Incredible visuals of a stormy day in Edmonton

Early this afternoon, after a very soggy morning, Environment Canada issued a tornado warning for Edmonton and area! The storm was all people were talking about, and of course many posted photos and videos. Here are some of the best ones I saw:

Have you got other photos or videos worth seeing? Leave a comment!

You can always see the latest weather warnings for Edmonton here.

Potholes in Edmonton: A closer look at 100 Avenue

Every Sunday for the last couple of months I have driven down 100 Avenue, so I know firsthand just how bad the potholes on that street are. Every week they seem to get worse, but not evenly across the street. Some places are far worse than others. It got me thinking – why are some areas of 100 Avenue so rough while others are smooth?

100 Avenue

I considered the section road from 170 Street east to 149 Street. Closer to 170 Street there definitely seem to be few, if any, potholes – for the most part the road is smooth. Right around 163 Street, the potholes get really bad. For a while there was a pothole big enough that I’d describe it as a crater! As you approach 149 Street there seem to be less, but still more than the section closest to 170 Street. Why aren’t there potholes along the entire route?

My first thought was that perhaps the traffic volumes are significantly different for each part of the street. Fortunately, the Open Data Catalogue contains average annual weekday traffic volumes for the period 2006-2011, so we can find out. Here’s the result:

Unfortunately there isn’t data for the part of the street closer to 149 Street, but I can’t think of a reason it would be much different (especially since there is nowhere to go but north or east once between 149 Street and 156 Street, more on that in a minute). So it doesn’t appear that traffic volumes would have had much of an impact on the number of potholes.

My next thought was around the maintenance of the street – maybe sections were repaved at different times. I asked the City of Edmonton on Twitter, and was very happy to receive a response:

That actually aligns really well with my empirical evidence! The newest section of road, from 163 Street to 170 Street, is in good shape. The oldest section of road, from 156 Street to 163 Street, is in really rough shape. And the middle-aged section, from 149 Street to 156 Street, is a bit better. Clearly there seems to be a connection between the age of the street and the number of potholes it contains, at least in this example.

Remember that crater I mentioned? It was located right around 161 Street. Here’s what it looked like on April 16, 2013:

100 Avenue

And here’s what it looked like in May 2012, courtesy of Google Street View:

Looks like this is one of those potholes the City patches every year! Given that the street hasn’t been repaved in nearly 20 years, perhaps it’s time?

There are a few other interesting things to note about 100 Avenue. If you haven’t driven down there in a while, take a gander on Google Street View. Here’s a quick summary:

  • From 170 Street to 163 Street, there are four lanes of one-way traffic (east). For most of this section, there are sidewalks and commercial property on either side of the street.
  • From 163 Street to 156 Street, there are two lanes heading east, one lane heading west, and one lane of parking on the north side. There is residential on either side of the street, with a sidewalk on the north and a sidewalk separated by a landscaped buffer strip on the south. Traffic is restricted from turning south.
  • From 156 Street to 149 Street, there are two lanes in either direction (though in some places the west-direction is down to one lane). There is residential on either side of the street (except for a few strip malls on the north), with a sidewalk on the north and a sidewalk separated by a landscaped buffer strip on the south. Traffic is restricted from turning south.

One of the things you’ll notice as you drive down the street is that all the potholes seem to be on the south lanes where traffic is going east. No doubt this is due in part to traffic volumes (there’s a lot less traffic heading west). But I have a hunch that there’s more to it than that. I think there are two key features that contribute to the potholes, especially for the section between 163 Street and 156 Street.

First, I think the lane of parking on the north prevents potholes from forming there. Remember that you need water and traffic to create potholes. Even if the water drains toward the sidewalk as expected, the parking lane prevents the vast majority of traffic from causing potholes. Second, I think the landscaped buffer on the south encourages more water pooling. With less sun to melt the snow, more soil to hold the moisture, and more traffic, it’s no wonder that more potholes appear there. It seems there is so much water, in fact, that it overwhelms the drains in the area.

100 Avenue

I read the consolidated 100 Avenue Planning Study, and discovered there were good reasons for that landscaped buffer strip:

A number of concerns have been identified with respect to the impact of the 100 Avenue roadway improvements on the neighbourhoods of Jasper Place and Glenwood. These include traffic noise, speeding, pedestrian safety, and the possibility of traffic shortcutting, north-south between 95 Avenueand 100 Avenue.

