The United States isn’t the only country that runs into trouble with snow during the wintertime. Much of Europe and Canada run into similar situations, but the United States seems to be a mid-point between countries with huge snowfall totals such as Norway and others with much less such as the United Kingdom. One country that stands apart from the rest in terms of handling snow is Sweden. Because snow and cold weather is so common in northern Europe, Sweden has adapted much of its society to always being ready for snow. Swedish lifestyle is tailored towards the frequent cold weather, where most shoes are equipped with proper soles and clothes are made for conditions well below freezing. Salting roads is a legal requirement and special snow tires are always put on for better traction. Chains and studs are also commonly equipped onto tires to improve traction in the snowier areas where plowing and salting just aren’t enough to keep roads completely cleared. Even for airports warm sand is often spread across runaways to keep snow melted and to give aircraft traction when landing and taking off.
One aspect of life that keeps Sweden ahead during the winter is how they treat cold weather and snow as if it were just another day, since it is so common. School isn’t cancelled because of negative temperatures and people will still be seen outside. The real difference is their preparedness. Going out in extremely cold temperatures isn’t too much of a problem when everyone in Sweden has the proper clothing attire to keep them warm and safe. Of course though, when temperatures drop dangerously low more precautions are taken, and not everyone chooses to venture outdoors. Wind causes massive snow drifts and can easily cause frostbite. The preferred method of transportation in northern areas of Sweden and Norway and even Canada is usually by snowmobile. Snow sometimes gets so difficult to manage that roads become useless and there is no way to pass through. So instead of trying to get through the snow in a car or truck, many citizens choose to go right on top of it all with a snowmobile.
Middle to southern Europe views snow in a way that is similar to many Americans. Snow can be an uncommon occurrence and the level of preparedness is nothing compared to Sweden or Norway. A large area of Europe rarely sees long periods of freezing temperatures and so the expectation of snow isn’t usually fresh in everyone’s mind. But that’s not to say it never snows. Salting and plowing are still the preferred method of clearing snow, but many places don’t always have a fleet ready to take to the streets and clear away frozen debris. It’s all about being prepared, which is why sometimes we see schools may close for only a few inches of snow in European countries but also some middle states in America. Warmer states are often unprepared for snow and even a small amount can be crippling, whereas in Sweden or even New England a few inches is treated as just another day. In the coming months those few inches of snow that may be on the ground won’t be looking so bad just knowing how many feet of snow are already probably covering the ground in Sweden, Norway, or our neighbor Canada.
It seems that these days most people understand the troubles that come with snow. But have you ever considered how it was done before we had hundreds of trucks and fancy plows? Imagine tackling this past winter only using shovels and horse-drawn equipment. It might make you appreciate just how far we’ve come with snow removal.
So where do you even begin without the snow plows of today? Well just like how a horse would have been used on a farm, they had to drag plowing equipment. Needless to say this was incredibly tedious because the horses couldn’t push the snow, but rather they would walk over the snow and pull the plow. It was less of a way to push the snow to one area and more of a way to scoop up the snow so that it could be dumped somewhere else. Think of it as a giant horse-drawn shovel, and once the horse has gathered up enough snow, they would haul it away to another location, much like what is done now just on an entirely different scale. Using a horse drawn plow proved to be an effective method of snow removal, but it never worked on its own.
For those who think shoveling a driveway is difficult work imagine trying to shovel a whole street. This is exactly what was done in most cases. Hundreds of men would take to the streets during after a winter storm and shovel snow into carriages which could later be hauled away by horses (as shown above). It would take days to clear snow from a single storm and because it was so difficult to quickly and effectively clear snow, deaths were not uncommon in these situations.
During the late 19th century railroads were booming and provided the best transportation around the United States. Initially trains encountered issues with snow and ice on the tracks, but most trains were fitted with plows on the front which usually worked great. However, there were always situations where snow drifts would get to heights of ten to twenty feet or even more at which point the trains would become stuck and would have to be shoveled out. The real issues arose when smaller trains used in cities for public transportation became stuck in the snow. These small engines weren’t as powerful as the ones going across the country, and weren’t very effective at clearly their own paths. Cities were forced to take matters into their own hands and create a system that would avoid the snow altogether, which we now know to be the subway. Logistically it makes sense for public transportation to be underground for the sake of saving space but arguably the biggest influence on the introduction of subways was frozen winter weather. Underground railways had been considered for a while, but after the blizzard of 1888 where hundreds of lives were lost due to a lack of reliable transportation, decisions were finally made to take action. In 1899 Boston became the first city to install underground subway tracks which paved the way for many other cities to follow.
As the automobile emerged snow removal became increasingly easier and more effective. Plows could be attached to vehicles and snow could be removed similar to how we do it today. Conveyor belts attached to plows were used to fill dump trucks which could haul away snow. This method has evolved into using loaders and heavy machinery which can quickly fill trucks to remove snow. Once machines were introduced into snow removal the entire process made incredible strides with snow storms becoming less of a burden on society.
However there is one aspect of snow removal that is often forgotten and can make the greatest difference. Weather forecasting. Only recently has weather forecasting been so accurate so that preparation can take place for storms. This is one reason why we are so effective today. Not only is our equipment significantly better than what it used to be, but we can also prepare. Imagine having no idea snow was coming and trying to take immediate action to clear it. Now imagine trying to do it with only shovels and horse drawn equipment. Not an easy task to say the least.
So appreciate the snow removal efforts we have in the 21st century, because there was a time not too long ago where people didn’t have it so easy. Snow will always be a hassle, it seems like no matter what we try to do winter always gets the best of us. But who knows, maybe in the generations to come some other method will be discovered that will end all our frustrations with the snow. For now though, get your snowblowers ready and stock up on rock salt. Winter is coming.
Credit: JohnstownHistory.blogspot, Jalopnik.com
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