After being battered by winter in Nova Scotia last year, Cape Breton municipalities are hoping for a break — and the island's public works department thinks it just may get one.
Municipal and provincial officials met recently with representatives of Nova Scotia Power and, perhaps most important, Environment Canada, to talk about the kind of winter we might expect.
John Phalen, the Cape Breton Regional Municipality's manager of public works for east division, says there's promising news about this season's El Niño weather phenomenon.
"Basically, we haven't seen conditions of El Niño like this since 1998," Phalen relayed to regional council this week.
El Niño is a naturally-occurring event that takes place every few years. The pattern of ocean temperatures disrupts the typical flow of air in the atmosphere, keeping the coldest air in the far north and bringing milder conditions to much of Canada.
Conditions similar to those 16 years ago
Phalen said Environment Canada's comparison of the winters of 2015 and 1998 show marked differences in temperatures, snowfall and the severity of storms.
"They expect less snowfall. Temperatures should be above normal in December, January and February, and we've actually seen that already," he said.
"Two weeks before Christmas, there were still 10 golf courses in Nova Scotia open and January and February should be less cold also."
Phalen told council the best predictions are for less snow, fewer heavy snowfall "events" and storms starting off with snow but changing to rain.
Environment Canada is predicting February will be the stormiest month of the winter, Phalen said.
"Although the snowfall may be less than average, there's a higher incidence of freezing rain. This didn't make the Nova Scotia Power people very happy," he said.
"You might remember the ice storms of Quebec and Ontario.," Phalen said to councillors. "They were in 1998 also."
CBRM is ready
Predictions notwithstanding, the public works department has to prepare for the worst. It's told council it's ready.
Louis Ferguson of north division says everything — street and sidewalk plows, contractors, trucks, snowblowers and salt supplies — have been ready to go since October.
The municipality has even created a new web feature called Who Plows My Road. It enables ratepayers to search by address and find out whether the municipality or the department of transportation is responsible for plowing their area.
It also contains a frequently asked questions section with information about everything from what to do if your garbage is buried by the plow, to why corner lots seem to get more snow plowed into their driveways.
Ferguson told council plowing protocol is designed to make sure streets and roads are cleared in "a practical and cost-efficient manner."
While a storm is raging, only emergency routes will be maintained, he said, and "plowing will commence just prior to the conclusion of snowfall."
Ferguson said about 150 kilometres of the municipality's sidewalks are plowed in winter. Only those that are most heavily used, such as the sidewalks on commercial streets, justify the manpower and expense of a thorough clearing,