When you move to a new country, it’s always interesting to observe the differences in how places work. Sometimes, a shared problem is solved in a completely different way (for example, the South African approach to separating out recyclable material from household rubbish); and sometimes, the problems your new city is struggling to overcome are hardly a problem at all in the place where you came from. Such is the case with Chicago’s recent encounter with epic snow. In total, about 25 inches have fallen on the city in the past two weeks or so, and since temperatures remained some way below freezing until this weekend, it has just stayed there (indeed, I think there’s been some snow on the ground continuously since before Christmas). This is a far different experience than back in my British homeland. Not only is there far less snow to start with, but a few days after a couple of inches has ground the country to a standstill, it also usually gets warm enough at some point of the days that follow to fairly quickly turn the snow to slush and melt it away. Thus we Brits are not faced with the problem that faced Chicago: what do you do with all the snow you’re clearing from the roads, paths, and car parks? You can only plough so much out of the way before you start risking real damage to the things you’re ploughing it against.
It’s also a very bad idea to dump snow into waterways, despite the inviting proximity of the shores of Lake Michigan: you’d be dumping a concentrated dose of pollutants at the same time. Chicago’s solution was to load the snow onto trucks, drive it to flat, empty spaces, and dump it there, creating new landscapes of snowy spoil. In Hyde Park, the designated dumping point was an empty lot a couple of blocks away from my flat.
Morphologically, these mounds look like a bizarro-world version of the moraines that form at the end of glaciers, where the rock debris that they grind off and pick up are redeposited as the ice melts. It is certainly true that like glaciers, mankind’s trucks and lorries are rather indiscriminate about what they are sweeping up and redepositing elsewhere. As well as the pollutants previously mentioned, you could see dirt, sand and grit – and even some much larger clasts – within these snow piles.
In the warmer temperatures we’re forecast for most of this week, these mounds, and the snow elsewhere, will finally start to melt away, which will bring on the next problem – negotiating the copious puddles that will result. Does anybody know the American for Wellington boots?