When snow doesn’t melt away like snow

A post by Chris RowanWhen 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.

Ploughed snow pushing against a fence. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2011.

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.

Where the snow cleared from Hyde Park ended up. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2011

Another view of the anthropogenic snow piles. Photo: Chris Rowan, 2011.

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.

An erratic in the making. Photo: Chris Rowan 2011.

Presumably, this is more a case of the redistribution of snow not working to everyone's advantage... Photo: Chris Rowan, 2011.

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?

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Comments (7)

  1. Eamon Knight says:

    “Wellies” = “gum boots” or just “rubber boots”.
    When I was a kid growing up in Toronto, we used to get a kick out of playing on the huge snow piles left in the parking lot of the local mall. Once we even found a Volkswagen buried in there! (No, really!)

  2. Dan McShane says:

    You have had a great welcome to Chicago. Enjoyed the post. I am sure you will learn a great deal watching these piles melt.

  3. Jude says:

    I had this same experience when I went to grad school in Iowa. In Colorado, snow melts between storms (at least around 5200′). Moving to Iowa, where it might look warm, but usually was freezing, was depressing. The snow didn’t melt until spring. Last week was cold, but now we’re having our annual February thaw. Tomorrow I might just wear shorts. I assume it’s a matter of latitude.

  4. Dana Hunter says:

    Rainboots. Around the turn of the 20th century, they were called “rubbers,” but that’s obviously not something you want to ask for in a department store these days. 😉

  5. Dana Hunter says:

    Actually, taking a second look at those snow piles… if it thaws fast, you’d probably best ask for hip waders instead.

  6. Annemarie says:

    The main snow dump in Ottawa a few years ago, when they got over 4 metres of snow:

    In a normal winter, it doesn’t melt until half way through July. They’ve found cars in there. And wellies are aka as rainboots. My dad calls them galoshes, but that’s probably a Canadian word. 🙂

  7. Evelyn says:

    Best of luck with all the snow!

    The South African recycling system also mystified me at first. While I’m skeptical that *all* recycling is noble and worthwhile, like a good American liberal I have been trained to automatically separate out and clean recyclables. The first time I visited my boyfriend (now my fiance) in South Africa, I carefully washed out several bottles and a can and placed them next to the trash can since I didn’t see an obvious recycling bin. When he came home from university, my boyfriend laughed at me and said, “Why did you do that? That’s the bergies’ job!”

    Sure enough, I looked out the next day and bergies were pulling the bottles and other useful items out of the trash. Rather than bring old-but-still-useful things to charity, we usually leave our old shoes, clothes, books, etc. next to the trash can. The bergies pick them up pretty quickly.

    We’ve just moved to Pinelands, a fancier part of the city that actually has limited formal recycling. And fewer bergies, so maybe that’s why.

    For those of you not familiar with the term, “bergie” is a term used in Cape Town, South Africa to refer to a homeless street person. I feel that it is a little derogatory, but it is used often by Capetonians.