After most of North America has had to deal with some frigid cold and ample snowfall over the past couple weeks, it’s pretty astounding how grumpy people can get about seeing snow. The truth though is that once upon a time what we are experiencing now was known as ‘normal’. Despite the recent earlier than we’re used to arrival of snow, cold and winter, for more and more people the sight of accumulating snow in the winter is becoming rare.
Above average temperatures and a resultant lack of snow seem to be commonplace in many parts of Canada and the U.S. over the past few winters. This has lead many people to express their joy at being able to walk around without heavy coats or boots and at how they haven’t had to drive in poor weather or shovel their driveways. Despite all these supposed advantages that milder winter weather is bringing about, there is a very important question that needs to be asked: is the lack of snow we’ve been experiencing actually a good thing?
While the answer to some degree can depend on a multitude of factors, the generally acceptable response is that the lack of snow in areas where snow usually falls is NOT a good thing. The reasons for this are multiple.
Farmers need snow, plain and simple. They need snow to blanket their fields so that when it all melts in the spring, their fields are properly irrigated and ready for planting. A lack of moisture in the soil right from the outset is very problematic and can force farmers in severe situations to either reduce their plantings or in a worst case scenario, not plant at all. Around this time last winter Alberta’s Agriculture Minister, Evan Berger shared his concerns about the lack of snowfall so far that year in Alberta and made headlines for doing so.
Snow is also necessary for farmers that plant certain crops in the fall. Winter wheat that is planted in the prairies need to be blanketed in snow in order to provide insulation from extreme cold. When these crops are exposed to the elements, they become vulnerable to frost which can kill the crop outright. Other crops that are planted in the fall require snow to protect the seeds from predators like birds.
When a lack of snow contributes to agricultural shortages, the end result is often that the prices for food will rise. Under the laws of supply and demand, a reduced supply will cause increased demand which then drives the price up. When we start seeing higher prices for basic food staples due to a lack of snow fall months earlier, it affects us in ways we don’t initially expect.
There are also various industries that need snow for survival. Many ski resorts across North America have been struggling for years now to make the most of a difficult situation. While a number of resorts utilize snow making to keep trails white, it’s less expensive to have natural snow fall than to make snow yourself. Many of the much larger resorts out west don’t use snow making since they usually have an abundance of snow, but when it’s in short supply, they need to close parts of their resort due to a lack of coverage. Last winter it was reported that most North American ski resorts experienced about a 15% drop in visitors compared to what they normally would receive.
The good news/bad news aspect of this situation is that the lack of snow this season is something resort operators are getting used to. Back in the winter of 2006/2007 Ontario’s largest ski resort Blue Mountain was actually forced to completely shut down for a period of almost 2 weeks between the end of December and early January. The folks at Blue Mountain have told me that they have learned a lot in the years since about how to stockpile snow when able as a means of keeping trails viable in periods where snow isn’t falling. They said that despite having the best snow making system in Canada, they will always far prefer a healthy dump of mother nature’s finest. At bare minimum the folks at Blue Mountain want cold and consistent temperatures since with their snowmaking capabilities alone, they can cover 98% of their trail system.
It’s also important to note that a lack of snow in cities plays a big psychological problem for resorts since potential visitors often think that just because there is no snow in the city that the same must be the case on the slopes, which of course isn’t true.
There are many other industries who’s viability relies heavily on snow. Snow plow drivers, retailers of winter equipment such as snow blowers and shovels, road salt suppliers and more all require snow to maintain their business.
While the ability to drive on roads free of snow, and the novelty of walking around without heavy coats and winter gear in late December or early January certainly has some appeal, lets always remember the universal law of science that states “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
Snow is a natural part of the ecological cycle in this part of the world and when we start seeing the cycle becoming all messed up, the consequences begin to pile up which can be far more problematic than the pile up of snow at the end of our driveway that by and large we haven’t had to deal with much over the past few winters.
When you really think of things in the big picture, we really shouldn’t be complaining about having to break out the shovels before Christmas, now should we?