Snowed In: How Portland Deals with Snow

Last week, we looked at how Wakefield deals with snow. It’s a pretty uncomplicated process of plow, sand, salt, shovel and snowblowers. In Portland, things are a little bit more difficult.

Portland is the urban center of Maine. Located on a peninsula at the mouth of the Fore River and Casco Bay, it is home to roughly 66,000 people, although the greater Portland area houses roughly 200,000 people. Hardworking entrepreneurs have revitalized the city; award winning breweries, coffee roasteries, bakeries and restaurants have made Portland their home in the past ten years. It’s a great city to visit and an even better city to live in. I moved here three years ago, and every minute I get to spend enjoying the city’s beautiful scenery, amazing food and wonderful people is a privilege.

IMG_1451Dealing with snow in Portland is slightly more complex than Wakefield. When it snows in Portland, the first thing to come is the snow ban. Cars have to be moved to one of several lots or garages. My fianceé and I have one spot for our two cars, so we move a car to a nearby school. In the morning, we dig the car out before 7AM, and park on our street again, where snowplows promptly form another berm around it.

In Wakefield, when the driveways are plowed or shoveled there is plenty of room for the snow to go one the sides. However, here in Portland if you shovel your driveway, chances are you’re filling in someone else’s spot.

IMG_1423The majority of the snow removal done by the city happens in the congested Old Port, where the bulk of the offices, businesses, and restaurants are. This is where some creativity is employed. The streets and sidewalks are far too narrow for the plows to simply make snowbanks on the side of the road. Instead, massive snowblowers are deployed overnight, placing the snow into trucks which dump it at snow dumps at large vacant lots, sports fields, and school grounds.

This snowfarm in Portland's Bayside neighborhood is nearly 40 feet tall.

This snow dump near Trader Joe’s in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood is nearly 40 feet tall.

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A snow dump on the edge of town is now considered to be at capacity, as it is near the FAA height limit and may interfere with small aircraft at the nearby Portland Jetport.

Sidewalks are cleared with specialized vehicles which have attachments for either plowing or snowblowing on the front, and salting or sanding on the rear. These machines often don’t reach the residential neighborhoods, which are tasked with clearing their own sidewalks.sidewalk plowFalling ice is also a real concern.Tall buildings combined with ice and lots of people walking under them makes for a bad combination. Outside our building one morning, I awoke to find half of a tree missing and the previously immaculate sidewalk buried in a foot of snow.

There's still more to come down as well.

There’s still more to come down as well.

Salt is overused here, with large piles often found on the sidewalks. Fortunately, groundwater contamination isn’t as big of an issue here as it is in rural place such as Wakefield, which need groundwater for their wells that make up the bulk of the town’s water supply. Portland’s water comes from rural (and protected) Sebago Lake to the north All of this salt ends up in the harbor.

IMG_1424Most boats in the harbor have been left to freeze, however the waterfront does have to remain open for ferryies and a city fireboat. Many island residents come in to the city each day for work, and if the ferry is shut down, they become isolated, trapped either at their home or office.

Things get difficult in the harbor when the temperature drops below zero

Things get difficult in the harbor when the temperature drops below zero

melter

I couldn’t find a melter in use in Portland, but this shot from Canada illustrates the process.

Perhaps the most unique method of snow management available to Portland is the melters. Snow takes up a lot of space, but water can enter the storm drains and get off the streets. Snow melters, while expensive, are able to melt a large amount of snow that would otherwise crowd our streets.

While capturing these images of Portland and thinking about what its like living under the boot of Old Man Winter, I couldn’t help but romanticize the New Englander spirit. Ultimately there is a camaraderie that is formed by experiencing the harshness of winter together. We are often cold, the wind stinging our face, but we are together and surrounded by the beauty of our natural world, historic cities, and the great people that make our communities special. Even when it’s 4°F there are people walking around Portland, going about their day. Warmer weather is tempting, but I can’t imagine going through a winter without New England.

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