This warmer, drier-than-normal winter has been kind to city budgets so far.
West Shore communities have saved money on salt, overtime and gas for snow trucks. And it freed up time for work that normally is put off, such as road and bridge projects, vehicle and building maintenance.
“Last year was not a bad winter, but this year is even more mild,” said Avon Lake Streets Department foreman Ed Moran, who has seen 42 winters come and go during his time with the city. “We’ve only had to get out the plows about three days. We’ve used a lot less fuel, and we haven’t had to replace any plows yet.”
Wildlife has also benefited from the mild winter.
“It can be challenging when there’s snow because it makes it harder for them to find food (and) they have to worry about staying warm and surviving in bitter temperatures,” said Amy LeMonds, director of programs and wildlife for the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center in Bay Village. “With this mild weather, animals have not had to work as hard to do either of those things.”
Expect to see a boom in animal population because mating season may come sooner, LeMonds said. Animals have been given more time to prepare for spring instead of concentrating on surviving the cold, she said.
From November through Sunday, a total of 21.7 inches of snow has been recorded for Northeast Ohio, which meteorologist Doug Kahn of the National Weather Service at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport called a light snowfall so far.
Kahn said that based on the statistics through Sunday, this winter is shaping up to be one of the 10 warmest ever. The average temperature in November was 38.9 degrees; 38 degrees in December; 36.3 degrees in January and so far for February through Sunday it's 36.6 degrees.
Warmer temperatures mean less salt on the road and fewer hours behind a snow plow wheel, which has been a savings for cities. It also means fewer pothole repairs and car accidents.
Some examples of savings:
Avon has used 819 tons of salt this winter, compared to 1,844 tons last year.
Avon Lake has used about 1,200 tons of road salt so far, compared to 4,500 tons last year.
Avon Lake has seen a 70% drop in diesel fuel use, fewer truck repairs and plow blade replacement.
Rocky River police handled 126 accidents between Oct. 1, 2019, and Feb. 1; they handled 145 between Oct. 1, 2018, and Feb. 1, 2019.
North Olmsted had spent $12,679 on overtime for street crews through early February, compared to $25,853 last year and $40,485 in 2018.
Westlake police recorded 257 accidents between Oct. 1, 2019, and Feb. 1; they recorded 303 accidents between Oct. 1, 2018, and Feb. 1, 2019.
Westlake has had to plow the roads just three times since November and the city has spent almost none of the $145,000 budgeted for overtime.
Westlake has used about 1,700 tons of the 6,000 tons of salt it buys annually.
In North Ridgeville, the salt storage barn is about three-fourths full with an estimated 3,000 tons, said North Ridgeville Streets Superintendent John Montgomery.
“You’re saving salt, but sometimes you wish it would snow so you could get rid of some of the salt,” he said.
Fairview Park Service and Development Director Mary Kay Costello is approaching this winter with caution, as the snowfall last week indicated how weather can change instantly. She said it’s too early to say what the savings in overtime might be for 2020.
“Often, when Lake Erie does not freeze over, there are winter storms that pick up moisture over the lake and drop heavy snow during storms in March and April,” she said. “ It has been a mild winter and we are grateful so far, but it is far from over.”
It has been one of the warmest winters on record for the Great Lakes, said meteorologist Dan Cornish of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric agency in Gaylord, Michigan. He said if the warmer temperatures continue, this could be one of the five warmest winters on record for the Great Lakes region.
“There’s not a lot of ice coverage on the Great Lakes this year,” he said. “That means the water levels will be lower later since there won’t be as much ice melting.”
Petty Officer Third Class Brian McCrum, public affairs officer for the Ninth Coast Guard District in Cleveland, said the Coast Guard had 102 Lake Erie rescues between Oct. 20 and Feb. 2, with seven lives saved and two lost. That is more than double the 60 cases in the period between Oct. 20, 2018 and Feb. 2, 2019 with eight lives saved and none lost.
“Some reasons for that could include the fact that we haven't had as severe weather so people have been able to stay out on the water longer in the year than at this time last year,” he said. “We had a mild October especially.”
The upside of the lake not icing over is that the Coast Guard hasn’t had to go out and break up ice as it has in previous years, McCrum said.
Contact staff members at 440-871-5797.
Here is a look at how some of the communities are faring in this mild winter.
