If it's just snow, why is New England having such a difficult time making it all go away?
Midway through an epic winter that's shattered records and buried Boston in more than 8 feet of snow, locals and outsiders alike could be forgiven for wondering why a world-class city that's accustomed to heavy snowfall — and prides itself on being a global center of technology and innovation — can't seem to dig out and move on.
Here's a brief explanation of what's at stake in the battle against the elements:
ENOUGH TO BURY A HARLEM GLOBETROTTER
Sure, it's just snow, but perspective is everything. Nearly 100 inches has fallen on Boston — making this the second-snowiest winter since records started being kept a century ago. That's more than enough to bury 7-foot, 4-inch (2.2-meter) Stretch Middleton, the tallest current player on the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team. In Massachusetts alone, workers have removed enough snow to fill the New England Patriots' 68,756-seat Gillette Stadium well over 100 times. Public works officials have deployed thousands of snowplows, dump trucks and front-end loaders, but with new storms dumping fresh snow every few days, they've had a tough time keeping up.
TOO COLD FOR NATURE TO MELT IT
Eventually, temperatures will rise enough to shrink the snowbanks so tall that university students have used them as ski slopes. But it hasn't happened yet, and now the region is in the icy grip of an arctic blast that's making the snowpack harder and complicating efforts to remove it. With sunshine in short supply and feeble at this time of year, Boston has borrowed machines from New York City that are capable of melting 135 tons of snow per hour. Officials also are using special "snow trains" fitted with plows to clear railways of the ice and snow that's been fouling the morning and evening rush hours for commuters reliant on Boston's public transit system, America's oldest and fifth-busiest.
WHY NOT DUMP IT IN THE OCEAN?
Actually, they are. Normally it's forbidden to dump snow in the ocean because it contains contaminants that can kill fish and damage the marine environment. But Massachusetts environmental protection authorities have bent the rules because of the sheer mass of snow that's accumulated. Boston and other cities are disposing of snow in the harbor and other waterways, but they're still required to steer clear of drinking water supplies, saltmarshes and shellfish beds. Trucks carrying snow also are banned from areas where they might cause shoreline damage or erosion.