This weekend, services on parts of the Orange and Red Lines are being bustituted so that two snowzilla machines borrowed from New York's MTA can clear the lines. These machines are essentially jet engines on wheels.
Separately, Boston is borrowing two industrial snow-melting machines from Massport. These machines can 150 tons of snow an hour.
Every city makes its own cost benefit decisions as to what sort of equipment is worth keeping around. It makes the news when their decisions turn out not to work out. These sorts of decisions sometimes result in people being voted out of office, as happened to Seattle's mayor Greg Nickels, after snow was left on Seattle's streets for a couple of weeks. Occasionally, what happens is that equipment is acquired after a failure to respond, as with Heathrow airport. Sometimes that equipment then sits around for a winter or three.
So I'm sympathetic to cities who have to plan for these things. But it seems clear that you don't get what you don't pay for: if your city doesn't have the resources to buy equipment that it doesn't need most of the time, then its response when it does need that equipment is going to be slow.
Conversely, if you have a city which has the resources to buy that equipment, and more importantly an electorate (assuming you have a democratically elected government) which is willing to vote the taxes to pay for equipment to sit around just in case, your government and its response is going to look heroically efficient when snow gets dumped on it.
Snow chaos frequently closes European airports in the winter - something Finns can only smile at. After all, the downfall is rarely more than ten centimetres. The Helsinki airport was last shut down eight years ago, for half an hour, and even then because of a technical failure coinciding with a snow storm.Two metres, btw, is 79 inches.
The capital gets its fair share of snow, however - especially so in the past three winters. The overall snowfall in the Helsinki region has averaged some two metres, which sounds more impressive than the cityscape may have led one to believe. This is because the snow banks settle and some of the snow melts or evaporates, reducing the depth of snow to some 70 centimetres.
In late winter, trucks run up a snow mound over 30 metres high in Maununneva, a north-western suburb of Helsinki, to dump their loads, raising the peak higher and higher. "It's a real challenge getting the mound to melt before the following winter. It can still be ten metres in the autumn despite machines working with the snow to speed up melting," says Alatyppö.
Helsinki has a total of 500 snow ploughs and twice as many trucks for snow clearance, and when that is not enough, the city declares a ‘snow war' and summons additional vehicles from the surrounding regions.
This is a feat that deserves the admiration of less snowy countries - especially since nothing ever seems to satisfy Helsinki city dwellers. They want service to be even faster. When the city launched a website for residents to report snow problems, the amount of feedback crashed the server. The most demanding residents wanted the streets to be clear of snow by seven in the morning, whatever the snowfall.
Helsinki's authorities, along with their counterparts in the rest of Scandinavia, have the public support to spend lots of money on studly snow removal equipment. If your city has a significant fraction of voters who demand that streets be clear of snow by 7AM, regardless of how much falls, you can probably make the case for a large snow removal budget. But it's always a trade-off.