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AP EXPLAINS: Boston’s struggle to get rid of the snow

February 21, 2015

BOSTON (AP) — If it’s just snow, why is Boston having such a difficult time making it all go away?

Midway through a winter that’s shattered records in the U.S. Northeast and buried Boston in more than 8 feet (nearly 3 meters) of snow, locals and outsiders alike could be forgiven for wondering why a world-class city that’s accustomed to heavy snowfall — and prides itself on being a global center of technology and innovation — can’t seem to dig out and move on.

Here’s a brief explanation of what’s at stake in the battle against the elements:

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ENOUGH TO FILL A FOOTBALL STADIUM 100 TIMES

Sure, it’s just snow, but perspective is everything. Nearly 100 inches (250 centimeters) has fallen on Boston — making this the second-snowiest winter since records started being kept a century ago. That’s more than enough to bury 7-foot 4-inch (2.2-meter) Stretch Middleton, the tallest player on the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team. In Massachusetts alone, workers have removed enough snow to fill the New England Patriots football team’s 68,756-seat Gillette Stadium well over 100 times. Public works officials have struggled to keep up, despite deploying thousands of snowplows, dump trucks and front-end loaders.

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TOO COLD FOR NATURE TO MELT IT

Eventually, temperatures will rise enough to shrink snowbanks so tall that university students have used them as ski slopes. But it hasn’t happened yet, and now the region is in the icy grip of an arctic blast that’s making the snowpack harder and complicating efforts to remove it. Boston has borrowed machines from New York City that are capable of melting 135 tons of snow per hour. Officials also are using special “snow trains” fitted with plows to clear railways of the ice and snow that’s been fouling the morning and evening rush hours for commuters reliant on Boston’s public transit system, America’s oldest and fifth-busiest.

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WHY NOT DUMP IT IN THE OCEAN?

Actually, they are. Normally it’s forbidden to dump snow in the ocean because it contains contaminants that can kill fish and damage the marine environment. But Massachusetts environmental protection authorities have bent the rules because of the sheer mass of snow that’s accumulated. Boston and other cities are disposing of snow in Boston Harbor and other waterways, but they’re still required to steer clear of drinking water supplies, saltmarshes and shellfish beds.

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