This is one weird winter

Ski hill operators looked on in horror in January as rain washed away the deep base built up by heavy snow early the winter, helped by the artificial fog of snow-making gear. Their worries were soon over as the temperature dropped 15 degrees in several hours, and the rain turned to snow.

This has been one weird winter.

Christmas to New Year’s and beyond saw the longest stretch of extreme cold in 75 years as temperatures dipped to -35ºC. It was so cold that ski hills closed for brief periods since, if a chair lift stalled there was a danger riders could freeze to death. Hills were asked not to draw electricity from the grid for snow making. Eighty percent of Quebecers rely on electric heat, more than almost anywhere else in North America, and the no snow-making rule is enforced by Hydro-Québec to avoid crashing an over-loaded grid.

Only the bravest ice fishermen ventured out on Brome Lake.

Then came the most dramatic January thaw in recent memory. There was a 50-degree switch in temperature, from a warm spike as high as 17ºC. Sap ran in maple trees for a short run, but not enough to boil. The heavy rain made things worse and streams swelled, flooding roads.

The Yamaska river in West Brome was as high as locals could remember, and it closed at least one road. Water also caused road problems in Bondville and the Knowlton sector.

Then came a flash freeze, softened somewhat by a storm that sent the plows and salters back out on the roads. Temperatures reached the lows seen over the holidays.

“When it’s so cold for so long it puts pressure on equipment, personnel and the roads,” says TBL councillor Lee Patterson, who is in charge of public works.

Equipment broke down in the deep freeze of the holiday season, and salt wouldn’t work at -30ºC, so the town spread a combination of sand and stone instead.

Last year the mild winter meant the town’s snow clearing costs came in under budget. This year may be different.

There is nothing much one can do about the weather, in the short term anyway. We live in a corner of paradise, but this winter even those with long memories are hard-pressed to remember a more bizarre stretch of weather. It could be worse. We could be ruled by the stable genius to the south.