by Dale Burgos
Snow in Nanaimo, B.C., February 2019
This past winter was interesting, to say the least. Loads of snow fell across the country and temperatures dipped very low for so long. I bet you’re pretty happy that it’s now spring – I know I am.
I was visiting Winnipeg when it dipped to a -50C wind chill back in late January. Sure it was cold, but once you get past -25C, does it really make a difference? Growing up in Winnipeg, I didn’t notice the difference. Besides, it’s easy to add layers to stay warm.
I was in Winnipeg meeting with other public relations folks who came from Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. They held no punches in talking about how cold it was and questioned why people would choose to live in such a harsh climate. I quickly came to the defense of River City, as this was my home for almost 40 years. I gushed about the 100,000 lakes, affordable housing, Winnipeg Jets and, of course, the friendly people. For most of the group, it was their first time visiting Winnipeg, so I took up the role of tour guide. We went to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, The Forks, the college in St. Boniface, and a variety of other places downtown. It didn’t take them long to realize that Winnipeg has a lot to offer. I quite enjoyed my short visit and was reminded why I love this great city so much.
It’s easy to write about the cold and snow now, as the worst has now passed. The -53C in January was a bit of a shocker. February snowfall was more than three times the normal levels. Yet, this is what separates Winnipeggers from the rest of the country. Schools in the city were not closed, city services remained open and it was business as usual. Put these conditions anywhere else, and it would be total chaos and hysteria.
When I flew back home to Nanaimo, I experienced a difference in temperature of over 45 degrees. Sure I was relieved to have left the cold behind, but I couldn’t help but think, what if the west coast experienced the same temps and snowfall amounts that is commonplace in the prairies. Here’s what I have observed in my four years living here.
- First, there is widespread panic. When temps hit below zero (and I’m talking -1 to -5C) people start wearing Canada Goose-type coats. Sales for North Face and Sorel boots rise dramatically. People are covered head to toe. For me, this is still warm! I wear shorts to the gym in the mornings. People look at me in horror when I walk in and out of the gym. Some yell that I am not human. I don’t argue with them, I let them think I am some sort of superhuman. Little do they know, -1 in Winnipeg is shorts weather.
- At 1 to 5 cm of snowfall, people question if they should leave the house. Store shelves run out of water and basic supplies.
- People install studded tires on their vehicles. Yes, the ones with metal spikes that protrude from the rubber. Some also drive with chains. Granted, it is much more hilly here than the prairies, but can you imagine someone driving with chains on their tires in Winnipeg? They would be laughed at and chased out of town.
- Parents demand that schools be shut down, even if there is only a thin layer of snow on the ground. Once again, in their defence, the snow is wet and mushy, so it makes for a difficult drive especially on the very steep streets you find across the coast. When it snows, it becomes one of the most engaging times for someone in my position. Let me put it this way: in just two days of snowfall, my school district social media accounts saw over 90,000 impressions on Twitter, showed up on 80,000 Facebook feeds and a video, in which my superintendent sang that schools were closed, garnered 50,000 views. True story.
Snowmageddon, as it was called, lasted only a few days. Snow piled up, but I easily shovelled it off to the side (still wearing shorts btw). I secretly enjoyed all the snow. The only downside? My calla lilies were already in bloom (normal for February) and did not survive the snow and frost. I know what you’re thinking: “the horror!”
Enjoy the thrill of a Manitoba spring. I sure miss it.
Dale manages the communications department for a school district in B.C.