A bobcat is used to help clear snow in downtown
© Crystal Schick/Yukon News
A bobcat is used to help clear snow in downtown Whitehorse on Nov. 4. The City of Whitehorse is still digging out from the first major snowstorm of the season that saw about 45 centimetres fall on Nov. 2 and it’s a process that will likely take weeks.
The City of Whitehorse continues digging out from the first major snowstorm of the season that saw about 45 centimetres fall on Nov. 2 and it's a process that will likely take weeks, says operations manager Richard Graham.

"It's been a long month," he said with a laugh in an interview Nov. 5, fully acknowledging there had only been five days in the month so far.

While Graham couldn't put a precise figure — aside from describing it as "lots" — on how much snow had been plowed and moved to city snow dumps, he said the full process will take time and the city is asking for the public's patience and to keep their distance from the equipment.

Graham said the city's 45-person crew dedicated to road maintenance has staff working five 12-hour shifts compared to the usual four 10-hour shifts in a week. It means that city crews are out 24/7 dealing with the snow. In addition, some other city staff have also been assigned to help with the snow removal and the city has also hired contractors to move the snow loaded onto trucks. Other city staff from various departments were out shovelling in front of the workplace — clearing snow from in front of city hall, the municipal services building, and more, Graham said.

It's not unheard of for the city to hire outside help at times for snow removal, but Graham noted that's typically something that's done in the spring when there's a big melt. This is probably the earliest the city has called in contractors to help move the snow.

Monday, Tuesday and part of Wednesday were spent simply plowing so that vehicles could travel on city roads. As of Wednesday, crews began removing snow from the middle of streets.

Exactly what roads are dealt with first are governed by the city's snow and ice policy which sets out the priorities for snow removal.

Priority one are freeways, major arterial roads, emergency routes, major bus routes, roads with steep grades, and during the spring melt, areas with known drainage problems while second priority goes to the remainder of arterial roads, bus routes, major industrial roads, roads in the city's Central Business District downtown around Main Street, roads that are next to schools, roads to city facilities, parking lots and so on. Laneways in Ingram and Whistle Bend are also on that list if they are used for curbside waste collection.

The final two priority areas are any remaining roads in the city and city-owned parking lots and lanes that weren't covered under a previous priority.

Within each priority, the city also sets out more priorities. The Central Business District, for example, has the city tackling Second and Fourth Avenue first, then going to Main Street and then working its way from Main Street out based largely on which roads have the most traffic (including vehicular and active transportation).

In some cases, a street may get done sooner if there's nothing impeding the way of equipment. Graham pointed to a section of Wood Street that crews were able to get to early because no cars were on it overnight.

In other cases, as the city continues to work on moving snow off the streets it will be posting signs advising the public not to park in certain areas at times because snow is being removed.

While the city isn't normally plowing priority one streets this early in the year, Graham said in this case it had to be done due to the sheer volume of snow.

Exactly how much this is going to cost the city is unknown, though Graham said staff will be looking at figures in the near future.

For now, he said, the focus is on ensuring everyone's safety and making sure roads are clear and passable.

Meanwhile, Yukon government crews responsible for the Alaska Highway and Whitehorse airport were also busy Nov. 2 clearing the Alaska Highway and airport runway. After initial closures earlier in the day, the highway reopened around 3 p.m. with the airport reopening at 3:24 p.m.