The March of Winter
It’s March 7 as I write this column. Here at my farm, Spiritwood, there is waist-high snow in our fields, and in the forest, snow depth is a metre or more.
With temperatures this morning of -17 and a wind chill of -27, anyone going outside requires good winter protection.
Enter Environment Canada senior climatologist Dave Phillips, who reminds us March is typically a snowy month.
Ottawa and the surrounding region typically get more than 40 centimetres of snow in March, he said during an interview with Robyn Bresnahan, host of the CBC radio program, Ottawa Morning. (bit.ly/2EFe2kT))
In fact, Phillips said, “If I was awarding the gold medal for winter misery, I think it would go to Ottawa. … In Ottawa you had 50 per cent more snow there than you’d normally get.”
So, although March transitions us towards spring, Phillips’ reminder regarding expectations of further snowfall is cautionary.
Many people are looking forward to spring – indeed, on Facebook, people are posting enthusiastically about the vernal equinox of March 20/21 as heralding warmer temperatures.
As well, there have been rumoured forecasts of a sudden spring. However, suddenly rising temperatures would likely produce serious problems with meltwater.
Be careful what we wish for
Here in the Pontiac region of Quebec, residents know all too well that sudden warming can precipitate all-too-real dangers of flooding.
In 2017 along the Ottawa River, mandatory evacuation of some properties was enforced when floodwaters rose. Water damage to buildings rendered some homes and businesses uninhabitable and some residents lost their homes.
That year’s flooding caused real human misery plus huge costs for already stretched municipal coffers. This proved true throughout municipalities bordering the river, where the list of problems seemed endless – and contentious issues remain ongoing. Some residents had to abandon their homes; in some places, Quebec Hydro was cut off, sometimes leaving sump pumps to the mercy of generators having to be filled; and damage to roads and infrastructure occurred. (For more examples of flooding issues at Municipality of Pontiac: bit.ly/2C7Dkrm)
In short? We need to be careful what we wish for regarding spring temperatures. Phillips cautions, “I think we want kind of a normal spring where we ease out of winter ... because of all the snow sitting on the ground.”
In consideration of the potential of flooding, what can residents and municipalities do to mitigate potential damage?
Easier asked than accomplished.
Although municipalities understand the importance of keeping drainage ditches alongside roads clear and free of obstruction, the task is endless. Nonetheless, although ditching costs a lot it continues to be done throughout MRC des Collines de l’Outaouais and MRC Pontiac. However, many residents think there’s not enough being done – and I’d wager we’re correct. Realistically speaking, costs limit the execution of what everyone thinks needs doing.
What can landowners do to help drainage? Digging a swale (shallow channel) or ditch on our own property can assist. Maintaining already-existing ditches on our own property is important, too, enabling meltwaters to drain into already existing watercourses, including municipal ditches. In this way we can try to prevent damage to our own homes, outbuildings, fields and gardens.
However, the problem with this solution is runoff from individuals’ land may cause municipal ditches to overflow.
Indeed, on some country backroads I have already discovered severe flooding because of overflowing ditches. And we still have this immense blanket of snow that will eventually melt.
Hoping for a slow melt
Therefore, whether we live in a city where storm drains can back up, or in the country where ditches can overflow, we need to mind Phillips’ suggestion: hope for a slow melt of our extremely deep snow cover.
Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer, author, and visual artist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and view her art at facebook.com/KatharineFletcherArtist/