Businesses say snow plays a vital part in economy

Spring’s wintry start Wednesday that carried on with flurries and light snowfall throughout the week left many longing for sunshine and blossoms.

Though snow -especially in spring – can be a nuisance, it helps drive the economy in an area used to being blanketed by the white stuff.

For businesses that remove and plow snow, the past few years haven’t been as lucrative as usual. But in a field dependent on Mother Nature, it’s often a gamble.

“It moves the economy. You need the snow. It makes everything move,” said John M. Lucas Jr. who plows snow for residential customers. Many may recognize Lucas from his work as a certified chimney sweep as well.

According to the National Weather Service, which bases totals for the Capital Region from the Albany Airport, this season’s snowfall so far totals 50.2 inches.

That’s 4 1/2 inches below normal, according to the National Weather Service.

Last season the total accumulation was only 23.3 inches, and the season before that totaled 87.2 inches.

“When we get a lot of snow, we stay busy with roof shoveling, and we do quite a bit of plowing here and there,” Lucas said. “It’s very important structurally to keep the roof strong and keep it from leaking by [removing the snow and ice from it].”

But this season there weren’t as many roof clearing jobs as usually because the snow didn’t last, he said.

Larry McGillis, the owner of L.M. Mason Contractors in Gloversville, couples his contracting business with snow plowing during the winter. In the past, many commercial customers would opt for season-long contracts, making business budgeting easier. But over the past five years, customers are opting for case-by-case billing because of the lack of sustained heavy snowfall, McGillis said, and some of his longtime commercial customers shuttered or moved their businesses.

McGillis said with the unpredictable winters, it’s important to diversify his business with rental properties as well so he has something to carry it to the warmer months when the concrete business picks up.

Having the winter work can be good for the overall economy; it puts people to work.

“We bring in guys who are laid off in the summer to work in the winter,” McGillis said.

Though it may seem area residents awoke each morning to a fresh coat of snow, it wasn’t enough to warrant the average plowing jobs McGillis usually gets.

McGillis said this season yielded about half of the work his company usually gets in the winter. Last season, with its unseasonably warm temperatures and lack of precipitation, resulted in even less work.

“We didn’t do too bad [this season],” McGillis said. “We were at about 50 percent compared to what we usually get. We didn’t do a lot of sanding or anything like that though.”

McGillis keeps an ongoing chart of how much his crews work for each winter. He has data going back to the 1980s.

He said the storms this year were “nothing major, two or three inches or six inches.”

“As soon as we got it, a couple days later it would melt so there was no real removal of the snow,” McGillis said. “The removal [transporting snow to another location] part of the business was shot this year because [the snow] melted so quickly.”

Last year – when temperatures were in the 70s and 80s in March – he said his plows went out only five times compared to 12 times this year.

Usually, according to his charts, he said his plows would be deployed about 20 times a season.

Tuesday’s lengthy snowfall sent his plows out twice.

“We did hardly any sanding whatsoever. No ice storms at all this year,” McGillis said.

Lucas said Tuesday’s storm was “better late than never,” and added this year was better than the last.

“Quite a bit of plowing here and there, but we need more snow to stay busy,” he said.

His business does only residential plowing and a lot of removal of snow from roofs.

“The thing that was tough [about this year] was that you’d get 4 or 5 inches of snow, then it would get nice and warm up the next day or two, so it stunk for snow lovers,” Lucas said. “It just seemed to warm up too quickly, and then you’d get rain, then it would get cold again. That’s just Mother Nature.”

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