Warm Winter Catches East Coast by Surprise

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The East Coast has had an especially warm and snowless winter this year. The balmy weather has snowmobiles sidelined and cross-country skiers sitting at home. Everyone from plow operators to lift operators are feeling the pinch.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

It felt like April across much of the East Coast yesterday as temperatures soared to record highs. Thermometers topped out at 72 degrees in New York Central Park and 69 in Boston. In Portland, Maine, the high of 67 was more than 30 degrees above average. While many people enjoyed the chance to spend a winter day in t-shirts and shorts, the warm weather is making life miserable for businesses that depend on snow and ice.

From Maine Public Radio, Susan Sharon has more.

(Soundbite of playground)

SUSAN SHARON: March Madness has descended on school playgrounds a few months early this winter. Kids are playing basketball without jackets and mittens. Some golfers are still hitting the links. And all the bare pavement has Lewiston Public Works director Paul Boudreau counting his blessings. He's been planning and budgeting for winter snow removal for nearly a year, but he never expected to be this far ahead.

Mr. PAUL BOUDREAU (Lewiston Public Works Director): We're approximately one third of the way through the winter season. And right now we are currently at 7.9 percent of our used up budget. That can give you an idea of what the actual savings are.

Mr. DAVID SHENARD(ph) (Oil Burner Technician): See if this works.

SHARON: For oil burner technician David Shenard, the warm weather has meant fewer emergency house calls to service frozen furnaces. And he says his customers are happier because they're saving money on heating bill.

Mr. SHENARD: Just knowing that they haven't had to turn up the thermostat as much, yes, they are, you know, very happy - that it's not costing me so much to heat my house

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHARON: But just across town, the owner of Dag's Bait Shop in Auburn says he and his wife are working twice as hard to keep their remaining customers. Bill Lock(ph) carries shiners and smelts for ice fishermen. But because of thin ice, fishermen can't get out on lakes and ponds, and business is way off.

Mr. BILL LOCK (Owner, Dag's Bait Shop): Of course, we can expect it with what appears to be global warming, but the economic impact is incredible.

SHARON: Lock also runs a small logging business, but his skitter is sidelined while he waits for the muddy ground to freeze and become passable.

Mr. LOCK: It has a shut down on a lot of people. There's a lot of equipment sitting in used equipment lots. I've had my machine for sale. I've had one person come look at it.

(Soundbite of machinery)

SHARON: One piece of equipment that is working overtime is this snow-making machine at the Lost Valley Ski Resort in Auburn. The family-owned operation only has a couple of trails open, and ski racing director Chad Bowles(ph) says racing will start this week on manmade snow.

Mr. CHAD BOWLES (Director, Lost Valley Ski Resort): I've worked here 19, 20 years, something like that, and this is as aggressive snowmaking as I've seen. Yeah, I think it's the meanest Mother Nature has ever been to the ski industry.

SHARON: Bowles points out it's been even worse for cross-country skiing operations, which generally don't make snow. The same is true for Maine's $350 million snowmobile industry. Bob Meyers, president of the Maine Snowmobile Association, says his snow machine, damaged last winter from riding over bare ground, is repaired and ready to go.

Mr. BOB MEYERS (President, Maine Snowmobile Association): I'm registered. I'm tuned up. I'm ready to fly at a moment's notice. And there's no doubt in my mind that moment is coming.

SHARON: According to the National Weather Service, the jet stream has retreated very far north into Canada. That's meant unusually warm air has maintained its grip on most of the United States, especially the East. Portland, Maine tied its record for the second warmest December, with an average temperature of just over 34 degrees. The pattern is not expected to break for at least a couple of weeks.

For NPR News, I'm Susan Sharon.

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