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Epic fail or perfect storm?

How frigid temperatures and snow conspired against Winnipeg road-clearing crews

Despite complaints, Winnipeg officials said they did all they could to take the ruts off -- and keep the rubber on -- the roads this winter.

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Oh city, why have you forsaken us?

From late December until early January, Winnipeg experienced road conditions that were among the worst anyone had ever seen.

Heavy snow, intense cold and severe winds combined to replace paved streets with undulating rivers of uneven, densely packed, deeply rutted snowpack. The result was chaos.

Drivers were unable to control their vehicles as they slipped in and out of the frozen ruts. Manitoba Public Insurance received more than 21,000 claims in December, the worst month in the last 15 years.

How did things become so bad?

City officials claimed a perfect storm of heavy snow, rapid temperature drop and sustained cold had resulted in ruts that were so bonded to the pavement, they could not be removed. Given weather conditions (this was the sixth coldest December ever), that seemed like a plausible explanation — except almost no one bought it.

Public opinion quickly galvanized around the idea delays in clearing streets motivated by a desire to hold down overall snow-clearing costs had led to the dangerous road conditions. Again, the city denied this was the case, but angry citizens needed only to look out to the streets they travelled every day to reject that assertion.

So, what happened in late December and early January? Was this a weather phenomenon that could not have been overcome, or a profound failure to provide a critical city service at our time of greatest need?

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