Vancouver got the first snowfall of winter the other day, and since this is Vancouver we are talking about, it could very well be its last snowfall of the winter as well.
I have always liked snow. Living in the Caribbean made me appreciate it, especially at Christmas time.
I don’t like Vancouver’s rainy weather, and I get delighted when the snow hits, because on top of a winter wonderland, I get some fantastic entertainment: watching Vancouver deal with snow.
Vancouver doesn’t get snow often, so when it arrives the entire city goes into a full scale panic.
December 18, 2012 — A snowfall warning has been issued for the southern coastal region of BC as a strong frontal system arrives tonight.
Scattered precipitation will fall over the area today and become widespread this evening as the system approaches.
“It’s all elevation dependent” says Brian Dillon, a meteorologist with The Weather Network. “Areas of Vancouver close to the harbour should receive less than 2 cm of snow but if you move 100 m above the city you could see up to 5 cm.”
That’s right. Snowfall warnings are issued for what many parts of the country would consider flurries.
And with good reason, because this city can’t handle even a few centimetres of snow.
If snow fell in the heart of the Caribbean tomorrow, I don’t think the startled inhabitants could deal with it more poorly than Vancouverites do.
Buses crash, and routes on steep hills are just cancelled. People call in to work, or let their puppies die rather than risk the roads. Others fishtail their SUVs like a teenager on a winter joyride. No one clears the top of their car.
Major routes don’t get ploughed for a day or more, and subdivisions never get ploughed. Seriously, we had a big snow fall that didn’t melt for three weeks back in 2008, and my alley and cul-de-sac were NEVER PLOUGHED, not even two weeks after the snow originally fell.
Bike lanes get ploughed though. That’s IMPORTANT.
The city just isn’t prepared for snow, even though they get it every year. It’s the little things, like the fact that most people don’t own shovels, or even scrapers for their cars.
And you don’t see snow related signs – nothing telling people not to park on the road in snow, so people park anyway and ploughs can’t get through. They don’t even have that yellow sign with the picture of a car that, when I was growing up, I thought was wearing flippers.
I was driving PH to work in the snow one day and just as we got on the Ironworker’s Bridge I observed, “you know how most places have big yellow signs that say “bridge freezes before road”? I never see signs like that here.”
“You’re right,” said PH, “I don’t think I’ve seen one of those since we moved out here.”
“I wonder if people here know that bridges freeze easier than roads?” I said.
“Probably not. The only reason WE know it is because we had big yellow signs telling us so every time we crossed a bridge our whole lives.”
Well, apparently not only to Vancouverites not know this, but even Vancouver bridge designers don’t know it. The brand new, World Record Breaking, 2.4 million dollar Port Mann Bridge, which only opened a couple of weeks ago, immediately started dropping enormous, murderous icicles, dubbed “Ice Bombs” onto cars, smashing wind shields, knocking off side mirrors, and crashing through sun roofs. They had to close the bridge before it killed someone.
I can’t understand why a Canadian city that hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics continues to think of snow as something that happens to other people.
The best part is that when you encounter minds who don’t have the same basic knowledge background as you, it can be fascinating to observe new forms of logic that never would have occurred to you, like the way kids decide that fog is for eating or that milk should be stored in your shoe.
The way Vancouver deals with snow seems so bizarre to me, but maybe it is actually creative genius.
Things I Have Learned About Dealing With Snow In Vancouver
1. Don’t Shovel If Snow Is Still Falling. Wait Until Tomorrow, Instead.
I got this piece of advice from my boss when I worked for the service dog charity. Vancouver was being hit with a proper blizzard, and a good 5-6 cm of snow fell within the course of a morning. So after a while I broke out a shovel and began to get that stuff off of our driveway. But my boss told me not to bother, since snow was still falling, and we would just have to shovel again later.
This struck me as being like saying “don’t bother to wash the dishes, they’ll just get dirty again,” but I put away my shovel.
By the next day, the snow was nearly 30 cm deep, and people were discovering that 30 cm of snow is a lot harder to shovel than 6 cm of snow, particularly when it has been packed down by a succession of cars going in and out. For the next three weeks, the snow on our driveway and parking lot got increasingly packed down and icy, and disabled people were basically unable to get to our facility, and able bodied people had to park up the road.
But on the bright side, I never had to shovel all that snow.
2. Why Shovel When You Can Just Melt It?
My friend’s neighbour had a brainwave a few years ago. She saw him using his hose to melt the snow on his driveway, thus clearing it away without even having to buy a shovel! Genius!
The next day she saw the same neighbour skidding on his slippery, black driveway. Shame. But hey, the snow was gone!
3. When You Drive Up A Hill In Snow, Stop Frequently, Then Gun It.
When I go up a hill in snow, I try to maintain a steady pace, and apply both the brake and the gas as gently and minimally as possible. If necessary I will skirt around a stuck car rather than stop and wait for them to get themselves going again.
Vancouverites don’t like my method. The preferred strategy for going uphill in snow involves a lot of starting and stopping. The drivers crawl up the hill at a snails pace, and if they start to gain momentum they panic and put on the brakes. Once safely brought to a standstill, they then try to get going again on the hill, and the accepted method is to really floor it, so that your four wheel drive SUV fishtails all over the road.
But the important thing is that it MOVES.
4. Ride Your Brakes Going Downhill
I drive an automatic. I have always driven automatics. I drive with my car in “drive”, even though there are other gears, like neutral, and L and 1. I never use those, ever. Except in one situation: GOING DOWNHILL IN SNOW.
In fact, I have always assumed that the only reason those gear options exist are for when I am on a hill, in snow.
But in Vancouver, using those gears must be considered sissified. NO, the real way to go down a mountain (because we have MOUNTAINS here) is with your foot on the brake all the way down.
If you don’t have your foot on the brake, you clearly don’t have control over your car, and that would be dangerous. Tsk.
Like I say, Vancouver in snow has a lot of entertainment value, so if I’m ever killed by an out of control winter driver, you can at least know that I died with a smirk on my face.