Avon has saved money in overtime, fuel, maintenance costs of snow plow equip
Based on Nov. 1, 2018 through Feb. 1 for 2019 and Nov. 1, 2019 through Feb. 1, 2020 in Avon, the usage of road salt has dropped from 1,844 tons last year to 819 tons of salt, or a 55% drop in that time, Farmer said.
Overtime hours for street crews has dropped 55%, from 346.5 hours last year to 154 hours so far this season.
The amount of salt used in the last three years averages out to approximately 3,400 tons per season, costing $57.91 a ton, according to Farmer. The city has a contractual obligation to purchase the salt.
“City projects are completed throughout the year,” Farmer said. “Our departments do a great job of transitioning from scheduled projects to unscheduled snow removal as needed.”
The warmer weather seems to have increased road traffic in Avon, said police Capt. Larry Fischbach. “More people seem to be out driving around, there are a lot of people in the stores,” he said. “It’s not like when it’s 10 degrees and people are inside sheltering from the cold.”
Avon Lake Streets Department Foreman Ed Moran has seen 42 winters come and go during his time with the city. But the 62-year-old Public Works Department veteran is quick to say he doesn’t want to jinx the mild winter that Northeast Ohio is having this year by rejoicing too much.
This year’s mild winter has translated to crews being able to focus on other jobs, while there has been about a 70-percent drop in diesel fuel use, truck repairs and plow blade replacement and a large savings in the overtime budget, so far. It translates to other jobs getting done, and a little less hours over overtime.
“Last year was not a bad winter, but this year is even more mild,” Moran said last week. “We’ve only had to get out the plows about three days. We’ve used a lot less fuel, and we haven’t had to replace any plows, yet.”
With heavy snows, it’s all hands on deck as six-man crews are assembled from the 21-member department.
But, with less snow and ice on the roads, Avon Lake has used only about 1,200 tons of road salt so far, compared to 4,500 tons used at this time last year, Moran said. Less plowing and salt also means less wear and tear on the streets, and less damage to tree lawns and berms, Moran said.
“I don’t want to jinx it, it’s not over yet,” Moran added. “It can change in a heartbeat.”
All this is in contrast to Moran’s first year on the job, which just happened to be the “Great Blizzard of ‘78,” an historic winter storm that struck the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes regions in late January. Northeast Ohio received only 4 inches of snow, but it fell atop 17 inches already on the ground. Winds of nearly 70 mph piled up 10-foot drifts, leading to 51 deaths statewide.
“That barometer dropped faster than it ever had,” Moran said. “The temperatures were in the 60s during the day, and dropped into the teens during the night.”
“When we plowed the roads, it didn’t even look like we had plowed what was behind us,” Moran said. “It was the only time I remember the trucks being called off the roads. I wouldn’t want to go through that again.”
For Amy LeMonds, the director of programs and wildlife for the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center in Bay Village, a mild winter is a good thing for the county’s wildlife.
“It can be challenging when there’s snow because it makes it harder for them to find food, (and) they have to worry about staying warm and surviving in bitter temperatures,” she said. “With this mild weather, animals have not had to work as hard to do either of those things.”
The warm weather also has meant there have been fewer accidents involving wildlife and vehicles. This also means that there are fewer stressors in an animal’s life that need to be considered, LeMonds said.
The weather could also lead to a boom in animal population because mating season may come sooner in the Spring because animals have been given more time to prepare for things other than surviving the cold, she said.
Whether or not warmer temperatures are a good thing for the area’s wildlife is still unknown and to LeMonds, looking at the weather isn’t enough.
“There’s a big difference between weather and climate,” she said. “Just a few years back, we had one of the harshest winters we’ve ever had in Northern Ohio.”
The Lake Erie Nature and Science Center recently opened up a climate change exhibit to illustrate how people affect our environment. The exhibit is free to view and is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
In North Olmsted, Finance Director Carrie Copfer said the mild winter so far is helping city finances. The amount of overtime for street crews through early February is $12,679 compared to $25,853 in 2019 and $40,485 in 2018 for the same time periods.
