Snow is delightful (as long as it’s not your job to clear it)

Here's how cities stay moving after a snowstorm

Lesson #
January 1, 2024

A few inches of snow can be beautiful. But for local governments, it's hard work to clear it and keep everyone moving. Today, we look at everything that has to get done to get back to normal after a snowstorm.


Also in Today's Lesson


Transcript

Simple TranscriptEspañol中文FrançaisPortuguês日本語ItalianoDeutschTürkçePolski

Snow is delightful…as long as it’s not your job to clear it

Lesson summary

Hi there everyone, Jeff here again, kicking off another year of Plain English. We’ll be here every Monday and Thursday throughout 2024, helping you upgrade your skills in English. And we’ll do that, as we always do, with stories about the world, current events and trending topics, and of course with new English expressions and phrasal verbs.

Well today is January 1, 2024, wintertime in the Northern Hemisphere. Have you gotten any snow yet? In the hours after a few inches have fallen, everything is covered in a blanket of peaceful white.

But for some people, snow means hard work. And today, we’ll take a look at all the work that has to happen after a snowfall.

In the second half of the lesson, I’ll show you what it means to “buy in bulk.” So during the story, I want you to listen for that phrase, “buy in bulk.” And then later on, I’ll show you two ways to use it.

Ready? Let’s get started.

The hard work after a snowstorm

There’s a rule in local politics in America and Canada. Mayors need to clear the snow. If they don’t, nothing else they do matters. So while most of us are under a blanket inside, city workers, property owners, and emergency responders are getting to work.

Here’s a look at all the work that has to happen to get a city or town moving again after a snowfall.

The most important activity is to clear the streets so people can get where they need to go, safely. For those of you in Taiwan, Brazil, or other warm weather places, a snowplow is like a big shovel attached to the front of a truck. When the plow is lowered, the truck pushes the snow to the side of the road. Snowplows start on the busiest streets and then, after a few hours or even a few days, they reach the smaller, side streets.

In most places, snowplows push the snow to the side of the street, where it accumulates in large piles…and then eventually melts. But some places get too much snow for that. In Montreal, for example, they push the snow to the middle of the street. Then, big trucks pick the snow up and take it to special snow dumps.

As the plows go up and down the streets and highways, they put either sand or salt down on the pavement. Sand can help increase the friction for drivers, reducing the risk of accidents on slippery roads.

Salt and other chemicals melt ice or prevent ice from forming . Local governments buy sand and salt in bulk before the snow season; they keep it in large silos, where it’s loaded onto snowplows and other trucks when needed.

At the same time, cities have to respond to emergencies. There are more traffic accidents during and immediately after snowstorms. Vehicles get stuck and need to be towed. Cars and trucks sometimes slide off the roads.

If there’s public transit, buses and trains need to get started earlier. Special snow trains clear the snow from outdoor tracks and apply de-icing chemicals to keep the rails safe.

Sidewalks are typically the responsibility of property owners: if you own a building, it’s your job to make sure the sidewalk is shoveled and safe for pedestrians outside. Owners of large buildings pay workers or contractors to clear sidewalks, parking lots, and walkways, and then apply sand and salt for pedestrian safety. Homeowners often do it themselves.

For spaces too small for a snowplow, there are a few options. The old-fashioned way is with a shovel. But this is time-consuming, heavy work if you have a large area to clear. So you’ll often see people pushing snowblowers. These are small appliances like lawnmowers; but instead of cutting grass, they push the snow to one side.

Snow and ice can damage utility lines, too. So workers for the electrical and phone companies work overtime to track and repair damage to their lines.

School administrators have a tough call. If snow is forecast overnight, they need to decide whether to open schools the next day; if they close schools, they have to get the word out early enough so bus drivers, teachers, and parents can plan ahead.

Airports need to keep runways clear. But the runways are harder to clear than roads, since every bit of snow has to be cleared before each takeoff and landing. Critical signage on the runway has to be brushed off so pilots and other workers know where to go. Snow must also be cleared off the critical parts of a plane before it can take off. There are special machines that spray de-icing fluid all over the exterior of a plane.

Snowy cities like Minneapolis, Detroit, Toronto, and Montreal have this down to a science . But the real problem is when a snowstorm catches a warm-weather place by surprise. Atlanta gets just a few inches of snow per year, on average. But in 2014, three inches fell in one storm—and the city was not prepared.

Atlanta was paralyzed for days. A layer of ice formed over the highways, making them impossible to drive on. Some people slept in their cars. Others just got out, abandoned their cars, and walked home.


I grew up in a snowy place. Connecticut, a small state in the northeast. This was before cell phones. And when there was snow, I’d wake up—as would every other kid—wake up and turn on the radio. And every ten or fifteen minutes, they would tell you which school districts were open and which ones were closed.

And in my town, there were two options. Either they would open school late—two hours late—or they would cancel school. And I would lie there in bed, 6 a.m., 6:15, and I would listen for the announcement.

They would go through the towns in the area in alphabetical order, announcing which ones were open, which were opening late, and which were closed. And I would listen for Brookfield, my town, near the beginning of the alphabet. And then I’d know if I could go back to sleep or not.

These days I’m sure there are text alerts—probably more efficient, but it takes the excitement out of listening for your town on the radio.

¿Hablas español?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into Spanish. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

你说中国话?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Parlez-vous français?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Você fala português?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

日本語は話せますか?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Parli italiano?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Sen Türkçe konuşmayı biliyor musun?

The transcripts of Plain English lessons are available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation. Turkish translations are available starting at Lesson 278.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Mówisz po polsku?

The transcript of Plain English lessons are available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation. Polish translations are available starting at Lesson 278.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

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