Sunday, 22 March 2015

Snowfall in Halifax

Halifax has been getting an unusual amount of snow this year. It will certainly be interesting to see the 2015/16 HRM budget plan, which is still be tabulated. Hundreds of centimetres of snow, estimates are that the city will be minimum $10 million over budget. But how does that compare with previous years?

A hint of something deeper going on: a report from the Metro Halifax newspaper noticed that snow removal has been over budget for the past six years. Weirder yet, another story headlines "Halifax councillors not seeking an increase to snow removal budget despite clearing woes". What gives? What's the long-term budget pattern here?

Since budget reports are available from 2000 forward, I can go back more than six years of costs.

But let us also consider total snowfall, as it matters if over-budget years were due to large dumps of snow, bad planning, or both. Oddly enough the Halifax peninsula has no good data on snowfall. The Shearwater Environment Canada (EC) station has been moved several times and does not always collect total snowfall data. I had to use the Halifax Airport data instead, which is unfortunate considering their climate is substantially different than downtown (25 km inland, away from city. Worst. Airport. Ever)

Without further ado, here are the HRM budget/EC snowfall annual data overlaid:

Environment Canada Airport data from hereHRM budget information from here
I adjusted for inflation using the Bank of Canada converter.
You can almost see a correlation between actual snow costs and total snow, but it's weaker than first appears (R-squared of 0.15, to be exact). Then again that's in part because snow costs are a mix of on-call and prepaid crews, and probably due to using airport data, which as I hinted before, sucks for this sort of comparison. I am especially suspicious of the low total accumulation for 2015 (245 cm), logic demands a larger number (at least over 300 cm). Then again, the maximum snow on ground sits at 93 cm, more than any year since 1999, as intuited. Maybe the snowfall numbers are reasonable first-order approximations after all.

More importantly, between 2000 and 2015 the city has been over-budget with snow removal 13 times! On average they get it wrong by 4.9 million dollars. I know that budgets can be complicated beasts, but I looked at other budget/cost parings for the city and they were all very closely predicted. Except for snow removal. Perhaps there is a special animosity between snow crews and city councillors. I noticed for most years this accounts for nearly all discrepancies of budget and actual HRM Public Works Operations costs, as shown below:

Snow vs total public works deficit (2009-2015). There is a pretty darn close correlation here,
and accounts for almost all the city's public works discrepancy.  

My conclusion: Halifax, as with the maritimes in general, lives in a perpetual state of winter denial. Most other cities plan their budgets and outdoor activities as if winter might actually come. No so with Halifax, who each year crosses its fingers hoping this will be the last one.

Meanwhile for runners the frustration is mounting, as most spring marathons are at most 8 weeks away. Another good reason not to register for races mid-winter.

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