Wanderings – How are we this unprepared for winter?

It’s winter. Winter has arrived and with it my second least favourite four letter word in the English language – Snow. S-n-o-w! Snow arrived two weeks too late to be useful for the Christmas holidays, and now it has descended upon us like a cold, oppressive, glaring blanket.

This weekend, about four-to-six inches of snow fell Saturday to Sunday. Wet, heavy, snow. The kind that makes shovelling even half of your driveway a daunting task. Great for snowballs if you are throwing, not so good if you are on the receiving end. I, like most hardy and complaining Canadians, was ready for the season with two shovels, a bag of non-salt ice melt, and winter tires dutifully installed on all the vehicles. But I must not be normal.

A trek down the highway Sunday was calamity-filled. A normally 35 minute drive took an hour due to road conditions. Vehicles were in the ditch. More were swerving and slipping around on the highway. I exited the highway near my destination to take the back roads. Even those were a challenge. My return trek took slightly less time that afternoon, but there was little improvement to everyone’s situation.

What struck me as I drove was how unprepared, or maybe it’s ill-prepared, we are when it comes to clearing the roads. This is Canada. With all the modern technology and science, why can’t roads be cleared better?

Don’t take this as an attack on those who do the actual snow clearing work. I know a few snowplow drivers and have had the opportunity to be a passenger in a snow plow – it’s hard work. The hours suck. The conditions are not ideal. It takes serious driving skill and focus to drive one of those behemoths. And those drivers work when they are scheduled. My issues are with those who do the scheduling and buy the equipment.

A few years back, I was driving in a similar storm on a family trip. Crossing the bridge to New York State was really like crossing into another land. Same snow conditions, but the pavement was devoid of all snow. The roads were wet but there was not a trace of snow on them. What are they doing that we are not? More plows and drivers on the main routes for two things.

Yes, people and trucks cost money. So too does towing bills, car repairs, and hospital visits from a motor vehicle collision.

Police and civic officials warn people to not go out and travel during a snow storm. This used to be during those once-a-year winter wallop storms that dump 12-15 inches on you in half a day. Now the roads are dusted with an inch of snow and the Chicken Littles of officialdom tell you to stay home with your provisions. Don’t dare go out to take your kids to their sports programs or activities, or get said provisions because most people do those things on weekends. There are only so many hours in a day and so many days in a week.

A forecast of freezing rain or the possibility of snow results in cancelled school buses and calls for people to “take it easy on the roads” or “don’t go to work today.” Who can afford that? There must be some magic bank of paid snow days off that I don’t know about.

We live in a northern climate. It snows in Canada. Newsflash-that-isn’t-a-newsflash – it has snowed in Canada since before Canada existed. Every year millions of Canadians lose their minds when the first flakes of snow hit the ground and they forget how to drive in the snow. There is a sudden rush at garages to install snow tires or fuddle-duddles saying snow tires are just hype. Check the calendar, and prepare for winter.

Knowing that it snows and the temperature dips lower than a certain Prime Minister’s popularity numbers, why can’t we collectively figure out how to deal with winter road conditions? Other countries have. In Denmark people still ride their bikes in the snow. In Finland they have outdoor soccer matches in the cold and snow. Meanwhile we cannot get from Point A to Point B without veering through a few ditches.

Surely the science and technology exists to clear the roads better? Or is this really just a people issue and those in charge need to plan better, and budget better to ensure that people don’t have to hunker down for days on end when the snow flies? Spring can’t come soon enough.

This column was originally published in the January 10, 2024 print edition of The Morrisburg Leader.