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Low-snow season pinching Mukwonago businesses

Jan. 29, 2013

It's hard to imagine, given last week's subzero temperatures (with more chilly temps predicted for later this week) that Wisconsin isn't breaking any cold-weather records. It is however, making it into weather news as last week saw one of only 18 instances since 1948 in which temperatures dipped to zero degrees or below with no snow.

In fact, snow, in general, has been scarce. According to the National Weather Service, after Milwaukee snapped its 288 snow-free day streak on Dec.18, it has seen only a little over 7 inches, putting it in a 14.5-inch deficit compared to the seasonal average. While Madison got hit more significantly with the December storm, it still is 1.2 inches below average.

This lack of snow is starting to hurt some local businesses that depend on snow-driven purchases.

At Mukwonago Yamaha, general manager Rick Silkworth said the lack of snow so far this season has damaged sales of snowmobiles.

"Sales are significantly down," Silkworth said. "The key is early snow, preferably by late November. At this point it's almost too late (to make up for sales.)"

Brian Szajna, general manager of Ace Hardware in Mukwonago, said the late start to winter also hit their sales hard because most winter purchases are made before Christmas. He has been seeing a significant decrease in sales of snowblowers and parts and other snow-driven necessities such as shovels. However, he said sales overall have remained strong because of Wisconsin's temperature swings.

"We've been selling more salt," Szajna said. "A few weeks ago when we got the thaw and rain and then it all froze we couldn't keep salt in stock, and we were plenty stocked. "

Szajna also said that usually after the first or second week of January, repairs come in, but so far this season no snowfall has been sizable enough to break anything.

"Usually we are replacing belts nonstop, but we have not even sold much at all," Szajna said.

Municipalities are seeing a difference in man hours and supplies this year.

Tom Brandemuehl, Village of Mukwonago public works supervisor, said the village has used about 180 tons of salt so far this year. The village has had trucks out on about six different occasions, which is far less than normal, especially in December. He said that while the budget just started over Jan. 1, so far the village is ahead by not needing any overtime.

"But it's weather; that could all change in a day," Brandemuehl was quick to point out.

Tom Johnson, Big Bend's superintendent of public works, isn't as worried about paying for overtime as he is worried about storage for unused salt.

"Anything we can't take at the end of the season we get charged per month to store," Johnson said.

Johnson said that the way things are going, the area would need to see about 15 more "good storms" to be at normal level for plowing and salting. He's already anticipating excess salt and is considering adjusting his numbers when the village orders next year's stock in April.

Until then, he's keeping everyone who isn't plowing or salting busy by thinking warm and getting a jump-start on spring activities.

"When you're not doing what you normally do, you need to look for new stuff. We're doing a lot of vehicle maintenance, building maintenance and painting picnic tables for the parks," Johnson said. "Something that'd be done in spring that we can move into our shop we're doing now."

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