Saturday, February 18, 2006

Whiteouts and Blackouts

Canadians are fond of saying they're pretty tough cookies when it comes to dealing with extreme weather, particularly in winter. Montrealers, I’m inclined to believe, feel they are tougher than the rest of Canadians. Montreal can have some pretty extreme weather. Yesterday was a prime example. When I left for work in the morning, it was relatively mild (-5°C) and I knew that the temperature was expected to fall throughout the day. What I didn’t know was that there were several weather warnings in effect. These warnings consisted of a freezing rain warning, a wind warning and a flash freeze warning.

Working downtown in an area surrounded by skyscrapers, the buildings create a wind tunnel, and if you’ve never had the pleasurable experience of the joys of a wind tunnel, feel free to ask what it’s like to have freezing rain and high winds pummel you as you attempt to cross the corner of University and René-Lévesque. Suffice it to say that it’s just not worth putting any effort into your hair. Got it? So – there I am, up at my desk on the 25th floor, looking west toward the Sun Life building, safe and dry. Several hours later though I wasn’t feeling quite so safe anymore. The wind had picked up and according to Environment Canada the wind was gusting up to 110km/h at times. Never having lived through a full blown hurricane, I had no idea what such high winds were like (even with the whole wind tunnel thing). But what I can tell you is this - when winds of 110km/h smack into the face of a 40 story building and I’m more than halfway to the top, the windows shake, creak and the building moves. It doesn’t move enough so that you can actually see it moving, nor do doors open or pictures fall off the walls (but I’ll get to that in a minute). What happens is that suddenly you get that seasick feeling. (And no, it wasn’t because I was a little hungover – honest!) By the end of the day, the unpredictable shifting and movement had me feeling pretty ill. I was lucky though. Some of my colleagues had been at meetings at 1000 de la Gauchetière and came back to tell us that building management had closed the floors located above the 40th floor because, get this, doors and drawers were opening and closing by themselves and pictures were falling off the walls because of the movement of the building!!! People felt so unsafe that they were actually leaving work to go home. Nobody where I work did that as far as I know. We did also hear about a 60-car pile up on the 40 and closing of a section of the Met due to flying glass!

In this morning’s Gazette there was an interesting article about the weather, the accidents, etc. As it turns out, due to whiteout conditions there was a 70-car pile up on Highway 40 near Lavaltrie, 50km northeast of Montreal; a freight train derailed going from the South Shore into Montreal (by the Mercier bridge) which tied up the commuter train going to Delson/Candiac; the temperature dropped by 16C in 5 hours; thousands of homes and businesses were without power for a good part of the day and evening; while the City of Montreal road crews did spread salt and gravel on sidewalks and roads, the heavy rains washed most of it away (good picture in the Gazette of people hanging on to poles for dear life); high winds stripped the brick off the side of a school in Chateauguay. Apparently yesterday was the worst day for weather-related electricity interruptions since the 1998 Ice Storm.

Today’s weather is better but not by much. The wind has thankfully died down but not enough, it’s a balmy -29C with the wind-chill factor. It was dreadful walking to the grocery store this morning and just as bad waiting for the bus this afternoon.

Completely unrelated, but interesting to me, I noticed early last week that as soon as I ended things with Guy #3 I was suddenly able to sit down and read again. Today has been no exception. Made a quick trip to the library this afternoon and borrowed Elizabeth George’s latest With No One As Witness. Since arriving home just after 3pm, I have already read half the book. Going to put it down now and save the rest for tomorrow.

Feels good to be back to normal.


Angry Gnome said...

Oh, that's nice, they salted the sidewalks in your neighbourhood, did they? I am SO happy for you. Needless to say the sidewalks in my hood are still mini-skating rinks. No one cares about NDGers. As my cousin is fond of saying, we're just No Damn Good.

Stef said...

Just because they salted doesn't mean the salt is still there after the freezing rain and wind. Now it's all in the street so the cars have more traction and the pedestrians still have NOTHING!

Angry Gnome said...

Oh, I know. Don't get me started on how much I know!

Angry Gnome said...

Oh, I know. Don't get me started on how much I know!

nickt said...

It's -8C here, with the wind. I had to wear gloves today ;)

Why said...

It was PLUS 8° and SUNNY today here.