equipment based on the cycle and over that particular period proved to be right. That was a time when it was a considered a certainty that global cooling was the thing of the f uture and it would not surprise me if City Hall, with its global warming plan may have ignored climate cycles and discounted the likelihood that old fashioned snow falls like this one would ever occur.

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