The Stony Plain Road/100 Avenue Facility Planning Study, approved by Council on January 8, 1985,  recommended that these problems be dealt with by the installation of pedestrian crossings, the closure of some local streets south of 100 Avenue, and the development of a landscaped buffer strip along  the south side of 100 Avenue.

The study did mention that the existing stormwater system was “inadequate” but I’m not sure if or when that was originally addressed. I’m sure the authors of the study weren’t thinking about the possible impact of the design on potholes, but we can see the effects today.

All of this just reaffirms to me the complexity of the problem! Solving the pothole problem will have an impact not just on the way we maintain streets, but how we design them too.

Social Media and the Edmonton Storm

As you probably know, a violent storm passed through Edmonton on Saturday evening, causing lots and lots of damage around the city. Emergency services, Epcor, and the local media all had a very busy weekend, and the cleanup will likely continue for days. Users of Twitter, YouTube, and other social networks also had a busy weekend, posting thousands of first-hand reports as well as dozens of photos and videos online. In this post I recap some of the highlights.

Twitter played a big role in the storm of course, which means that I received a number of phone calls from the local media today. I was interviewed for the evening news on both Global and CBC, and will be on CBC Radio tomorrow morning at 6:15am. Why do they call me? Because I have the data to back up my observations, and now you will too!

From July 18th at noon until July 20th at noon, local users posted 14456 tweets. Of those:

1640 were tagged #yeg, #yegstorm, or #yegweather
462 contained TwitPics
682 were retweets
2024 contained links

To put these numbers into context, I compared them with the average of the three previous weekends:

As you can see, each category was higher than normal. Of particular interest to me, was the number of tagged tweets. During the 48 hours of the storm and aftermath, local users posted 4.3 times as many tagged tweets as they do on a normal weekend. There was a definite spike at the height of the storm:

That got us into the trending topics on Twitter, and spam bots and non-local users helped push up as high as #6:

Photo courtesy of Brittney Le Blanc, iNews880

There was a lot of information being posted on Saturday night, so I decided to aggregate the best of what I saw using CoverItLive. The tool has changed a lot since I last used it, but I got up and running pretty quickly. You can see the stream here. Some stats on the live stream:

283 different people followed along
92 total comments were submitted
259 tweets were aggregated
70 other items were posted (I was listening to the radio and adding extra comments)

One of the people following the live stream was Evan Adnams, who at the time was in North Carolina! He took the information in the live stream and started plotting it on a collaborative Google map that has since been viewed nearly 13,000 times.

I know for a fact that the local media used Evan’s map to find out where they should send their cameras. Users continue to update it too, which is great!

As I mentioned, lots of videos were posted online. This video by Trevor Prentice is probably the most watched of them all, racking up over 30,000 views:

There were also dozens of photos posted (check out galleries at CTV Edmonton and iNews880). This one by Brittney Le Blanc was not only the most retweeted photo during the storm, but it also immediately put to rest rumors that the CN Tower had collapsed:

I think that’s an important point. People often say it’s great that you can post stuff on Twitter in real-time, but who’s going to do the fact checking? The answer, of course, is everyone. Citizens like Jerry Aulenbach, who posted a number of TwitPics, joined forces with members of the mainstream media like Brittney to do the fact checking. Josh Classen and Mike Sobel posted frequent weather updates on Twitter based on the data they had, and citizens augmented that with live reports from all around the city. The Edmonton Journal, which couldn’t publish on Sunday due to power outages, kept its website up-to-date with a combination of articles written by its reporters and links to the social media resources I’ve mentioned above.

It was a truly collaborative effort, and it won’t be the last time we see social and mainstream media teaming up to get the job done.

The Last 24 Hours on Twitter: Storm in Edmonton

We’ve been dealing with a pretty massive storm here in Edmonton for the last 24 hours or so (Edmonton Journal, iNews880). At one point last night, every fire hall in the city was dealing with some kind of storm-related issue. Epcor has been taxed dealing with power outages, and I’ve heard nothing but sirens downtown.

As expected, many Edmontonians turned to Twitter to communicate about the storm. At one point last night, #yeg was the 6th most talked about item on all of Twitter. I was aggregating tweets together on a livestream that you can look at here.

Here’s what the last 24 hours looks like for local Twitter users:

Since noon yesterday, there have been just under 8000 tweets posted by local users, most of them with the #yeg hashtag. Other popular tags include #yegweather and #yegstorm.

