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Ready for a street fight with Old Man Winter
On his desk sits a squishy miniature yellow snow plow.
“It’s my stress toy,” jokes Erik Bayfield, District of North Vancouver’s manager of streets.
Given the unpredictability of weather forecasts, the disparate range of microclimates within the municipality — from the sea to the mountains — and its hilly topography, you’d think Bayfield would be squeezing the little plow especially tight this time of year as temperatures go subzero and white stuff starts falling.
But he’s not — especially now.
This year the DNV streets department has a new weapon at its disposal in the fight against snow and ice: road condition sensors.
In the past, Bayfield and his team would rely on monitoring air temperatures to gauge when it was necessary to apply salt or brine to roads — but that method wasn’t always the best indictor of street freezing because air temperature can fall below zero well before road surfaces do.
Bayfield, a tall Brit with a civil engineering degree, explains that these sensors are game-changers when it comes to efficiently battling treacherous winter road conditions.
“This really helps take out the guesswork to our response to bad weather and ice.”
Instead of dispatching a cavalcade of salt trucks the second the air temp hits zero, Bayfield and his crew can now delay the deployment of resources for several hours — or in some cases avoid entirely.
That translates into cost savings in staffing, equipment wear and tear and salt, which costs around $84 per tonne.
Bayfield opens a screen on his desktop computer to demonstrate the new ice-fighting technology. The sensors, which are located at Lynn Valley Town Centre, provide him with real-time data on the current weather conditions, including the air temperature, dew point temperature, relative humidity, level of road grip, surface state (dry, for instance) and surface temperature.
Each sensor package costs around $28,000 but the DNV believes operational cost savings as a result of just one sensor station installed this year will be around $50,000.
Next year sensors are planned for Upper Capilano and Deep Cove in order to capture readings from a cross-section of the municipality’s distinct climate regions.
Of course, the sensors aren’t the only weapon the DNV street department has to fight a dump of snow or blast of icy Arctic air.
For starters, it helps to have a manager of streets who’s a weather wonk.
In his home country, discussing the weather is a national pastime. “We love to talk about the weather,” he says, grinning.
Bayfield uses several resources to closely monitor the weather online, including Environment Canada and a professional forecasting service.
He turns to his computer screen and notes, “It’s snowing in Portland.”
“We can spot weather approaching us and you can see how much detail is in this map.”
“This is your jet-stream,” he says using a ruler to point to another map, while effortlessly explaining what has “created this Arctic blast.”
“I’m the local weather man,” he jokes.
One of the most challenging parts of Bayfield’s job is dealing with extreme winter weather episodes in the most cost-effective manner. “Timing is everything.”
When they do need to go into action the streets department has a stockpile of 900 tonnes of salt piled at the DNV works yard and a guaranteed supply of 2,000 to 7,000 more if needed.
Last winter, which wasn’t particularly severe, the DNV purchased 1,300 tonnes at a cost of around $109,000.
To keep the streets clear, he’s got 14 snow plows, one brine truck and three excavators/loaders and a cohesive road crew that’s willing to hop out of bed in the wee hours to start salting or clearing.
To stay on top of the street fight against snow and ice, Bayfield has attended the American Public Works Association (APWA) annual Snow Conference, which offers road agencies valuable information on equipment, best practices and the latest innovations on fighting winter.
Something new the DNV has implemented this year came from the conference: wetting down the salt in the truck before it gets spread on the streets.
“It reduces our salt use by 30 per cent by reducing the amount of scatter and allowing the salt to start working to de-ice the frozen pavement immediately on contact rather than waiting for the crystal to find moisture,” he explains.
And soon, he explains, they hope to add a handheld road salt measuring device that will determine exactly when it’s time to re-salt — which will again help to keep costs down.
So what’s Bayfield’s road forecast for this winter?
He’s been told to expect a normal winter without any El Nino or La Nina influence.
That should mean around two significant snow events and 100 or so ice days in Vancouver.
Of course being this close to the mountains may change things. But they’re prepared for that.
-To learn more about being prepared for extreme winter conditions and the district’s snow clearing policy go to dnv.org/snow or Twitter: @dnv_snow