Tag Archives: chinooks

The Only Good Thing About Snow

Creative Commons--Ian Britton

I grew up in Alberta, which meant real winter. We had winter in the winter, we had winter in the fall. Sometimes we had winter  in the spring…almost always and we even had some winter on a rare occasion in summer.

Winter was cold and snowy. Sometimes winter was deep, with a windchill factor of -40 or -60. In most cases we still trudged to school, wrapped thicker than the Michelin tire man and the Pillsbury dough boy put together. When I was little I was perennially late for school and exhausted from dragging my little self through all the snow. Snow was evil, snow was cold. Winter was no fun and sometimes my nostrils would free shut while walking and a crusty layer of ice would form on a scarf, or worse, the balaclava we wore over our faces. You know the ones; bank robbers favor them now.

The indignities of snow and winter meant fashion nightmare even before I was old enough to really care about fashion. But no kid wanted to wear the geeky balaclavas. In our house, two of our bedrooms were in the basement, mostly below ground, where the furnace somehow didn’t send any heat. And the floors were cold linoleum on cold concrete, in a city where the ground freezes in the winter. But we were lucky in Calgary, compared to Edmonton, because we got chinooks, which is when a warm front moves through, turning the clouds into a chinook arch, and brining a reprieve with melting snow.

When I was about six I remember my older siblings building an igloo in the back yard. We had enough snow for it and I think it was only about three feet high but they were cutting blocks of snow and then pouring cold water on it to freeze. I remember an igloo shape; whether it truly was or just an open fort I don’t really know.

But the only good thing about snow, as far as I was concerned, was that very first snowfall of the year. Calgary is dry so the snow would be dry and big and flaky. It would drift out of the dark sky falling like powder over the ground. The best was at night, if I was up at my friend’s and I got to walk home late. The snowfall, usually enough to carpet everything was like diamonds under the street light. It of course warmed everything up and it sparkled and glinted. The virgin fall would be untread by cars or footprints and I would be walking through a new landscape. Everything was muffled in this snowy white blanket. Any car or dog, always heard in the far distance, was far far away and very faint. I felt like I was the only one in all the world and it was so tranquil. I loved that aspect of snow.

But these days, as I did then, I believe that snow should stay in the mountains where it belongs and where it is of use. Vancouver’s snow is wet and moist, sticky and damp. It soaks through everything and you can’t get traction for yourself or your vehicle. I especially hate it here because of that and because we’re in a climate that isn’t supposed to get snow. So I will always vote for no snow but remember those tranquil evenings when the first snowfall was magical, before it turned to slush.

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Winter Wonderland

I hate winter. I’m a bonafide cold wimp and left Calgary many years ago, partly to escape hideous winter, and we had chinooks to temper the bluster of the icy season. When I was in art college, doing photography, I’d go shooting in the winter until the oil in my camera froze up. Those days, I’d get so cold that it felt like my bone marrow had frozen. There was this deep aching, numbing feeling in my limbs and the only thing that would alleviate it would be immersing myself in a very hot bath.

I’ve become more constitutionally delicate with cold, and sometimes can suffer from Raynaud’s Phenomenon, which causes the extremities to go through white, red and blood in coloration. It’s numbing and can feel like someone shoving needles into my hands. Luckily I don’t suffer it often but cold is a factor. So forgive me if I hate winter.

Yesterday, in Vancouver it was icy cold and clear. We’d had a small snowfall on Saturday (where I went no further than my neighbor’s) but the roads were clear and dry. All the foliage, of which Vancouver still has plenty of in winter, was a dark, crisp green. Just like the fridge when the temperature is set too cold and all the vegetables freeze into organic sculptures. There were many of those sculptures: the somewhat slumped and crunchy looking ivy, the ferns in perfect emerald stillness, the trees (rhodos) with drooped and pale leaves. You just know that when the weather warms we’re going to have a lot of sludgy slime.

But that’s just it. When the weather warms… Alas, predictions say cold till Christmas and maybe a bitter January and February. What? This is Vancouver, a coastal rainforest, temperate, not too hot in summer, not too cold in winter. Usually only a day or two of frost but not freezing temperatures and snow. I’m wearing snow boots that give me blisters in minutes but at least I have a grip and won’t crash onto the ground, which happened two years ago, injuring my shoulder.

Gah! It’s -2 right now and snowing and snowing and snowing. What happened? Whoever’s weather we’re getting I wish they’d come and reclaim it. There is supposed to be more snow on Sunday. Sob** Vancouver snow is worse than Calgary’s ever was. In Calgary it fell dry and sparkly. My only favorite snow memory was always the first snowfall, when the city was blanketed in diamonds under the streetlight. The world was muffled in white silence and usually I could hear a distant dog bark or maybe a car. In the evening, (as a teenager) walking through it from my friend’s to my place, it would feel like I was the only person in the world, no other footprints yet marring the surface.

That was a good memory and even if the snow stayed, it was crunchy and you could get a grip on it, whether in boots or a car, and you could build snowmen and igloos (Yes, we built an igloo once, how fun was that?). Vancouver on the other hand, has the majority of drivers not used to driving in snow. And our cars don’t have snow tires. And the snow becomes this wet sludge that melts through the most waterproof boots and is slippery for any sort of tires. I hate it, a lot.

More worrisome than my whining is the fact that we’re getting this weather. It’s unusual, but not as much as it used to be. There is more snow and more freezing temperatures. That could cause a problem to the ecosystem with flora and fauna that are not used to surviving in such weather. I wonder what the birds do and I can tell you I haven’t seen any in the past few days. Not the murder of crows that always goes east to roost in the evening, not the ubiquitous sky rats, seagulls.

Many of the cats are staying indoors over the past few days, just like the humans. Many Vancouver homes tend not to have basements, or not ones that go below ground. Our water table is too high. This also means that most homes don’t have plumbing that runs that deep beneath the ground. We always have to worry about freezing temperatures and pipes freezing or bursting. Just like the ice toppling that gondola tower at Whistler, because water froze and expanded. We have a lot of water here, as rain, as constant moisture, which gives us those green winters.

There have been years that I saw cherry blossoms on New Year’s day. Those have also been unusual but not as much as this winter wonderland. Mostly I wonder why we’re having this winter. I hate snow and cold, a lot.

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