Kevin Patterson has been in the landscaping and snowplowing business for 37 years, and he can remember only one other winter with less snow than this.
"I think it was about 15 years ago, maybe 2008. We barely had any snow, and it was so warm we started mowing grass in February," said Patterson, the owner of A-1 Kevin's Landscaping in Smyrna.
With just a flurry so far this winter in Delaware, there haven't been any plowing or shoveling jobs, which he estimates are about 10% of his business in a typical year.
"We don't count on snow. It's a bonus," Patterson said. "But it's nice when we do have snow. It means we have money in the account before spring to get started ordering what we need for landscaping jobs."
Plus, he's stuck with a lot of salt he has to store.
However, there has been a bright spot. With the mild temperatures and no snow on the ground, he's been able to work on some landscaping projects.
"The calls have been trickling in. We've been busy about three days a week," he said.
His employees aren't getting as many hours, and some have had to file for unemployment.
What to do during mild winter:Visit one of these ice-skating rinks open this season.
At Rommel’s Ace Home Center in Dover, assistant store manager Frank Horrigan said normally in the winter, the store sells a lot more salt, shovels, scrapers and products to clear ice off windshields.
“We have a whole lot left over so far,” Horrigan said.
A winter storm usually helps perk up business between the holidays and spring.
“It’s just a slow time unless we get snow,” he said.
Delaware may save some money with lack of snow
The Delaware Department of Transportation budgeted $10 million this fiscal year for all storm-related cleanups, which include snow, said C.R. McLeod, DelDOT director of community relations.
Because we’re not even halfway through winter, McLeod said, it’s difficult to estimate how much will be saved right now, but whatever isn’t spent carries over to next year’s storm budget.
“If we do not have any snow events, we will save on overtime pay and the cost of purchasing more salt and equipment costs that occur,” McLeod said.
When there's no snow to plow, the maintenance and operations employees have other duties including repairing potholes and guardrails, fixing drainage problems, cleaning litter and trimming trees, but they don't get the overtime hours as they do plowing during winter storms.
Where does this winter rank in the history books?
For Wilmington, the lowest snowfall in AccuWeather’s records is a “trace” in the winter of 1997-98, said James Piro, AccuWeather climatology supervisor.
The second lowest total is 0.9 inches in the winter of 2019-20.
The record snowfall for Wilmington for one season is 72.7 inches in the winter of 2009-10. The 46.9 inches in February 2010 is the record for one month in Wilmington, Piro said.
This year, the city has received only a trace.
Archives from the Environmental Delaware Environmental Observing System for the Delaware Department of Transportation snow removal reimbursement program go back to 2009 on the DEOS website. In that time, the least number of measurable snowfalls in the state has been three, in the winter of 2019/2020.
What's the forecast for the rest of the season?
While long-range weather forecasting is challenging, this year’s winter prediction for Delaware from AccuWeather has been right on the money.
In October, AccuWeather senior meteorologist Paul Pastelok said the forecast called for a milder winter with less snow than normal in Delaware. AccuWeather snow predictions for nearby cities were 14 to 20 inches in Philadelphia, compared with the average of 23.1, and just 6 to 10 inches for Washington, D.C., compared with the average of 13.7.
On Jan. 19, Pastelok gave an update about the causes of the mild winter so far and a possible twist in February and March.
“It starts with La Niña,” he said.
One of the factors meteorologists check in making long-range forecasts for the United States is the temperature of the central and east-central Pacific Ocean near the equator, which influences the jet stream and the overall weather patterns in North America.
This year, the water temperature near the equator is cooler than normal, known as La Niña, which usually means moist and cold air coming together in the West, causing most of the snow and colder temperatures to stay west of the Appalachians, instead of hitting the Mid-Atlantic.
However, water temperatures in the northern Pacific were warmer than normal, allowing the wind flow from Asia to be carried directly to the West Coast of the United States.
“It’s flooded the nation with so much Pacific air,” said Pastelok. “We haven’t gotten a lot of Arctic air.”
The warmer-than-normal Atlantic Ocean is also contributing to the lack of snow in the Mid-Atlantic states.
“We’ve had a lot of systems going up the Ohio Valley, keeping the Mid-Atlantic coast on the east side of the storms,” he said.
The La Niña effect is expected to weaken as spring approaches.
“It looks like the Northeast, the New England area, has a better chance for colder weather and snow, but Wilmington could be on the edge," Pastelok said.
If the polar vortex weakens and Arctic air moves south, “all that cold weather we didn’t get so far, unfortunately, we may get at the end of February and closer to spring,” he said.
Reach reporter Ben Mace at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: How a lack of snow is impacting Delaware. What's in the forecast?