Rebecca Dutton has recently returned from three years in Canada and finds the snow experience in the UK a little different from her experiences in Saskatchewan….
When the first snowflakes fell this year, I found myself feeling excited. It was like being a small child again, enjoying the magic of watching the world disappear under a white blanket.
I haven’t felt this way for a while. For the last three years, I lived in Saskatchewan, Canada and severe weather during the winter was just a daily part of life. When the first snow of the season fell, in October or November, I used to feel a sense of dread that the white stuff would likely be on the ground until March or April.
But then you just got on with it. You put on your snow boots each morning, you remembered to unplug the car and then you put the tyres into the ruts on the road and drove to work along with everyone else. Not once, in three years of working with snow and temperatures often reaching -40 degrees Celsius, did I get a snow day.
In fact, when I mentioned that people in the UK often have a snow day to my colleagues, they laughed. Loudly.
But now, living back in the UK, I completely understand why we have snow days occasionally. We are just not geared up to cope with snow like they have to in Canada. Now when I say Canada, I’m talking about Saskatchewan where I lived. Some parts of Canada, such as Vancouver and Vancouver Island, experience snow much like we do in the UK. It comes sporadically and causes havoc for a bit and then disappears again. In Saskatchewan, you have to cope with the snow because you just can’t shut down for months at a time.
I was talking to a Canadian friend the other day and she was laughing at her English cousin, who had sent her some pictures of her farm ‘snowed in’. “She’s got less snow than we have at the moment and we haven’t even got that much,” my friend said.
But then I pointed out the fact that her cousin probably needs to drive down narrow, windy and treacherous country roads, unlike in Saskatchewan where most of the roads are wide and straight. She probably doesn’t have winter tyres, which are a necessity in many parts of Canada and a legal requirement in Quebec and some mountainous regions of British Columbia. She probably doesn’t want to spend the money equipping her farm for snow, when it will probably only come for a few days every year or so.
Another major factor in the different ways snow is treated in Saskatchewan and the UK is the temperature. Once temperatures plummet below zero in Saskatchewan and make their way to -20 degrees Celsius on a regular basis and then -30 degrees Celsius, that’s how it stays. This means the snow does not melt. It’s not icy to drive on it and you can get a good grip when walking in proper boots. It is also too cold to grit the roads and the snow is just piled up at the sides. Often, our road, which was not a main one, was not cleared for several weeks.
In the UK, when it snows, the temperature often hovers around 0 degrees Celsius. This means it snows, then melts and then freezes, making ice a huge problem.
The snow in the UK is also wet, which is actually an advantage. In Saskatchewan, it is very dry and the snow is like sand and blows all over the place. The poor children have a hard time making snowmen and throwing snowballs as the snow won’t stick together properly. What’s the point of having a snow day then?
Having said that, children in Saskatchewan do make the most of the winter months. Each year, the City of Moose Jaw makes several outdoor skating rinks across the city and it was always fun to spend a couple of hours skating outside on proper ice. In the UK, I had only skated in indoor rinks but it is a wonderful feeling to be able to glide around outside. Children also enjoy lots of tobogganing and ice hockey and the cold temperatures don’t often affect their outdoor way of life.
Unless it is really very cold, children still play outside at school. For example, Saskatoon Public Schools’ guidelines state students can stay inside the school when the temperature (with the wind chill) is -27 degrees Celsius.
When the wind chill is -20 degrees Celsius to -26 degrees Celsius, students are expected to dress warmly and go outside for fresh air and exercise. School closures are very rare, unlike in the UK recently when hundreds of schools across the country closed their doors.
Perhaps it is about time the UK does take some extra precautions against the snow. But realistically, can we justify spending so much money on something, which only happens for a couple of weeks a year? We Brits love a good panic over the snow. It becomes the talking point for a few days and then it all goes away again. If a time comes when it starts to stay around for longer, then snow will become less of an interesting topic of conversation and more something we have to learn to cope with just to get on with normal life