City of Edmonton blames weather for poor road conditions this winter. What does the data show?

City of Edmonton officials say this winter’s “more drastic” temperature swings have been a challenge for snow removal, fluctuations that an Environment Canada meteorologist describes as typical.

CBC News analyzed the total number of freeze-thaw days over the last five winters using Environment Canada’s data from the Edmonton Blatchford weather station.

Freeze-thaw days are defined as those “with a high temperature above zero and a low temperature below zero,” according to Environment Canada meteorologist Dan Kulak. 

What does the data show?

The number of temperature swings varied substantially over the last five winters. There were 36 affected days between December and February this year, the most over since 38 counted in 2015-16. 

In contrast, there were only 20 in the period from December 2018 to February 2019.

The city said that this January saw “more extreme temperature fluctuations and freeze-thaw days compared to years previous,” according to an emailed statement sent Monday.

The data shows January 2020 had the most freeze-thaw days of the last five years. It went from 11 freeze-thaw days in January 2019 to 13. 

February has a history of wilder fluctuations, ranging from zero freeze-thaw days in 2019 to 19 in 2016.

Are the temperatures in Edmonton different this winter?

After looking at the data compiled by CBC News, Kulak said this winter — defined by meteorologists as the period from December through February — was pretty average.

“I don’t think there’s a big discrepancy between the freeze-thaw cycle or overall pattern this winter versus some other years, maybe the exception of February a year ago when it was just so bitter cold,” he said Monday.  

The city said Monday in an email that it defines winter as October to April.

“As Edmontonians know, snow events could happen in September and as late as May,” city communications adviser Zak Fairbrother wrote in an email. 

How does the freeze-thaw affect city roads?

The city said changes in temperatures this winter have made snow removal difficult. 

“Temperature fluctuations have been more drastic this winter compared to the winter of 2018-2019, particularly in the beginning of this year in January,” Gord Cebryk, deputy manager of city operations, said at the Feb.19 city council meeting. 

“These fluctuations cause snow to melt in warmer temperatures, creating ruts and slush in neighbourhoods and roadways which then refreeze in colder temperatures, creating icy conditions and uneven driving conditions.”

Two days later, Cebryk gave council a similar message.

“We are delivering the best service we can, so any changes in the service levels are due to basically the weather changes, and that’s what we’ve been adapting to,” Cebryk said.

What do Edmontonians have to say about the roads?

Many Edmontonians have not been happy with road conditions this winter.

According to city data, more people have complained about snow removal to 311 so far this winter compared to the same time period last year.

Temperature fluctuations have been more drastic this winter compared to the winter of 2018-2019– Gord Cebryk, deputy manager of city operations

Some councillors say they have received more complaints than usual about snow removal. 

What happens next?

Council wants the city’s operations branch to re-evaluate its snow clearing policy.

A full report from administration, with any changes, will come to council in June as part of their annual review.

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