Lack of Alpena-area snow a boon for some, bust for others

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz State Street Car Wash employees Isaiah Owens, left, and Bradley Duby spray snow, ice, and salt off a car at the car wash on Friday. Car washes, like many other businesses, are weather-dependent. Often, the car wash is extremely busy after it snows.

ALPENA — The lack of snow this winter in Northeast Michigan comes at a cost for some and a savings for others.

From Nov. 1 through Feb. 15, the Alpena area has received nearly a foot less snow than the long-term historic average.

For some, the lack of snow has been a blessing financially, as it has saved them money.

But, for others, it has meant a loss of income that they count on for the balance of the year.

A bulk of the snow that did come fell during two large storms in January and a small storm on Thursday, but, outside of that, the area has seen only light dustings of snow.

Over the course of the winter so far, the snow the area has received was short-lived, as temperatures in the 40s and even 50s have made for a quick melt.

So far this winter, Alpena has received 41.7 inches of snow, 26 inches of that coming last month, which is well below the 51.9 inches of the historic average. The National Weather Service began recording weather data in 1869.

Snow plow businesses have seen their revenue slashed this year because of the rarity of snow on the ground. Unless the next couple months feature near record-setting snowfall, it is unlikely they can make up that money.

Todd Nowicki said he began plowing snow with his father decades ago and the demand for snow removal made it a viable full-time job that provided enough income to make it through the warmer months.

Now, the area doesn’t receive the snow it used to, he said, and people plow snow as a way to supplement the income they make at their everyday job.

Nowicki said he uses the money he makes in the winter from snow removal to pay for a slip at the harbor in Rogers City for his boat and other costs associated with his fishing hobby. He said he hoped to plow enough this year to pay for the slip and replace the electronic fishing equipment on his boat, but, so far, there hasn’t been enough business and he will have to use money from his contracting job.

“Now, it is extra money, or what I call it play money,” he said. “It isn’t like before, where you could actually be able to pay your bills with it. It is just the way our winters are now. This winter has been horrible and one of the worst winters for business that I can remember.”

Nowicki said that, years ago, you could count on snow to begin falling in November and it pretty much stayed on the ground and continued to accumulate until spring. He said that, now, the area really doesn’t see snow until January and it cuts the winter snowfall season in half, which reduces the demand for plowing.

If the revenue is down and something goes wrong, he said, it is now easier to lose money.

“If you hit something on accident with your plow, it costs money to repair, or, if you burn up a transmission in your truck, that can cost thousands of dollars,” he said. “You can still make some money, as long as you don’t break down.”

One would think the lack of snow would benefit the area county road commissions in a big way, as truck drivers spend less time plowing and salting streets.

Ryan Brege, managing director for the Alpena County Road Commission, said the mild weather has limited the number of hours employees work, but there has been little savings on salt or other expenses.

“We definitely see some savings with the reduced overtime, but we still have the guys out doing other maintenance and projects, so it’s not as significant as you think,” Brege said. “As far as salt, we still have to spread salt even when there isn’t a large storm. It only takes a light dusting and a little wind and roads can get slick and we need to lay down salt. We aren’t seeing any significant savings, there.”

In Northeast Michigan, it isn’t uncommon for winter to extend into March and even April, so there is still plenty of time for Mother Nature to send significant snow to the area.

In March of last year, Alpena received 15.4 inches of snow, which was about five inches above the long-term average.

However, in April of last year, Alpena received less than one inch of snow, below the six-inch average.


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