Winter strikes Chicago
Mr Emanuel’s feeling for snow
Ready, steady, snow THE city of Chicago is proud of its ability to keep going, with gritty determination, through the worst of the nation’s weather. Snow that would bring London or Washington, DC, to a halt is laughed off as little more than a light dusting. This year some are expecting particularly bad weather, a test for the new mayor, Rahm Emanuel. He must keep the city moving throughout the winter, or face the wrath of the locals.
Fortunately, Chicago is well prepared for snowfall which, for the past four winters, has been over 50 inches (127cm). A secure facility on West Madison Street known as “Snow Command” houses some impressive toys. On one wall vast display-screens reveal everything you might need to know about the city’s weather conditions: the whereabouts of the fleet of up to 500 GPS-equipped snow-moving trucks; views from some of the city’s 1,000 cameras; the readings from a dozen road sensors (which pick up icy conditions); and a live feed of the regional weather system.
After a storm warning comes in from the National Weather Service, Tom Byrne, the commissioner of the city’s Streets and Sanitation Department, watches it move in on cameras in nearby states and at the four outermost corners of Chicago. This tells him exactly when and where the storm will hit. Getting it wrong means chaos on the roads and possibly accidents. But sending teams out needlessly or too early costs the city $40,000 an hour.
The planning started in the humid heat of summer. Mr Emanuel badly wants to avoid a repeat of the previous mayor’s “Snowmaggedon” earlier this year. During the big national blizzard in February, hundreds of drivers had to abandon their vehicles. Although plans have been made to avoid this happening again, in extreme weather there are limits to what any city—even Chicago—is able to deal with. Three inches of snow an hour during rush hour and “we’re cooked,” says Mr Byrne.
One innovation this year is an internet snow portal. It will allow citizens to organise themselves around snow-clearing activities, adopt a stretch of pavement to clear, offer to share shovels and snowblowers, or even volunteer to clear snow for people who cannot do so themselves. Traditionalists may not be keen to brag on Facebook about how many pavements they have cleared, but plenty of others are—thus helping to spread the city’s message that everyone has to do their bit.
More comforting for those feeling abandoned by the city during a storm is that it will soon be possible to see, via the web, exactly where Mr Emanuel’s snowploughs are and what they are doing. This is precisely the view available back in Snow Command. With snowploughs, shovels and smartphones to hand, the city is ready for the stormy blast.