IN THE WINTERS of 2009 and 2010, we had some of the worst cold weather seen in Ireland in decades.
First, what became known as the Big Freeze hit Ireland and the UK from December 2009 to March 2010.
Then in November and December 2010, we had what Met Éireann called an “extreme cold spell”, with sleet, snow, and temperatures below -10 degrees celsius in some areas.
It was the coldest winter in Ireland since 1963.
The first winter 2010 snowfall hit in November, and all the way up to Christmas more snowfalls and freezing temperatures added to the piles of snow on roads, paths, and in estates.
As Met Éireann recalled:
After an improvement in temperatures for five or six days, although still cold, it became extremely cold again from 16th with snow at times leading to significant accumulations and record low December temperatures. Daytime temperatures failed to go above freezing on many days during this period and we had 9 consecutive days when temperatures remained below zero in some areas. Night-time temperatures below -10°C became a regular feature, reaching as low as -17.5°C in Co. Mayo on 25th.
For transport operators, that meant a major headache. For Dublin Bus, it meant that their job – ferrying people around the city and its environs – instantly became trickier.
Joe Stobie, Area Operations Manager at central control in Dublin Bus, recalled the snowy days.
“We were still operating when everybody else was shut down. We just did what we always do – we kept going.”
“We basically just told the drivers, if you can go, keep going,” added Dublin Bus controller Mark Drew.
“If it takes three hours to get there, keep going,” emphasised Stobie. “And they just took their time and got everybody on.”
Dublin Bus sent its chief inspectors in staff cars out to assess the roads. Meanwhile, staff put salt out in front of depots to make sure buses could get out.
There are 14 chief inspectors in Dublin Bus, and seven staff cars. “Everyone had a snow shovel, snow spikes, bags of salt, and they just went out in the mornings at 4am and 4.30am checking bus routes and spread [salt] in front of bus stops,” said Stobie.
They kept all the buses out on the main corridors, and took all the buses out of the housing estates until the chief inspector could drive around and say if it was safe.
Indoors, the webpage was kept up to date, while the social media department and IT department were working hard to ensure passengers had all the essential information.
“We were telling people where the diversions where, where the buses were going and operating, what kind of services were going,” said Stobie.
And the chief inspector would go out when a bus got stuck, went out in a staff car, throwing salt out in front of the bus, get the bus moving again. We worked flat out for weeks and weeks and weeks.
The picture Stobie and Drew paint is one of a very busy and dedicated staff.
“People were coming in here early in the morning and going late at night,” said Stobie. “The commitment when things go wrong from our staff is unbelievable. Drivers will stay out there doing what they need to do, controllers will stay here. If we can get in to work, everyone can get in to work, with the exception of one or two.”
But people got out of bed an hour early to be in here at five o’clock in the morning. It’s just incredible.
While Dublin Bus has to deal with other bad weather events, like flooding, the snow was a different type of challenge.
“They were localised. Snow was everywhere. It was just catastrophic.”
Ireland wasn’t prepared for the freezing temperatures of the winter of 2010. Afterwards, all the agencies sat down and did a review, to ensure that if the same thing ever happened again, Ireland would be ready.
Last year, the National Roads Authority told us that it used 200,000 tonnes of salt in 2010 – and for winter 2014 it had stocked up with 230,000 tonnes just in case. Luckily, that wasn’t needed.
When it gets to anything around freezing temperatures you have to treat it, you don’t want to risk not treating it. So, we do it on a case-by-case basis. I don’t think people realise we’re doing it all the time.
The ESB also said that it has up-to-date contingency plans for poor weather conditions (like the numerous storms that have hit Ireland this year).
Here’s what some of our reporters remembered from the 2010 snow:
Paul Hosford: The 39 goes down and up a hill at the M50 and on one day it couldn’t do it and got stuck. The 239 was cancelled meaning I couldn’t get to Lucan at the time, so I walked the backroads to work and got a lift home off a Polish couple who stopped and helped me. Sound.
Michelle Hennessy: We went to a gig NYE that year and had a snowball fight on the way back to a friend’s. I also remember it took me two hours to get home from town on Christmas Eve. It was usually a 40 minute journey at most and that’s when traffic is really bad.
Cianan Brennan: I remember walking to work on Christmas Eve and it being -11 when I left the house.
Nicky Ryan: I remember being on the 19A I think it was then going to town, and the bus could barely make it up Mobhi Road, it kept on sliding to one side. Everyone on the bus went quiet because it repeatedly seemed like we were about to hit other cars.