Dawson’s streets will be wider and lower by the time you read this column.
There will be the odd large puddle around town, especially at the corners where grates for the storm drains are located, but it won’t be anything like it might have been if not for the slight inconvenience we’re experiencing as I write.
Right now, driving around town, we face a bit of an obstacle course as the graders, loaders, and trucks deal with the winter’s accumulation of hard pan, which has raised the level of nearly every street in town.
We had a lot of snow again this year, and the ploughs have been out regularly, but there always comes a point where we settle for leveling the latest snowfall and patting it down so that it’s nice and smooth for driving on.
In fact, Dawson’s streets are often smoother in the winter than in the summer, when we dodge potholes on a regular basis.
The result is that the streets get higher and higher until they are level with the boardwalks. Where there are no boardwalks, the streets tend to get narrower, as snow ploughs build up berms along their sides. Periodically, they scoop them into large piles and truck them away, but it still adds up over the winter.
This time of year, as the hours of light get longer and the weather gets warmer, it’s necessary to remove as much snow as possible. This is partly to get to the storm drains, needed to handle the run-off from the hill behind town, and partly to keep the streets from disintegrating.
Drop 15 centimetres from the driving surface, and the ground is still frozen even after the snow is gone. So, if most of the snow and hard pan doesn’t get taken away, any leftover melt water would have no place to go, and the streets would simply turn to gumbo the way they did in the 1980s.
This, of course, increases the gap between the street level and the boardwalks, and does nothing to make getting around easier for people with mobility problems.
We have more storm drains now than we did 30 years ago, and they carry a lot of the run-off away, but they can be a source of water as well as a solution.
Last spring, when the water in the Yukon and Klondike Rivers was very high, the ground water levels became higher than the land and a number of streets in the town’s south end experienced water backup through the drains for a week or so.
Is it warmer here now?
Well, it’s above 0°C this afternoon, even though it was -24°C this morning.
Yesterday I saw three SOVA students sunning themselves on the boardwalk outside the still shuttered Midnight Sun Hotel, basking in the direct sunlight and enjoying the reflected warmth off the side of the building.
Wish I had had a camera with me for that sight.
After 32 years teaching in rural Yukon schools, Dan Davidson retired from that profession but continues writing about life in Dawson City.