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WDAY: The News Leader

Published January 12, 2012, 09:23 AM

Slow start to winter means more green for cities

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Cities across the country might be hurrahing at the money saved thanks to this year's warm, brown start to winter. But not everyone is as enthusiastic.

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Cities across the country might be hurrahing at the money saved thanks to this year's warm, brown start to winter. But not everyone is as enthusiastic.

Take, for example, Gary Tietz. The 70-year-old hardware store owner from New Leipzig, N.D., hadn't sold a single snowblower prior to Wednesday's puny dusting of snow in the Dakotas. Even smaller-ticket items such as shovels were collecting dust at his store.

"Sales are way, way down," Tietz said. "I haven't sold any."

Still, even Tietz doesn't complain much. He said he's never seen such an oddly temperate winter.

"It's the warmest I can remember," he said.

As both North Dakota and South Dakota appear poised to end their record-setting hot streaks, the states were among dozens nationwide able to tally up savings in salt, chemicals and overtime.

The balmy weather in North Dakota idled state snow-fighting equipment and cut the state's spending in half through November 2011 compared with the same time frame in 2010 — $1.6 million compared to $3.1 million, said state Transportation Department Engineer Brad Darr.

Granted, 2010 included such heavy snowfall that its spring melt-off helped lead to record flooding along the Missouri River — but last year still fell below the state's long-term average of $2.1 million.

As South Dakota's largest city, Sioux Falls had anticipated needing $1.8 million added to its 2011 budget for snow clearing, but Street Division Manager Galynn Huber said that without significant snowfall in November and December, he was able to return the money to the city's general fund in January.

On Wednesday, city plows hit the streets for just the fourth time this season, and each has been a limited sweep targeting only emergency roads. Trucks filled up with a mixture of rock salt and liquid calcium chloride at the city's so-called salt domes, which are about twice as tall as normal this time of year, said Jeff Gould, lead equipment operator with the Department of Public Works.

So far, Huber hasn't had to call a snow alert — usually declared with a blanketing of 2-1/2 inches or more — that would lead to a full clearing of the city's entire 73 square miles at an average cost of $110,000 an inch.

He acknowledged there are cons to such pleasant weather. Not only have some area businesses struggled — especially hardware stores and ski locales — but it also didn't feel much like the holidays. Wednesday marked the first time this season snow actually stuck to the picturesque Sioux Falls.

But back in Bismarck, it was because of the mild weather that Department of Transportation workers were able to spend the holidays with their families rather than on the road, said Jodie Hill, the shop foreman. Last winter, workers racked up almost 6,000 hours of overtime due to storms. This year, they've had nearly none.

"This time last year it was 15 below and we had two feet of snow," said Hill, noting that last week, the Dakotas recorded warmer temps than even Miami, Fla.

"Anytime North Dakota is warmer than anywhere this time of year, you have to be happy."

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