Mild Winter Brings Welcome Respite and Mixed Blessings

by Rick Howlett on February 24, 2012

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This winter could to go into the books as one of this region’s milder cold weather seasons.

The moderate conditions have been a welcome relief to most, but a mixed blessing to some.

You might think south Louisville hardware store owner Mike Girard has been taking a financial hit with slower sales this season of snow shovels, ice melt and sleds, but after 36 years in business, he’s accustomed to seasonal ebbs and flows.

“You can get the big spurts and have two or three or four days of weather and once you’re out of the stuff, you’re out of it, and that’s it. And usually it goes back to below par. So, while you’ll get a good spurt sometimes, in the long run, we’d much prefer to have a couple of months of mild weather and go straight into spring,” Girard said.

Girard says the drop in sales of winter items has largely been offset by a brisker business in building materials to contractors taking advantage of more outdoor work days.

So what’s causing the unseasonably mild winter? Meteorologist Tom Reaugh with the National Weather Service in Louisville says it’s the result of a cooling of waters in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, an event better known as La Nina.

“Typically, when we’re in a La Nina, the Ohio and Tennessee valleys experience winters that are warmer and wetter than normal. And indeed we’ve seen quite a bit warmer than normal temperatures this winter and a resulting lack of snowfall as well,” Reaugh said.

The Louisville area can get more than 15 inches of snow over a given winter, but the biggest storm of this season struggled to leave an inch on the ground, much to the dismay of sledders and snowman builders.

Jefferson County Public Schools shut down for two days this academic year because of weather, but that was in August, when high winds caused some power outages.

While Louisville’s Public Works Department has applied hundreds of tons of salt to roadways in anticipation of several snow events this season, spokeswoman Lindsay English says that’s a drop in the bucket compared to most years.

The department projects a savings of about $3.5 million, money that will help pay down the city’s budget deficit. Now, crews are getting a head start on road improvements.

“They are able to get out and do a lot of pothole filling. So far this year, they’ve filled over five thousand potholes,” English said.

The mild winter has undoubtedly affected those teams of local TV reporters ready to spring into action with the arrival of the first snowflakes.

It’s been quiet. We’ve been ready for snow, ice you name it, all along. But just like everybody else, we’re surprised that we haven’t gotten any severe weather,” said WHAS-TV News Director Mark Neerman.

Like the crews at public works, Neerman says the lack of snow and ice has given reporters time to pursue other projects, but…

“We love covering weather. Weather, because it’s a story that impacts everybody, we know that we can make a difference.”

Neerman has run TV newsrooms in a number of climates and he throws some cold water on the notion that our preoccupation with weather extremes like snow and ice, is a local phenomenon.

“When I was news director in Las Vegas, wind was the major weather event. Major. We would lead newscasts with wind, and people here would laugh at that. It’s all about how it impacts you. In Portland, rain, you would think people would be able to drive in the rain there and would be okay. No.”

In south Louisville, hardware store owner Mike Girard has his sights set on spring.

“In fact, I’m surprised my seed racks haven’t already come in . They’re usually here by the first part of February, just dawned on me they haven’t come in yet,” he said.

And while many of us may be through with winter, winter may not be through with us.

“We looked at some past mild winters and found that there were several occasions where March would have particularly cold and snowy weather. So we do definitely still stand a shot at seeing some more snow and cold. It’s not over yet, necessarily,” said Meteorologist Tom Reaugh.

And WHAS News Director Mark Neerman says he’s not ready to order his winter weather coverage team to stand down just yet.

“There’s still time for snow and who knows? Maybe we’ll get it.”

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