Storm in EdmontonStorm in Edmonton

There have been dozens of photos and videos posted online too. The two above are a couple that I took last night before things got really crazy. The two most popular TwitPic’d photos from last night were:

Lots of cleanup happening around the city today, though the wind and rain are still quite intense at times. I’ll have more on this tomorrow!

Freezing Cold & Lots of Snow

Temperatures have been icy cold today here in Edmonton. When I went to work it was minus 30, with a wind chill of minus 46. And it got worse during the day! I had to shovel my way from the house to my car, thanks to the crazy snow drifts.

This graph shows the temperature here in Edmonton since midnight. Nasty isn’t it?

The Edmonton Journal is reporting that there were 106 crashes causing property damage today. There were only 4 collisions causing injury however, compared with 8 a week ago.

109th Street Outside the office Where I usually park

We weren’t the only ones experiencing the cold today. Calgary hit minus 49 with the wind chill this morning, and indeed most of Alberta experienced similar temperatures. I heard that St. Albert was minus 62 with the wind chill this morning. Even Yellowknife, where my parents live, was colder than normal today with temperatures of around minus 40 and closer to minus 50 with the wind chill.

I’m working from home tomorrow. It took forever to get to work today, and when I did I almost got stuck! My co-workers ended up turning around and going home. I don’t expect conditions will improve much overnight. City officials claim it’ll be more of the same until later this week. For everyone using transit, officials say buses are running up to 30 minutes late, which means prepare for an hour. Express buses are making more stops than normal, however. Garbage collection is also going to be delayed, apparently.

For everyone in the Edmonton area, here are some sites you may want to keep an eye on:

Stay warm and drive safe!

Climate Change

Post ImageIf you’re friend of mine here in Edmonton, you’ve probably had the unfortunate experience of discussing climate change, especially the particular variety known as “global warming”, with me at some point. In general, I don’t dispute that the globe is warming, but I do dispute that global warming is entirely caused by humans and poses a great threat, for the simple reason that we don’t have enough data.

We can show temperatures are rising (albeit over a very short period of time, so we don’t know if it’s normal or not) but we have absolutely no clue as to why. Sure there are many thoughts and ideas, but the fact that there are so many, and that they are so varied, only proves that we have absolutely no idea why the globe is warming. To blame it all on humans releasing CO2 seems a bit premature, and I hate that people jump on the bandwagon without thinking.

Here’s another reason we don’t know: the ozone layer. You might have heard over the last couple years that the ozone layer is healing. The fact is, it healed much faster than scientists predicted. That leads to many questions – if it healed up so quick, how big was the problem in the first place? Did humans really play a big role in causing the holes? Would it have healed without us doing anything? Again, we don’t know. And if we can’t understand an event like this that has already happened (to an extent), how can we understand something ongoing like climate change?

Even the definition at Wikipedia shows we don’t understand the “why” part of climate change:

Climate change refers to the variation in the Earth’s global climate or regional climates over time. It describes changes in the variability or average state of the atmosphere – or average weather – over time scales ranging from decades to millions of years. These changes may come from internal processes, be driven by external forces or, most recently, be caused by human activities.

I came across a really interesting climate change explanation earlier today on Derek’s blog. He cites a transcript of the Planet TV Show:

According to the math, we cannot know for certain how close we are to the point of no return, until it is too late. So if you are looking for absolute proof, you will not get it unless you are willing to sacrifice everything. Because, you cannot have absolute confirmation that a catastrophic change is occurring until it has begun and cannot be stopped.

This is true of both climate cooling and climate warming. When have we reached the tipping point? We don’t know until we’re past it.

Even if our contribution of CO2 is not the main reason for climate change, it is still important that we reduce and eventually eliminate the release of CO2 from fossil fuels. If we are close to the tipping point, then any small amount of increase may be the amount that pushes us over the edge. By the same token, if we are close to the tipping point, then any small decrease will take us that much further from the edge of a catastrophic shift in climate.

Good point, and I agree we should eliminate the release of CO2 from fossil fuels.

Global warming does not pose a threat to the Earth. Nor does it pose a threat to life on this planet. Both the Earth and life on the planet will survive the effects of global warming and catastrophic climate change. What is in danger is us.

The reason it’s humans that are in danger is that climate change could lead to another ice age. Life would exist after the ice age has ended, as we have seen before. The only way the earth itself is going away is if humans blow it up, or something from space does. The full transcript is here.

