Sunday, March 9, 2014

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

Maybe that title should read “Make it go! Make it go! Make it go!

car covered in snow It’s winter time here in NYC and this year it came with a vengeance! Freezing cold, snow, snow and MORE SNOW! Even a few of the southern states, that don’t normally get snow, got it this year. And, like those ubiquitous, white, icy flakes, the question on the tip of everyone’s tongue was “When will it end!?” and “What to do with it all until then???” In an urban setting like New York, the snow can slow everything down to a crawl, or even a complete stop. People quickly grow tired of the daily traipse through the slippery, slushy and increasingly dirty mess, or of digging their cars out from under it. And, of course there’s the scrutiny on public officials as to how well they handle clearing it away and keeping things moving.

However, even as I too lamented all of these things, it also got me thinking about whether the snow, typically thought of as an inconvenience or hazard, might instead be viewed as a potential "opportunity" in disguise! Hmmm. . .a problem containing its own solution. . . ! This seeming dichotomy is a key principle in permaculture. In “Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture” author Toby Hemenway states
". . .Constraints can inspire creative design, and most problems usually carry not just the seeds of their own solution within them, but also the inspiration for simultaneously solving other problems." Put another way, "We are confronted by insurmountable opportunity" (attributed to Pogo, the eponymous character from the long-running comic strip created by Walt Kelly), p.7.
So, rather than an annoying, even dangerous obstacle, perhaps all those mounds of snow and ice potentially represent just such an "insurmountable opportunity" to be taken advantage of!

snow drifts on streetWith that in mind, I set out to find examples of projects that deliberately captured "unwanted" snow and somehow “put it to work". Please note that my Internet "research" was by no means scientific. Here are some of the examples I found.  They all describe plans to store snow in the winter and use it later on, to help with cooling in the summer:
  1. Snow Becomes a Splendid Cooler – Exciting Challenge in the Town of Funagata (M. Kobiyama) – this article appeared in the scholarly journal “Snow Engineering”. It described an experiment conducted in Funagata, Yamagata Prefecture (Japan) back in 1997 to investigate the feasibility of using snow for cooling. A system was developed and installed in the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery Practices Building there, and was found to work quite well.

  2. Snow Cooling in Sundsvall – a hospital in Sweden has utilized a snow cooling system since 2000.

  3. Snow To Be Used to Replace 30% of Japanese Airport's Cooling Energy Needs – in 2008, Japan’s transportation ministry began making plans to collect snow in the winter to assist with summer cooling needs at New Chitose Airport, located on the island of Sapporo, in Hokkaido, Japan. Apparently they can get 20-30 feet of snow each year, so finding something useful to do with it is an excellent example of turning a problem into a solution!

  4. Ottawa To Investigate Snow-Powered Air Conditioning's Potential – also in 2008, the Ottowa council (Canada) in conjunction with Hydro Ottowa (a power utility), announced plans to study the feasibility of collecting snow from city streets to later cool institutional buildings. I wasn’t able to find any subsequent references to this project, so don’t know if they ever ended up implementing it.

  5. Lawson To Be First Convenience Store To Save Winter Snow…For Summer Air Conditioning?! – a little more recently (2013), a Japanese convenience store chain announced that they would install and test a snow cooling system at one of their locations in Akita Prefecture (Japan).
Again, my research methodology was in no way rigorous or comprehensive, but just considering the question led me to the following insights:
  1. as you cans see, the references I found for productive snow reuse, were for projects being considered or undertaken overseas-- Japan, Europe and Canada-- so, it appears that at least for the moment, the notion of large scale snow reuse is kind of under the radar here in the United States. These references were also infrequent and spanned across time (1997 to 2000, then 2008 and most recently 2013), so it is not exactly a regular or ongoing topic of discussion, either.

  2. that living in a modern and increasingly urbanized society, may tend to color how we perceive and treat resources. All too often, we may be completely unaware of them until they occur in excess (or abundance!), and disrupt our routines during or after a storm event. Then, they become or are perceived as a nuisance or hazard to be removed or discarded as quickly as possible, rather than the potentially valuable assets they actually are. In the case of snow, it is something we hope will melt down a drain or simply disappear into thin air, after a day or two.
However, extreme weather events are not limited to winter, and will likely only grow in frequency, occurring year round. Therefore, eventually it will become necessary for us to shift our attitudes and perspectives about what those natural events bring, and figure out how to take advantage of those “gifts”!

Changing Your Intent

Catch and Store Energy: What You Can Do Now!

  • Read about a project making use of snow as an environmental service? Or, maybe you have your own idea for doing that? Share it here or start a discussion on the With Intent Facebook or Google+ page.


  1. Jill, thank you for this wonderful article! Richly researched and absolutely inspiring. I hope North America soon joins Japan, Europe and Canada in applying the wisdom of productive snow use. Am grateful for the many resources you gathered and shared here. I'll be referring back to it, as I continue to study and think about this important topic.

    1. HI Erika,

      Glad that you enjoyed the snow post! I hope that we start to hear about similar projects being undertaken here in the U.S. as well.

      Thanks so much for stopping by With Intent!