Jim Gates with Aurora's street department works on removing a tree stump on the cities west side on Thursday, January 10, 2013. Normally in a snow plow at this point in year, Gates said this is the first time in the twenty years he's been with the city that he's not had to plow. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 12, 2013 2:23PM
Ten squeaky-clean snow plows and trucks sit parked — no snow to push and no salt to spread — in the garage of JM Lawn Care and Snow Removal.
“We’ve been out twice this year salting,” said owner Joe Mox. “It’s a small business, but usually we’ve been out pushing (snow) three or four times, and salting five or six by now. Right now, we’re doing nothing.”
The Naperville-based business has planned ahead for snowless winter. Mox has split his clients between residential areas that pay per inch of snowfall or “per push” and clients like schools and businesses who prefer to pay a flat fee each season, whether it snows or not.
“It’s kind of a gamble,” he said.
And Mox and his 10 employees were working on lawns later than usual, through most of December’s warm temperatures — it’s one way to weather the lacking storm.
But mostly, he’s waiting.
“It’s going to snow,” Mox said. “We’re still going to get three or four good ones. It just hasn’t been a lot yet.”
It’s been 1.3 inches, to be exact. That’s the grand total snowfall in Chicago since Feb. 24, 2012, according to the National Weather Center, which declared that, as of Wednesday, Chicago and her suburbs had set a new record for the most consecutive days without at least an inch of snowfall: 320.
For most Fox Valley residents, the above-freezing temperatures and absence of the white powdery stuff — or the wet, heart-attack snow, the big, fat snowflake snow and the dreaded rain-snow-sleet-black ice wintry mix — have been a relief.
No digging out the car. No shoveling the sidewalk. No threat of tow for street parking.
But for those seasonal shops and services dependent on the fluffy white stuff for business, the weather outside — including Friday’s expected high of 58 degrees — is frightful.
Slopes still slick
Raging Buffalo Snowboard and Ski Park in Algonquin makes its own snow each year, and the slopes are ready, said owner-operator Keith Duck.
But no snow on lawns or roads still affects his business.
“When people see snow in their yards, then they want to do snow-related things,” Duck said.
Duck said the shaky economy and the recent mild winters have cut his business up to 35 percent from where it was in better times.
This year, Raging Buffalo opened for a bit in late November and early December but mild temperatures meant closing down until Dec. 23. The park has been open every day since then.
The ski runs and tubing hill at Villa Olivia in Bartlett also opened on Dec. 23, 10 days later than planned, but this winter and last have presented big challenges for the operation.
“We’ve had a double whammy this year, with the lack of snow and the warm December making it hard for us to make our own snow,” Villa Olivia Superintendent Peter Pope said.
What helps ski runs build bases is snows of 8 to 12 inches, Pope said. Since most snowfalls, even in a typical winter, aren’t that big, Illinois places rely upon man-made snow, which is best created in dry cold with temperatures below the mid-20s.
“I’ve made good snow at 36 (degrees) and slush at 26,” Duck said.
Thus, if the cold, dry air anticipated for early next week arrives, Duck expects crews at Raging Buffalo “will be out pretty much 24-7 making snow.”
If the ski slopes are suffering, shops hawking shovels and snowblowers are still squeaking by.
“Sure, we wish there were some snow,” said Dan Amoni, assistant manager of Ace Hardware on North Lake Street in Aurora. “We’re not doing real great this year with snowblower sales, but otherwise, we’re doing OK. People are still coming in for shovels and ice melt and getting prepared.”
And other winter staples — bird seed and feeders, for instance — are still flying from the shelves. Amoni said he even sold grass seed a few days ago.
Stores are doing what they can do attract buyers for those snowblowers, moving them around the floor and creating nice displays to interest buyers. The prices, Amoni said, are already below retail.
“They’re always on special,” he said. “But you can really predict what’s going to happen. As soon as you get four inches on the ground, you’ll have multiple shoppers in.”
Though it may not be growing season, the lack of snow is also affecting another breed of businessman — the farmer.
Moisture in the soil “has been depleted for some time,” said Dan Reedy, Kendall County Farm Bureau director. Following last summer’s drought, farmers are willing to take a little precipitation any way they can get it to ensure the ground is ready for spring.
“I’m not sure how depleted the subsoil, but we must be 10 to 12 inches plus,” he said. “With every succeeding day it gets worse.”
Reedy said the forecast of rain this weekend is good, “but we’re going to need more.”
“It’s wonderful if you’re trying to conserve energy, but it’s hard if you’re trying to grow stuff,” he said.
Temperatures are expected to end their balmy outburst — in January terms, anyway — over the weekend, returning to more normal levels but bringing no suggestion that significant snow will follow.
It’s nothing particularly new; winter 2012 also took its time arriving. A couple of dustings fell from the sky in December, less than two inches all month long, but the season’s first notable snowfall didn’t come until Jan. 12. Another seven inches came down Jan. 20. The 12.2 inches that had fallen by the end of the month exceeded January’s average snow by nearly an inch and a half. And then ... nothing.
The National Weather Service recorded just 19.8 inches of snow as the official total for Chicago for the entire 2011-12 season. That was the smallest tally in 62 years. Only nine winters had seen fewer flakes since record keeping began in 1884.
But for those who do want snow, there’s still hope — the National Weather Service predicts a 70 percent chance of the fluffy stuff Saturday night.
Staff writers Stephanie Lulay, Steve Lord, Susan Frick Carlman and Mike Danahey contributed to this story.