State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Record-Breaking Amounts of Snow Raise Problems for Cities

February 2010 set New York City’s record for snowiest month less than one year ago.  Although last month failed to overturn this record, falling short by a mere 0.9 inches, it remains the snowiest January in New York City, replacing an 86-year-old record.

These record breaking amounts of snow have caused numerous concerns both economical and environmental.  Closings and cancellations across the city during the storm, as well as overall decreased activity, hurt many businesses as they struggled to make profits.  For example, the president of Car Care of Manhasset reported that, when compared with last year during the same period, sales of gasoline, repairs and convenience food fell 30%.  In addition, the snow clean-up processes are hurting government budgets.  Mayor Bloomberg recently announced that although the cost of clearing snow was accounted for in the budget, “in heavy snow years like this, it’s never enough, and [they] have to put more in”.

A large part of the clearing problem is finding a place to put this record-breaking amount of snow.  As snowfalls pile up cities run out of room to put the snow and therefore have to use trucks to haul it away; this is time consuming as well as expensive.  New York is by far not the only city experiencing this problem this winter as numerous cities including those in New Jersey, Alabama, and Connecticut broke snowfall records during January 2011.

One suggested solution was to dump the snow into waterways, though this carries with it environmental costs.  As John Lipscomb of the environmental group Riverkeeper pointed out, “There’s a lot of stuff in this snow that if I isolated it and threw it in the river, you’d have me arrested.”  Having fallen on city streets, the snow became a mixture of many pollutants including, but not limited to, motor oil and trash, and the sudden influx meant that it was much more difficult than usual to move it to areas where it could be treated before being released into the sewers.  In Boston, another city suffering from heavy show falls, Massachusetts’ State Senator Jack Hart called for a “Boston Snow Party,” urging the city to put the snow into the harbor.   He has some unexpected supporters such as Bruce Berman of the non-profit public interest harbor advocacy organization Save the Harbor, Save the Bay who cited the dangerous conditions caused by the snow left within the city.

Although overall temperatures have risen, 2010 and 2005 were the warmest years on record since 1880, January was an especially bad winter month, and areas across the country, especially those with high population densities were left struggling with the decision of what to do with all the snow.  The Federal Environment Protection Agency does not have strict regulations, though it recommends not dumping excess snow in water and encourages more localized governments to place restrictions on the snow removal process.

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13 years ago

Why don’t they take the excess, albiet possibly contaminated, snow the the land fills? Snow is not permanent and a landfill is, supposedly, better able to handle the types of trash and contaminants involved.