No snow keeps plows low

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011
— Work can be tough when Mother Nature is your boss.

The lack of snow in Janesville is keeping plow drivers out of work instead of behind the wheel.

"I've got several guys sitting, just waiting to go to work, and there's no snow," said Damon Condon, owner of Condon Property Maintenance.

While that's good news for his customers who don't have to spend money on snow removal, he said, it can be disastrous for plow drivers who depend on the income during the holiday season.

Janesville has received 0.8 inches of snow so far this winter, which is second only to the 0.3 inches in 2001 for the least amount of snow by Dec. 31, according to Gazette weather records that date to 1948.

This year's amount ties with 1998. Average early winter snowfall total is 11.1 inches by the end of the year.

The lack of snow is not typical, but it's not unusual, either, said Rudy Schaar, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Sullivan.

"It's not my fault," he joked.

He listed other years when the first snowfall in the Madison area didn't arrive until the holidays, including Jan. 2 in 1993 and Jan. 3 in 1999.

Storms have moved north of the area, keeping the cold air bottled up there while Rock County remains in warmer air with rainfall, he said. Other storms are diving south, bringing snow to Texas, he said.

Despite the lack of snow, the area isn't short on precipitation, he said.

If the weather switches drastically to what Wisconsinites recognize as winter, it could be harmful, potentially deadly, for area crops, said Jim Stute, Rock County UW Extension crops and soils agent.

Stute said he's starting to get concerned because plants are not dormant. A typical fall brought lower temperatures and froze the ground, but with recent overnight temps above freezing and the mercury climbing during the day into the 40s, plants such as winter wheat and alfalfa aren't dormant.

"That can be a problem if we get a real quick change in the weather and it goes real cold, especially if we don't have snow cover to insulate the plants," he said.

The lack of cold weather also means we don't have the normal amount of insect mortality, which could mean more bugs next year, he said.

The forecast for the next 10 days looks like more of the same.

High temps will remain in the 40s, with a high near 46 on Saturday, Schaar said. A slight chance of rain with snow mixed in is possible starting tonight through Friday, but nothing significant, he said.

"If you want snow, I guess you're going to have to go somewhere else," he said.

That means Joe Paniagua's plow trucks are "cleaned and re-cleaned" as he waits for the first storm. His plowing/salting and lawn care business hasn't plowed any of its residential or commercial clients yet, leaving some of his employees out of work.

"You're not going to have a full crew until you start getting dumped on," he said.

Condon anticipated many people in the snow business would be hurting because of all the newer equipment he's seen. The recent snowy winters persuaded a lot of people to get into the business, he said, and now the snow isn't showing up to pay for the equipment.

The folks happy about the lack of snow are the ones adding up the snow removal budgets at the city and county.

John Whitcomb, operations director for the city of Janesville, has his fingers crossed snow holds off until the new year. He has a little less than $90,000 left of his $1.1 million snow-clearing budget for 2011. The balance will fill holes in other parts of his budget or the general fund.

At the county, Public Works Director Ben Coopman estimated he has nearly $700,000 left of his $1.9 million winter maintenance budget. The unused money would go into a county fund, where it would help pay for previous years where the department went over budget.

His comments echoed those whose business depends on the weather.

They can't change it or fix it, he said.

"All we can do is deal with it."

Cat tracker

An "old Indian formula" handed down by the Ties family of Brodhead predicts 39 snows this season. The cat-tracking formula is triggered by the first snow deep enough in which to track a cat.

Only one snowfall has been recorded, leaving 38 for the season. No cat-tracking snowfall is in the forecast through the end of the year. To meet the prediction, it would have to snow once every 2.4 days between Jan. 1 and March 31.

Last updated: 7:02 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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