No white Christmas and a chilly but dry New Year’s Day — zero snow has hit the ground in Lorain County this winter, but the savings sure are piling up.
The warmer winter already boosted our temperatures into the 50s and 60s for big stretches of December.
Even the North Pole was reportedly above freezing this past week.
Thank El Nino, the massive climate event during which unusually warm Pacific Ocean waters push balmy air around the globe.
It happens in a cycle every two to seven years. This time around, though, NASA says its satellites show El Nino unfolding like never before, stronger by far than in 1997, previously the strongest on record.
The results can be devastating.
“The warmer than normal eastern Pacific Ocean has far-reaching effects worldwide,” the space agency said. “These events spur disasters like fires and floods. They change storm tracks, cloud cover, and other weather patterns, and they have devastating effects on fisheries and other industries.”
But consider for a moment the positive effects, especially close to home.
Without icy roads and piles of snow to clear, city and village workers have both saved cash and put sweat equity into other projects.
We reached out to officials in Amherst, Oberlin, and Wellington to learn how the unseasonable weather has saved cash and headaches.
They say there are savings from decreased manpower needed to plow, a lessened need to repair trucks, less damage to streets that will need patched come springtime, and less salt use.
“It’s quite a savings this year when it comes to overtime and truck maintenance,” said Amherst streets superintendent Jeff Barnes.
None of the three communities have put down salt to date this winter, as of Wednesday.
The Ohio Department of Transportation District III has used 53 tons salt so far this year, which may sound like a lot, but is actually very little.
Joyce Miller, ODOT’s public information officer, said workers have only salted a couple of times this year to prevent bridges from icing over.
“A lot of that has been used to make brine,” she said. “It’s a pretreatment method we use to prevent icing. We have used it for a number of years.”
Brine is made up of one part salt to four parts water.
Amherst has committed to buying 3,800 tons of salt this year through the state purchasing program, Oberlin 375 tons, Wellington 350 tons, and ODOT has 2,800 tons for Lorain County.
That’s nowhere close to what they used in the 2014-2015 winter season.
Wellington public works superintendent Bob Brasee said his crew is expanding on summer projects while the weather allows.
“We have been outside building (recreation park) dugouts and pouring concrete,” he said. “We have been busier than expected.”
Brasee’s workers have not had to fix a water break once this season. Last year, cold wreaked havoc on the lines.
The warmth allowed the Oberlin public works department to take more time with leaf collection, said director Jeff Baumann.
He has also had crews out using a durapatcher to fix broken street surfaces and analyze the city’s sanitary and storm water systems.
Barnes said Amherst is saving money because workers do not have to patch as many potholes.
There is always work for busy municipal hands, but no snow means fewer costly emergency call-outs.
That has Baumann, Barnes, and Brasee breathing easier rather than worrying about storms sweeping in.
“We have definitely not had to have overtime yet this year,” Miller said. “It was nice for our snow plow drivers to be home for Christmas.”
She said ODOT’s crew members have been replacing culverts at Findley State Park, attending training seminars, making street sign repairs, repairing fences, and picking up litter.
Even with the nicer weather, Miller is apprehensive.
“The winter season is not over yet,” she said. “We’re stocked and loaded.”
Amherst, Oberlin, and Wellington do have trucks ready to plow streets and lay down salt if Mother Nature decides to drop freezing rain or snow in the coming weeks.
At this point, the extended forecast looks frigid, hovering around the 30-degree mark, but free of nasty precipitation.
According to the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, the relative hot spell will last quite some time.
Heat maps show equatorial waters in brilliant reds and white, with El Nino at its peak through the next two months.
With heat comes higher evaporation rates, which means a lot more precipitation for California, West Texas, and Florida, the NWS says. Even the Great Plains and parts of New England are expected to be harder-hit.
But our Great Lakes region could actually have below-average precipitation, said the agency.
Valerie Urbanik and Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @ValUrbanik and @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Valerie Urbanik | Civitas Media
The Ohio Department of Transporation District III has 2,800 tons of salt ready to use this year in Lorain County and its snow plows are ready to roll when — or if — temperatures drop.