Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Sleet day?!?

Alana called me at lunch. Her office closed because of the weather. It's around 35°F right now, and spitting. Due to the worry about freezing rain and/or sleet, they started closing schools and government offices.

It's really, really hard to believe that this state was founded by people born in Quebec...

This got me thinking about the number of times I got out of work or school due to the weather. In spite of some severe winter storms (and this in Southern Ontario, which doesn't get it near as bad as the rest of Canada), I remember only three "snow days".

My high school, McLaughlin Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Oshawa, closed once the entire five years I was there. (No, I was not held back a year! When I went to school you could attend high school for four years and get a general high school diploma, or you could go for five years and get the general after four and the honours high school diploma after the fifth year.) The one time they closed the school was in March of Grade 12 or Grade 13, I can't remember which. And, in fact, they didn't close the school. Our principal, in his infinite wisdom, kept the school open (the only one in the region; I hated you, Mr. Ridge) during a nasty freezing rain storm. We're talking layers of snow with a quarter inch thick crust of ice on them. My Mom apologized for not making me stay home at lunch. We got out a half an hour early, but all the other schools closed at lunch time.

For the record, as a kid I loved walking on frozen snow. You could almost stand up on it before it cracked and you crashed through into the soft snow beneath it. Lots of fun. It wasn't as much fun when I got older and went cross country skiing with my Dad. Frozen snow was hell on the wax you put on the skis, and could give you some nasty snow burns.

The second time I remember was in first year university. I made the unfortunate decision of going to university in Waterloo, ON. No, I didn't go to Waterloo University. I went to the other school, Wilfrid Laurier University, famous for its business program (so of course I went there for physics and computing; go figure). The first year I was there it snowed very heavily one evening (at least 6 inches, possibly more than a foot). The story I heard was that someone at the school phoned the local radio stations saying that the school was closed. Very few people ventured out to class. I stayed in an on-campus residence. A bunch of us ended up playing touch football that afternoon. It's probably the best memory I have of a very lacklustre university career. (Okay, second best. I have a wonderful memory of several of us sitting around our apartment in second year just gabbing away. I sat in the door way of my friend Steve's room. I still look back fondly on that night.)

The third time was Friday, January 13, 1999. This is a famous day in Toronto history. It was the day the mayor asked people not to go to work, and the day he requested help from the military in clearing snow off the city's streets. A series of five snow storms hit the city from January 2 to January 15. The worst was January 2, but the one that affected Toronto the most was January 12. Toronto usually gets about 125 cm (about 4 feet) through the entire year. In 1999 the city had 118.4 cm (just under four feet) dumped on it in a two week period. There's usually blowing and evaporation that keeps the amount of snow on the ground at any one time well below that depth. At its worst (by memory, this would be January 13) there was over two feet of snow on the ground.

To understand the magnitude of this nastiness you have to understand that Toronto's downtown core was built in the horse and buggy era. There are many neighbourhoods where people don't have driveways. The house I lived in had a "parking pad". People park on the street in several large areas (and pay for the privilege). Many of those streets are only one lane wide when there are cars parked on them. So, imagine narrow streets with two feet of snow on them.

It took me four hours to drive 17 km (a little over 10 miles) the night of January 12. I was in no mood to go to work the next day, and the mayor pretty much told people not to do it anyway. He called the military in to help dig out the city, much to the laughter of most of the country. Some 80 residents of Prince Edward Island came to Toronto to help clear the snow. To put it into perspective, Toronto had a budget of C$32.2 million for snow clearing that year. In two weeks they spent C$70 million clearing the snow, and lost about C$2 million in parking fines.

Somewhere I have pictures of my next door neighbour digging out her front lawn. It looks like she built a white corridor leading to her house...

So, those are the only "snow days" I remember having lived in Southern Ontario for 35 years.

Today Monroe, Louisiana is shutting down because it's 35°F and there's a sprinkling of rain...


JAM said...

It doesn't surprise me that the schools closed. There are few things they can do for the roads in north Louisiana for a big snow, much less for ice. I remember sitting in class and hoping they would call off school.

There's a photography site I visit every day, by a gentleman who lives in Toronto. His site is called "Daily Dose Of Imagery" and mostly puts up photos from downtown Toronto on his daily commute and walks. He travels a lot, and lately has been putting up lots of photos of Italy.

If you aren't familiar with it, his site is here.

Don't go there until you have time to look for a while, he has a huge amount of photos there and you'll want to spend some time.

Allan Goodall said...

It doesn't surprise me that the schools closed. There are few things they can do for the roads in north Louisiana for a big snow, much less for ice.

What I found funny about it was the fact that there wasn't even any ice on the roads. There was just a threat that at some point in the day it might start to freeze that panicked everyone.

Mind you, it's not like they have a fleet of salt trucks available.

There's a photography site I visit every day, by a gentleman who lives in Toronto.

Thank you! I'll have to check it when I have the time, and when I'm not feeling prone to homesickness.