The Ottawa Sun reports a typical story about governmental secrecy with a strange climate twist. It seems the City of Ottawa used to have a “Where Is My Plow” app meant to show people where the snow plows were, to increase their confidence in the sluggish pace of government operations, but it was so misleading they withdrew it three years ago and are still trying to fix it. The climate twist is that the mayor and his officials were flat-footed by this year’s heavy snow because, apparently, they believed those predictions about the end of winter.
According to the Sun, Canada’s capital had had more than 281 cm of snow by mid-March, with more forecast. Which duly arrived, on top of what was already almost 60 cm more than the average of 223 cm over the last 30 years. So instead of the snow cover vanishing entirely, Ottawa Snow Records tweeted that 2019-19 was in 7th place since records began in 1955 for continuous snow cover of at least 30 cm, at 60 days (1970-71 saw an amazing 125 days… but then there was that cooling trend from 1940 through 1970, despite which 2001 and 2008 are both in the top 10, at 5th and 10th). Moreover, says the Sun, in the past 30 years the total snowfall has oscillated wildly, from 111-374 cm, suggesting that weather is variable and always has been. Who knew?
Some cities do much better than Ottawa when it comes to public disclosure of such sensitive matters as where the big rumbly yellow snow plows are. Syracuse NY, with about the same snowfall as Ottawa, has a GPS monitoring system whose public component renews every hour during “snow events” as the technocracy apparently refers to snowstorms. And Montreal, not generally a byword for modern open governance, has an even more sophisticated app that warns you, accurately, when your street is going to get plowed so you can move your car before they tow it (even though supposedly Montreal won’t have much snow soon). But the creator of that app says Ottawa flatly refused to consider buying it, insisting that they had top people working on the problem. (Which in the nation’s capital includes a separate GPS system for salt trucks, no public interface for those or the plows, and poor placement of sensors on the exterior of heavy equipment used in harsh conditions where, unexpectedly, they often break.)
The Sun story is a sad tale of opaque, complacent state ineptitude. But the bottom line is clear: The municipal government doesn’t know what’s going on even with its own snow plows or apps, let alone the climate. Worse, it doesn’t know it doesn’t know.