In Fairview Park, Service and Development Director Mary Kay Costello said the city has a contract through the Ohio Department of Transportation for 2,200 tons of salt for the year, and the city has actually ordered 1,100 tons of salt through early February. Costello said the city anticipates ordering at least 1,980 tons of salt this year (to meet our ODOT requirement for ordering - the ODOT contract allows us to order up to 90% of our total order). If we do not have to order the last 10% of our total order - or 220 tons of salt - this year our savings could be a little over $16,000. It is too early to say that we will not have to place our whole order of 2,200 tons of salt. We want to have at least 800 tons of salt left over in case we get snow at the end of 2020 that will necessitate salt being deployed and we will want salt to be on hand and ready to use.
Costello said it’s too early to say what our savings in overtime for the winter of 2020 might total. “Often, when Lake Erie does not freeze over — there are winter storms that pick up moisture over the lake and drop heavy snow during storms in March and April. It has been a mild winter and we are grateful so far but it is far from over.”
In 2018-19, Fairview Park had 800 tons left over at the end of the year, after a total order of 2,200 pounds.
Some area police departments are seeing a drop in accidents with the warmer weather. The Westlake Police had 303 accidents between Oct. 1 2018 and Feb. 1 2019 as com[pared to 257 between Oct. 1 2019 and Feb. 1 2020.
Rocky River has also seen a drop, with 145 between Oct. 1 2018 and Feb. 1 2018. There were 126 between Oct. 1 2018 and Feb. 1 2020.
North Ridgeville Streets Superintendent John Montgomery said a mild winter has its advantages and disadvantages.
When there is less road salt to be placed down on the roads due to less snow and ice, it can mean overcrowding in the service department’s storage barn which usually holds about 3,000 tons of salt.
In North Ridgeville’s planning for the winter, the city usually orders 4,000 tons of road salt a year, which fulfills about 90 percent of the city’s contract of salt they are required to buy. Right now, the barn is holding about three-fourths full, about 3,000 tons. When it leaves the storage barn, the salt is placed on it the city’s “Aqua Salina” (liquid salt) trucks before they hit the roads.
“It’s definitely been a lot more mild winter this year, but there’s always something going on or something to do,” Montgomery said. “We really haven’t had a significant winter in about seven years, and haven’t had one with a significant amount of snowfall in about five years.”
Montgomery also estimates that the streets crew which usually sends out 19 guys, has only had to get the trucks about seven times this winter - if that, to clear the snow off the streets.
“You’re saving salt, but sometimes you wish it would snow so you could get rid of some of the salt,” Montgomery said. “Sometimes, you might save on salt, but sometimes you don’t. If we need to get more delivered by the end of the winter to meet the 90% of our contract, we have to pay to have it stored somewhere else. Using less salt for us is not always a cost saver
Warmer weather allows Westlake police officers to go on foot patrol in retail areas more often, said Capt. Jerry Vogel.He cited Crocker Park, where the department increased patrols after two thefts at the Apple Store in late January.
The warmer temperatures means the city’s service crews can work on the laundry list of other projects that need to be done in the city, according to Paul Quinn, Westlake’s director of public service.
“Because of the mild winter we’ve been experiencing, my guys have been able to focus on infrastructure projects like building and vehicle maintenance and completing longer projects like streetlight surveys,” He said.
The city’s maintenance crews have only had to plow the roads in Westlake three times since November. This lack of snow has meant the city has spent almost none of the budgeted $145,000 for overtime, Quinn said.
The city is also saving money in equipment usage and repair time, which is the biggest cost factored into overtime. Snow plows frequently chip or get damaged scraping across the asphalt roads.
The city buys about 6,000 tons of ice annually. So far, the city has used only 1,700 tons.
“I’d rather be out conducting maintenance projects and making sure the city’s infrastructure is in check than spending time plowing,” he said.
It has been one of the warmest winters on record for the Great Lakes, said Dan Cornish a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Gaylord, Michigan. He said if the warmer temperatures continue, it could be one of the five warmest winters on record for the Great Lakes area.
“There’s not a lot of ice coverage on the Great Lakes this year,” he said. That means the water levels will be lower later since there won’t be as much ice melting.”
Petty Officer Third Class Brian McCrum, the public affairs officer for the Ninth District Coast Guard in Cleveland, said the coast guard has had 102 Lake Erie rescues between Oct. 20, 2019 and Feb. 20, with eight lives saved and two lost. That is up from the 60 cases in the same period between Oct. 20, 2018 and Feb. 20, 2019 with seven lives saved and none lost.
“Some reasons for that could include the fact that we haven't had as severe weather so people have been able to stay out on the water longer in the year than at this time last year