Residents of West Michigan welcomed the new year Sunday night with something they hadn’t seen much of this past December — snow, and lots of it.
Up to three inches of fresh powder fell by this morning. Prior to Sunday night, there wasn’t much snow to be found anywhere, however.
According to data provided by the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids, snowfall through Dec. 31 marked the third lowest snow total in recorded history for early season snow.
Only 5.2 inches of snow had fallen up to the new year, which is 24 inches below the normal. Grand Rapids has seen less than 25 percent of normal snowfall through December 31st.
No snow = less business
For businesses that provide winter products, such as snow shovels and snow blowers, the lack of snow created a slower than usual amount of business toward the end of 2011.
“Most people wait for the first snowstorm of the season,” said Mark Sopel, owner of Barnes True Value Hardware in Carson City. “Sales of winter items have been very slow. Not only has it not snowed, but it’s been warmer than usual, so our winter coats and gloves haven’t sold as well either.”
Sopel said he has to order his inventory almost a year in advance every February.
“Ordering snow equipment is a bit of a shot in the dark” Sopel said. “I usually order equipment based on the previous winter and we had a pretty severe winter last year.”
No snow= no fun
Winter recreation has been down so far this winter, as well, according to Chris Glasco, who assists with Norm’s Ski Shop, her father’s business in Greenville.
“We’re finding that customers haven’t brought in their skis yet to be tuned up,” Glasco said. “When there’s no snow, it’s normally not so bad because most Michigan ski resorts can make artificial snow, but it’s been too warm so far this winter for most resorts in this area.”
Glasco said her father’s business is a specialty ski shop with dedicated customers, with majority of them tending to ski in northern Michigan and at out-of-state resorts.
“A lot of our customers ski out of the Grand Rapids area and there’s a good amount of snow up north, where most people like to ski,” she said. “A lot of our core customers go up north and out of state. We’re blessed with the fact that we have a specialty ski shop.”
Glasco said sales on the store’s general merchandise, such as clothing, including hats and gloves, have declined compared to previous winters, as well as equipment involved for activities such as cross country skiing.
“I want to say no, the weather hasn’t affected things, but it has,” she said. “But high school ski racing is a business that is still surviving. The weather affects us and without that high school racing, we might be in trouble. But those kids are still on snow traveling up north.”
After Sunday night’s first major snowfall of 2012, it looks like winter has finally arrived.
“We’re hoping the snow hits sooner than later,” Glasco said. “It just isn’t winter in Michigan without snow.”
No snow= money saved
However, the lack of snow has managed to be beneficial to some, such as area county road commissions.
According to Ionia County Road Commission Managing Director Dorothy Pohl, the lack of snow has allowed the agency to save money on its winter road maintenance budget.
“This has been great, not having to spend money on diesel fuel for our trucks and not spending money on overtime for our drivers,” Pohl said. “If it stayed this way the rest of the winter, I’d have no problem paving roads in the spring.”
Pohl said this is only the second time in her 20-year career where she can recall such little amount of snow before Jan. 1.
“I look forward to having the money saved and using it to fix roads in the spring and summer,” she said. “I think the trucks have been out on the roads no more than five times so far.”
Pohl said the unexpected warmer weather has allowed her employees to remain busy performing routine work, such as scraping gravel roads. She has only had to spend a small amount of the budget on overtime wages.
“We’re continuing to maintain gravel roads,” she said. “I’ve only had to pay out overtime once so far. Overtime pay is usually very typical this time of year in order to keep the roads safe, but we just haven’t needed to be out plowing and salting roads so far this winter.“
By contrast, Pohl can recall years when the road commission has spent too much money on snow removal during especially harsh winters leaving “no money left to do anything” during the spring and summer.
“If you think about it, if I don’t have to spend money in the winter time, I can spend it in the spring and summer on improvements,” she said. “In that situation, I’m spending it on something that lasts for years versus snow removal, which is a short term operation.”