I don’t think we’re in as much danger as Planet TV Show does. I have a lot of faith in human ingenuity, demonstrated throughout our relatively short history. If something related to climate change happens that might threaten our existence here on earth, I am pretty confident we’ll have already moved on to other planets or at least would be able to. That’s not to say everyone will survive, unfortunately, but I think the human race would.

There are a few main questions to ask when discussing climate change:

  • Are the temperature changes and other factors (storms increasing, etc) we are currently seeing indicative of a fluctuation (temporary) or a shift (permanent) in climate?
  • Is this fluctuation or shift natural, or caused by humans?
  • If caused by humans, are we the only cause, or just one of many factors?
  • Can we do anything about it?

The answers to these questions remain elusive. Many varied theories exist, but conclusive evidence is nowhere to be found.

I think we’ll figure it out eventually. And when we do, I would not be surprised if our contribution to climate change is but one of many factors. Maybe even a really small factor. As much as some people would like to think, humans are not the centre of the universe, nor responsible for everything that happens inside it.

Snow storm prompts plowing review

Post ImageAfter going most of the winter with very little snow, we received enough snow in the last week to break the record for March snowfall here in Edmonton. Actually, we didn’t just break the record, we completely shattered it:

The blizzard delivered up to 25 centimetres of snow in some spots, easily breaking a 1967 snowfall record for March. That record had been a meagre 9 cm.

And as usual when we get lots of snow, people complain that the city isn’t doing enough to plow residential streets. Forget the residential streets and plow the damn LRT parking lots, I say! Though I am biased – I got stuck in the Stadium LRT lot yesterday morning (floor mats are good for traction if you’re ever stuck). In any case, the city is looking at ways to improve the situation and have come up with a new plan:

But the new plan, which would involve paying contract snow crews to be on standby, could cost the city millions more, says Mayor Stephen Mandel. Mandel says he’s not sure the public would support paying crews to do nothing if the snow doesn’t fall.

Its definitely a possible solution. Apparently the problem this time is that so few of the contract plows responded to the city’s emergency call. Perhaps having them on retainer would make a difference. Depends how much it costs I guess. Either that, or we need someone to invent roads that eat the snow or clear themselves somehow!

Read: CBC News

Crazy March Snow

I cannot believe how much snow there is in Edmonton today. It had started to snow pretty hard when I got home last night around 4, but it wasn’t too bad. When I got up today though? I literally had to dig myself out of the house! I took some pictures this afternoon, because I don’t think we’ll have another dumping like that for a while. At least I hope not.

The roads are pretty bad in the city, but not so bad on the highways. Many of the major roads have been cleared, except for a few like the Yellowhead, but none of the secondary or residential streets have been cleared.

Tom, Kim and I went to Boston Pizza downtown tonight for dinner and to watch the Oilers, and during the first period, Tom and I ended up going outside to help push a car that had gotten stuck in the snow. To make things worse, the driver totally didn’t know how to drive, and he flooded the engine.

So if you’re out driving in Edmonton, be careful, and don’t get stuck!

Nice Weather in Edmonton!

Downtown Edmonton from Stadium LRT #1The last couple days here in Edmonton have been rather nice! Fairly sunny and clear, and not too windy. The only bad part has been the tiny little bits of snow mixed in with the brown muck. I guess that’s what happens when you’ve had a warm winter. It’s about 8 degrees celcius here right now, and around the same is expected for tomorrow. Looks like the weekend will be a little cooler.

I took this photo yesterday afternoon from the platform at the Stadium LRT station. It’s kind of an interesting view of our city’s downtown – normally photos are taken from the other side, where it’s a little more picturesque. There’s a few more in my photostream too.

Cold, slippery morning in Edmonton!

I guess the weather here in Edmonton is just getting me ready for what’s coming when I get to Inuvik. It was a very cold minus 24 this morning when I left the house, and the high was apparently only minus 17. In addition to being pretty darn cold, the roads were extremely slippery. I drove to school today (instead of taking the LRT) which meant that I took the Whitemud. Near the 91st street exit, I saw a car going in the same direction as me spin out and hit the barrier. It looked like he was trying to change lanes, but I can’t be sure. Obviously he was going too fast, and he paid the price – the left front side of the car did not look good at all.

So bundle up, and drive for the conditions!