A serious lack of snow is causing financial problems for area businesses and putting a damper on winter recreational activities.
The average snowfall for the area is about 60 to 70 inches per year, according to data from the Northeast Regional Climate Center. So far this season, Dracut, Methuen and Pelham have had less than two inches.
“Even with years of experience, there is just no planning for Mother Nature,” said Gary Dumont, owner of Dracut Hardware. The store has been open at its 1982 Lakeview Avenue location for 52 years.
In the 25 years that Dumont has managed the store, this season’s lack of snow has been the most damaging to sales, forcing Dumont to lay off employees for the first time. Piles of Ice Melter lay stacked along the store shelves and drastically marked-down snowblowers line the sidewalks waiting for the snow to arrive.
“We are seasonal driven and there is just no way to prepare for a curve ball like this one,” said Dumont. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen this; winter just hasn’t materialized.” Sales have dropped 30 percent from last year.
Barbara Robidoux, owner of Robichaud Hardware, 45 Hampshire St., Methuen, said she was careful to keep the power-equipment inventory lower this year because of the lack of snow last winter.
“It’s hard because when you have a business based on anything weather related you’re at the mercy of the weather,” Robidoux said. “There’s just no predicting it and that’s difficult.”
In fact because of the lack of snow, Robidoux’s repair shop at the store has been working on repairing tractors this winter because snowblowers haven’t been used or broken.
Many other area businesses are feeling the effects of this snowless winter, including landscapers who rely on snow-removal dollars and even body shop and auto-glass businesses dependent on snow-related auto damage and accidents.
Keith Edgecomb, owner of Cutting Edge Auto Glass, 1305 Lakeview Avenue, Dracut, said his monthly revenue is less than half of what it has been in previous years.
“I’ve never seen business so bad,” said Edgecomb. “I’m an owner-operator so I’m able to keep the overhead down and stay afloat, but I’ve seen some of the larger glass companies laying people off.”
Edgecomb closed down his Dracut shop to work out of his home garage after a disappointing October and November.
“Between rising gas and insurance costs and this weather, I am taking a huge hit,” he said.
Fixed-rate snow-plowing contracts are the only thing saving Chris Beaudry’s business, Pro-Turf Landscaping in Pelham. Some businesses pay landscapers a flat rate for the whole year regardless of the amount of snowfall, but smaller snow-plowing companies often don’t have that luxury.
“I’d be hurting very bad if we didn’t have the buffer from the contracts,” said Beaudry. “This is the least amount of snow I’ve seen and I’ve been in business since 1999.”
Beaudry said he fears another hit when it comes time for spring cleanups. “Without the snow plowing to drag salt and sand around, people won’t need as much cleanup,” he said.
Thomas Jarek of TJ’s Landscaping & Plowing, 39 Kenwood Road, Methuen, is feeling the financial pain of the snowless winter.
“It’s killing us,” Jarek said of the lack of snow. “Absolutely killing us. It’s been a horrible year; from last winter with no snow and then the spring with the flood and then no snow again so far this winter.”
Jarek said he bought a sander two months ago, and with normal use, the sander would pay for itself, but not this year.
“Our last decent storm was Dec. 9, 2005. That was our last measurable snowstorm,” Jarek said. “We’ve had a few inches here and there, but that only pays for fuel, labor and maybe insurance.”
If the weather continues on this path, municipalities may find themselves in an unusual situation: a surplus in their snow-removal budgets. An average storm in Pelham costs the town about $17,000 for cleanup, according to Town Administrator Tom Gaydos. So far this year, the Highway Department has spent most of their time working on routine road maintenance and salting and sanding after a sporadic ice storm, but Gaydos said he isn’t counting the extra cash just yet.
“We could easily spend $70K on a big storm in March and make up for this,” he said. “A couple of massive snows and any savings you had in January are gone.”
A storm that affects the morning and afternoon commute can cost considerably more with overtime expenses, according to Gaydos.
In Methuen, Director of Public Works Ray DiFiore said he doesn’t like to talk about the lack of snow.
“We don’t want to talk about snow and jinx ourselves,” he said.
Methuen has a budget of $215,000 for snow removal, which includes overtime, equipment hire, sand and salt. “The city has spent $42,000 to date,” DiFiore said. “Last year as of Jan. 23, 2006, the city had spent $365,000.”
DiFiore added the budget may be set low to begin with, but it’s the only account the Department of Revenue allows communities to exceed.
DiFiore has three crews –water, sewage and park — on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week for snow removal. So far DiFiore has only had to spend $19,000 in overtime for the crews.
Pelham uses a three-year running average to determine how much money to allot for snow removal each fiscal year. At the end of the year, leftover money is spread over different line items in the budget or if needed, additional money is taken from other budget line items to cover overages.
“We probably put in about $200,000 this year. We try to leave money in there as a cushion for bad storms. Last year we did not use all of our budget,” said Gaydos.
Snow-related recreational activities are also suffering.
Ray Croteau has organized the Pelham Border Riders, a recreational snowmobile club, since 1968. By this time of year, the club typically has about 400 members. This year, with only 220 registrants, Croteau said people are just waiting for the snow.
Snow-mobile registrations are down 10 percent this year from last year’s total of about 60,000, according to Gail Hanson, executive director of New Hampshire Snowmobile Association.
“But we had a banner month in January and those figures haven’t been calculated in yet,” said Hanson. “Riding is still good; now all we need is a little bit of snow.”
Robidoux and Jarek are encouraging everyone to do a snow dance.
“I said I was going to find out from the Fire Department if I could have a bonfire in the parking lot and we’ll do a snow dance around it,” Robidoux joked.