It snowed on Friday. Yes, snowed. In Toronto. In Canada. In February.
Every time a big snowstorm hits this city, we seem to have a little freak out. Here comes Snowmaggedon. Get ready for Snowpocalypse.
Exactly why is a bit of a mystery. This is a big city in a cold country. Despite all the hype, we usually cope pretty well in the end. So it was this time.
We had lots of warning the storm was coming – an Alberta clipper bringing cold air from the west colliding with a Texas low drawing moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. So, when it finally hit, city agencies were ready.
Transportation Services sent its 200 salting trucks out on Thursday evening, then deployed 600 plows overnight, starting about 5 a.m. downtown and 3 a.m. elsewhere. Three hundred sidewalk plows followed.
Of course, there were scores of fender-benders. On the highways, some off ramps were blocked by snow shouldered aside by the plows, leaving cars stranded. With the Eastern Seaboard getting thumped by the storm, Pearson was a mess and commuters ran into big delays on the eastbound subway in the evening rush. But, after all the plowing, driving in many parts of the city was not all that bad. Without all the careful preparation, it could have been much worse.
Like the Navy sending warships out to sea to ride out a hurricane, the Toronto Transit Commission parked its subway cars in their tunnels instead of the usual open yards Thursday night, making sure they would be ready to go in the morning. It sprayed deicing chemicals on the third rail of the subway tracks where they run in the open instead of through tunnels. It ran streetcars known romantically as “storm cars” over the tracks through the night to keep the switches from freezing.
When the rush hour got under way Friday morning, service was, all things considered, pretty good. The worst problems came from buses getting stuck going up slippery hills. On this day, at least, the TTC really was the better way.
“We’re doing fine so far,” said Denzil Minnan-Wong, chairman of the public works committee, at mid-afternoon. “I think people are over-torqued by snowfalls of this magnitude. Twenty-eight centimetres – what’s that, a foot of snow?”
He had a point. Even though this was the worst storm of its kind since 2008, dumping three centimetres of snow an hour at some points, then blowing it around, it was nothing like the 118 cm we got in January 1999. There was no need to call out the army this time.
Mel Lastman’s famous call to the Defence department earned us the enduring mockery of the rest of Canada. Just take a look at the hilarious mock-serious video Snow in Toronto from the Rick Mercer Report. To other Canadians, we are awful wimps, running screaming to the nearest Starbucks whenever we encounter a few flakes.
That is a little bit unfair. Plenty of people were out and about on Friday, including a man in a wheelchair who told CBC Radio he was taking to the streets despite the snow. My streetcar to work – slow, but making progress – was packed with commuters at 9:30 a.m. We passed at least half a dozen damn-the-torpedoes cyclists plowing along on bikes. For the most part, life went on. Most schools were open, most businesses functioning.
But quite a few people took the chance to grab a long weekend, too. Alarmist reports about the snowy horror persuaded many not to venture out at all. One broadcaster covering the storm on CP24 television told viewers simply: “Stay home.”
Stay home? Ditch work? In Canada’s commercial hub? Because of a foot of snow in midwinter? If that’s going to be our attitude, we deserve all the gibes that other Canadians throw at us.