The other day I witnessed magic in Toronto. It’s called “Freezing Rain”. Ever heard of it? Before I stepped into Canada, I hadn’t either. It’s brutally beautiful; severely spectacular. Notice the oxymoron? And I feel kind of responsible for the havoc it created. Well, that’s what my Facebook friends swear by! I have to plead guilty!
I have to admit that I am born with a manufacturing defect. I dislike many things normal people like. Hot, sultry summers for one. While most sane people dream of sun and sand, my fantasies have wavered around cold, dark and rainy locations!
I have been sighing about snow for instance, ever since I can remember. Since I moved to Toronto, I have been praying feverishly to every divine power for oodles of snow. I did everything short of snow dance with the First Nations people, begging for frosty weeks to quench my fantasy.
I updated my social media sites with pleas for a good shower of snow over and over till the digital energy filtered out into the Milky Way and reached some divine power who conspired with the universe to make it come true. (Shamefaced now!)
Why? Well, I was mid way into my life and had never seen fresh snow, that’s why!
Blame it on all the Bollywood films I’ve grown up on – watching scantily clad nymphets gliding over snow, singing songs. They somehow make it seem that flurries are nothing but soft balls of cotton made of room temperature.
There’s more reason to my fantasy, let me explain. I grew up on Christmas cards that arrived every December from my dad’s British colleagues with graphics of cute kids merrily ice-skating before quaint snow clad cottages. (Pre-Millennial mortals, remember those?)
Snow flakes spell a combination of everything I celebrate – water, winter, wonderland. Coming from a hot and humid country, the grass is always greener on the other side. When the divine forces came together to make my dream come true, it was more than what I bargained for.
First there were gentle flurries that gave me the first glimpse of a vanilla world.
Overnight our leather jackets gave way to goose-down and fur. I thanked the gods profusely, laughing at my Canadian friends on Facebook for wagging their fingers at me, ominously warning that I had no clue what I was asking for.
Throwing caution to the winds, I strolled through ankle deep snow clicking pictures till I nearly came down with the flu. That didn’t stop me. I took a flu shot and carried on. My honeymoon with snow was on. I basked in the ethereal beauty !
The universe seemed pleased to discover one grateful human and hurled down further blessings to entertain me. Every day seemed a stage set for different dances of Arctic winter. One moment temperatures hit -16, partnered by piercing -25 windchill. The next day would be a warmer +4 degrees celcius of sunshine.
There was snow in all colours, shapes and sizes.
White snow, black snow, pink snow, black ice, ground frost, flurries, freezing rain, sleet, ice pellets, hail and of course snowstorms to name a few! As long as you were indoors, it was all beautiful.
Fortunately, every nook and corner is centrally heated. Back in Delhi, there is no concept of central heating despite temperatures bordering between +2 to +10 degrees celcius. Washing dishes and clothes can be quite a task especially for lower income families with little warm water at their disposal.
Here in Canada, one is not exposed to the bitter cold till you are out in the streets. The flurries increased, and so did my ecstasy.While news channels groaned about the weather, I celebrated every snow flake that came my way, craving for more.
Then one day, without warning, the skies came crashing down with bolts freezing rain. I had never heard of an ice storm or freezing rain before then. There were like sharp needles of rain slicing through the chilly winds, turning to ice like magic, as soon as they touched the freezing cold surfaces. Trees groaned with the weight of crystalline ice, snapped and crashed into electric poles, roads and roofs.
What is Freezing Rain?
In simple words, when rain falls through thin layers of cold temperatures at or below 0 degrees Celcius (32 deg F), it freezes into ice on contact with the colder surface.
It’s not as pretty as it looks, let me warn you! A quarter of an inch of ice can add 500 pounds to branches, bringing them down with the excess weight, causing power outages that are hard to fix. How do you scrape off cms thick snow from electric wires without the risk of short-circuit?
My enlightenment on the subject came from an escapade that I won’t forget in a hurry.
Powerless in Toronto
It was in the winter of 2013. I was engrossed in yet another inane American TV reality show well past midnight when suddenly the lights went out. Expecting the generators to spring into action (hey, this is a first world country, right?) I continued staring at the blank TV screen for several minutes more when it suddenly dawned on me that the power was not coming back for a while. It was an outage. I peered out of the window. Much of the city had blacked out.
What came as a shock was that there was no water either. The pumps couldn’t operate without power. Somehow, we weren’t ready for that. In our part of the world, we are more prepared for this so we store water in buckets.
It was then that the perils of a First World nation that is helplessly dependent on electricity for the slightest, dawned on us. Back home in India, we could carry on with our daily ablutions without electricity. Ironically, the more impoverished you are, living close to nature, the more you remain unaffected.
You could cook on gas stoves or better still, coal-stacked clay ovens; wash yourself from buckets stored with water; handwash clothes and dishes without without much ado. At worst, you simply steered clear of the bathroom till your bladder burst.
Here in Canada, life came to a grinding halt. Our home was on the 30th floor; not a drop of water trickled down the fancy taps. The old, rented apartment did not come with a generator. We were done! How would we manage the night?
It turned out to be a power outage of a scale we could never imagine in a place like Toronto. The next morning, we remained powerless (in every way). We found out much later that over 400,000 homes in the GTA had blacked out that night from the freezing rain. Some families fled to unaffected suburbs. Others were stranded for a good few days. State-of-the-art electric stoves were useless without a working plugpoint. There was not a drop of water in high-rise homes.
Outside, an invisible coat of black ice had settled on the roads. One hasty step could land you with a broken bone. Inside, we stood frozen, unable to figure out how long this would take or where we should go.
We had no flashlight handy. Our cell phones were running out of charge. Despite all the snow, ice, frost and the massive Lake Ontario frozen before us, there was not one drop of water to drink.We had to get out quick before the situation got worse.
It was a tough task climbing down 30 flights of stairs in pitch dark. But with the dim light of our cell phones, the four of us managed.As we stumbled down the stairs to put up the night with friends in Mississauga, a thought crossed my mind.
Ironic how humans create distinctions like “First World” and “Third World”. But it takes seconds for Mother Nature to equalize all.
New to Canada? Click HERE to prepare yourself for a winter power outage. According to Red Cross, a whopping 41% Canadians have been out of electricity for well over a day. Check out the video below to know more. Follow my blog “Oh Canada!” for tips to live and work successfully here. Join my Facebook Page for my stories and yours.