Already blown through your winter operations budget? If so, take comfort in numbers.
We're halfway through the season of chills ‘n' thrills and unseasonably difficult weather has already drained resources nationwide. Don't think you're the only one dipping into other line items and reprioritizing service levels to make ends meet.
In mid-January, Des Moines, Iowa, Public Works Director Bill Stowe told National Public Radio (NPR) that he's already ordered two snow loadings, an operation he's rarely had to resort to, at about $500,000 a pop. His comments were echoed by colleagues in Kansas City, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Genessee, Wis.
Considering how universally inconvenient snow and ice are, you'd think there'd be more demand for research on how global warming (assuming it exists, which is a topic for another day) affects the length, frequency, and severity of winter events. But so far, water and wastewater are getting most of the attention.
Last month, experts from around the world gathered in Washington, D.C., to share best practices for adapting to climate-related challenges to water security and sustainability (visit www.waterclimateforum.org). No doubt they discussed the National Association of Clean Water Agencies/Association of the Metropolitan Water Agencies' 100-page analysis of the costs of various options, which was released last year. (Look for Confronting Climate Change: An Early Analysis of Water and Wastewater Adaptation Costs at www.nacwa.org or www.amwa.net.)
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has looked into reservoir rule curves in the western United States. The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy just released Planning for Climate Change in the West at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Seattle.
I haven't found as much research on how climate change affects winter weather trends. American Public Works Association Snow Show attendees say they're battling freezing rain more often, a conclusion supported by a 2007 Canadian study published by Copernicus GmbH on behalf of the European Geosciences Union. But I haven't been able to find anything else on the subject beyond the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Arctic Report Card, which, being global and extremely technical, isn't much help.
In Des Moines, Stowe consulted climatologists before requesting $3 million for winter operations, and was told to expect a relatively mild winter. But by the time NPR caught up with him, the city had been hit with 30 inches of snow — twice the usual amount by this time of year.
If the scientists who specialize in forecasting can't get a handle on what's going on, what hope do the rest of us have?