A year ago today heavy snow and plunging temperatures brought Scotland to a halt. Here, as the blizzards return, some of those involved recall the chaos and outline their plans to avoid any repeat this year.
Temperatures in Edinburgh dropped as low as minus 14 degrees, there were daily snow blizzards, driving conditions were hazardous.
I was humbled by the efforts of the 2000-strong workforce at Lothian Buses. Drivers walked hours in the snow to make it to work; engineering staff worked day and night to repair the fleet that was damaged from the ice and snow; teams of staff took to the streets to investigate road conditions and dig communities out of the snow, and senior management were outside every morning in the depot digging a roadway for our buses.
For this year, we have made a significant investment in equipment including road salt, shovels, snow ploughs, thermal clothing, specialist footwear, six 4x4 patrol cars that will be able to travel in the most extreme of conditions to assess routes, and winter tyres for our vans. There are already 90 palettes of grit across our depots.
Keeping Edinburgh moving is something we can all do together. If you aren’t confident driving in the snow, don’t drive. Abandoned cars were commonplace last year and hindered the drivers at Lothian Buses, making travelling along already treacherous roads even more challenging.
Debbie Winton, social care worker from Currie
It was a nightmare. I’d normally drive my eight-mile route, but the roads were terrible so I went for the bus. I got to the bus stop at 6am to find the buses couldn’t get up Slateford Road.
My first appointment was what we call a double up – I had to meet another care worker at a house in Morningside and hoist an elderly person out of bed. So I had to walk through what felt like three feet of snow. It was just a case of putting on the wellies and getting on with it.
Everyone was in the same position. I saw loads of nurses all walking too. There wasn’t any choice. People were relying on us.
I walked down Slateford Road, up to Craiglockhart and then to Morningside. Then I went to Buckstone for the next person, Fairmilehead and Oxgangs. I couldn’t go home for a break, so I went to another care worker’s house to warm up before setting off again.
Everyone I went to was very grateful that I’d made it. Some don’t have anyone else to look after them, we’re all they have.
I finished around 10pm, got home and had a lovely hot bath. Then got up the next day and did it all again.
Councillor Robert Aldridge, city environmental leader
Last year, Edinburgh experienced its worst winter weather in half a century, with record freezing temperatures and snowfall. There were many lessons to learn and as well as carrying out a root and branch review in the council we also sought the views of the public.
One of the main points was that people want more information, so we’ve changed how we will communicate to keep the updates and advice coming as quickly as possible. We’ve also introduced new maps for gritting routes and the locations of grit bins.
We have tripled our salt stocks and strengthened our fleet of snow-clearing vehicles. This will allow us to treat more roads and pavements than ever before. We will also be clearing cars blocking certain routes to maintain access for buses and emergency vehicles.
There are lots of steps that people can take to be ready and I would encourage everyone to act now before the weather really hits. Our neighbourhood teams have already been recruiting local snow wardens. You can find out more about what you can do to be winter-ready at www.edinburgh.gov.uk/winterweather.
Scott Miller, owner of Compass Roofing, Leith
We’ve never been busier. In fact we are still doing jobs connected to last year’s weather because some people have had to wait for their insurance pay-out.
We’d normally deal with, say, a dozen or so call-outs for gutters that have come down, but last winter we had between 150 and 200. The upside of it all is that I’ve taken on five more members of staff.
There were some jobs we went out on and the people were distraught. They thought their whole house was coming down around them and we had to explain it was just the gutters and it could be fixed.
One house in Redhall, the woman had opened a door to her conservatory and the guttering had come through, landed on the television, her conservatory furniture. It was a bit of a mess.
Another time all the rone pipes came down at flats near Oloroso in Castle Street. There’s a glass canopy over some shops and how they missed the canopy is a miracle. A real near miss.
Jim O’Sullivan, managing director Edinburgh Airport
As you can imagine, the question I’ve been asked most in the last month is are we ready for the snow and are we going to close again?
Well, after last year’s unprecedented snow levels, we’ve invested heavily in our equipment and team, spending £2 million in improving our snow capabilities; bringing them well beyond dealing with a normal Scottish winter.
An airport runway is not like a road – it requires much more attention and even in good weather it is inspected many times every day to ensure there is no debris.
With planes travelling at speeds well in excess of 100mph when they take off and land, snow and ice pose major difficulties. It makes the runway slippery and slush can slow the aeroplane down.
We can’t use grit or salt because of its potential to damage aircraft.
Whatever the snowfall we will endeavour to remain open but safety remains our number one priority and eventually with too much snow we may have to suspend flying. However, our investments and the lessons we’ve learned will significantly reduce the time takes us to deal with snow and keep disruption to a minimum.