Thursday, February 29, 2024

It Has Been a Strange Winter…Be Safe!

This winter season has been a mixed bag of unseasonably warm temperatures with a burst of traditional winter weather here and there. While some might be loving the warmer than normal winter, with less snow than we are accustomed to, the fluctuations in weather and temperature present problems, frustrations, and even dangers.

On my walk to the office on Monday morning, as I crossed the Trowbridge Street bridge, I noticed a lone person out on the ice, where just days prior it had been open water, squatting on a stool, with an ice fishing rod in his hand and his line down a hole cut in the ice. I immediately had two thoughts: first it was nice to see ice fishing for the first time this winter, and second, can that ice be thick enough to be safe?

Given that our winter has been unseasonably warm until the recent week-ish long cold snap that finally brought temperatures well below zero and also brought us a thick layer of snow on the ground, however with temperatures beginning to rise on Monday morning, I was indeed concerned about seeing anyone out on the ice. To be clear, the ice could very well have been the four inches thick that is recommended to support humans, but I had my doubts, and for the remainder of my walk to the office, I thought about the lone man out on the ice.

Obviously the man I saw fishing on the ice on Monday morning was perfectly fine, and on my walk home that day, I took note of his tracks in the snow that lay atop the ice heading toward shore.

Every winter season brings with it a number of potential dangers. I think particularly in a winter such as the one we have been experiencing this year, with temperatures mostly above zero and little in the way of snowfall, with occasional blasts of winter weather lasting a week or so before returning to unseasonably balmy temperatures, it can bring additional dangers as we can easily become complacent.

In spite of the unseasonably warm week we have been experiencing, with February on the way we will most certainly see the return of stormy winter weather, so it is perhaps a good time to remind everyone to be safe. Safe on our roads, safe on our local trails, safe on bodies of water; without a long period of deep cold, ice on lakes and ponds might not be safe for ice fishing, or snowmobiling.

As I wrote in my 3Rs…Rants, Raves & Rumours column in our print newspaper in November, our Canadian winters are both beautiful and dangerous.

While a fresh snowfall can be beautiful to behold, it also brings with it potential danger for motorists and pedestrians as we all travel from home to work, or to the grocery store, so it is important at this time of year, as the winter weather has finally arrived, to remember winter safety. It is the time of year to slow down on the roads, to leave a little early in order to still arrive on time while respecting the road conditions. It is time, if you haven’t already, to get winter tires installed on your car, to toss an emergency kit into the trunk in case the worst happens.”

It is also a good time to remind motorists to ensure that when it does snow, they clear the snow from their vehicles, all of it, including the roof of your vehicle, before heading out on the roads. A vehicle piled with snow is a hazard to other motorists as that snow is bound to blow back onto the windshields of vehicles behind, which has the potential to cause a collision. Worse still can be ice breaking free from the roof of a vehicle, and slamming into a windshield behind. Don’t be lazy, respect other motorists, and clear all of the dang snow from your vehicle.

The dangers posed by the winter months aren’t limited to vehicles of course. It is important to remind our kids to stay away from riverbanks, to watch for vehicles that might be invisible due to a snowbank blocking their view, and to not give into the temptation to tunnel into those snowbanks to make forts as so many of my generation used to do in the 1970s.

While it might be a fun way to pass the time on a snowy January day, snow forts and tunnels dug into snowbanks can and have collapsed, and there have been fatalities, so it is certainly wise to remind children (and yes, even teenagers) to resist the urge.

When I was a young boy in the 1970s, there was much less emphasis on safety at any time of year, not just in winter. My generation seemed to love to flirt with danger, and a look back at photographs of playgrounds in the 196os and ’70s can tell that story well. As time has gone on, our society has become more concerned about safety, more aware of liability, and we have generally become more inclined to play it safe over the winter months, and to avoid taking any unnecessary risks.

On the brighter side, this unseasonably warm winter has some benefits. The higher than normal temperatures mean it will cost many of us less to heat our homes this winter, and the lower than typical snowfall should mean some savings at the municipal office with less snow to plow than in more typical winter seasons. Then again, as my Russian colleagues used to joke 20 years ago, when I was in spending much of my time in Chelyabinsk, the gateway to Siberia in the middle of winter, “When there is snow, there are no potholes”.

Though we are in a sort of January thaw this week, there is plenty of winter left to come, and we are sure to see the return of double digits below zero, with piles of snow surrounding us, so everyone, be prepared, be smart, and be safe.

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