Yes, Normal Weather IS a Crisis

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CC BY 1.0. The view from my window in normal weather/ Lloyd Alter

We have become so used to abnormal weather that we can't cope anymore.

In a post on TreeHugger, Katherine Martinko writes that "we've become a society of wimps when it comes to facing the Great Outdoors, this despite being better equipped than ever to handle it." She complains that "the last thing we should be doing is discouraging anyone from going outside – but that's precisely what's going to happen when 'normal winter weather is treated like a crisis.'"

sidewalk in Toronto

Sidewalk in Toronto/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0I am going to disagree with my co-writer. It IS a crisis. It is a failure. There are people trapped in their houses because cities have decided not to spend money on shovelling the part of the road allowance dedicated to people who walk, while the adjacent road allowance dedicated to people who drive is cleared within hours.

St. George bike lane

University of Toronto bike lane/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

And as for people like me who bike, forget about it. Because the city no longer wants to pay for removing snow, they just push it off the sidewalks and the pavement into the parking lane, and the cars take over the bike lane. The assumption is that the snow will melt, so why bother paying to shovel it up?

And according to our favorite still-employed Police Enforcement Officer in the bike lanes, that's policy.

And people who take the train? 182 passengers on the Amtrak Coast Starlight out of Seattle were trapped for 37 hours, two nights, after the tracks were blocked by snow and fallen trees. Railways used to have giant plows ready for events like this and could respond quickly. But nobody wants to invest in that kind of infrastructure anymore.

Katherine complains that "in the past two months, my kids' school has had 11 snow days when school buses are canceled" and that twice this winter the schools have been closed because of inclement weather. But that too is a function of investment, where governments and school boards have closed small schools that are within walking distance and consolidated them into larger ones that require extensive bus networks.

And all those people stuck on the highway? They are all commuting from Sprawlville to their jobs in the city. Years ago people understood that if you live an hour north from the city in what was then known as the snowbelt, having a job that far away was dicey in winter. But nobody thinks about that anymore.

This "normal" weather is a crisis because it has become abnormal. We refuse to invest in resilience and infrastructure to deal with climate change or the extremes of weather that are caused by it, and then we are incapable of coping when we get some "normal" snow.

There is an old saw that we use on TreeHugger a lot: "There is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing." But there is also unsuitable urban planning, unsuitable transportation choices, unsuitable tax and investment policies, and unsuitable decision making that keeps us in this mess. And it is just going to get worse.