Art and Wes Walker have a favour to ask. They’d appreciate it if all the people of Prince George would please do a snow dance. And soon.
City residents used to bitterly cold January weather are basking in the record warm temperatures and a total lack of snow that started the new year.
But for many Prince George businesses, including the Walker brothers’ Acme Parking Lot Maintenance, the El Nino weather the city is currently experiencing is no cause for celebration.
“There’s a lot of businesses that depend on the snow and this year’s been disastrous for us,” said Wes.
Acme is the largest snow removal company in Prince George, servicing some of the biggest lots in the city, including Wal-Mart, Costco, Spruceland Mall and the College Heights Mall. They bought three new loaders and a new dump truck this year in anticipation of another busy winter.
“We haven’t turned a wheel on the dump truck,” said Wes. “We haven’t had any work. Everybody’s been laid off.”
While most people might not be able to relate to a guy who gets excited at the thought of shovelling snow, they should be able to understand the severity of the situation if they think about the recreational activities or lack thereof they usually enjoy this time of year.
Other than Powder King Ski Resort, none of the area’s ski hills have been able to open yet. The Otway Nordic Ski Centre is a long way from being able to offer groomed trails. And snowmobilers have been left high and dry.
Winterland Ski has seen a significant drop in sales, said Kevin Woytula, a ski technician at the 1st Ave. store. Much of its business comes from the local ski clubs and from people renting equipment on their way up to Tabor or Purden Mountains.
On the up side, said Woytula, Winterland’s partner store, Summerside Sport and Cycle, is doing better than usual January business.
“I’m tuning up bikes as we speak. I’ve been riding in this town for years and I’ve never ridden in January before, especially in eight degree weather.”
Merle Tutt, a mechanic over at The McBike Shop on 5th Ave., is having a similar experience.
“It certainly has increased sales. I’m still doing lots of tune-ups. Usually January is super slow, but I’m getting in five or six full days of work these days.”
For many businesses, however, there is no bright side to the lack of snow.
“I’ve just never had to deal with this before,” said Gerry Parker, owner of Big-O Tires on Victoria. “We’re down about $50,000 in sales that I kind of needed.”
That’s about a 25 per cent drop in revenue in just two months. Parker, who normally orders winter stock early in the fall and hires extra employees to install it, has had to scale back his staff.
He also finds himself in a bit of a Catch-22 situation. He has until the end of January to return his stock penalty-free. But if Prince George gets hit with a dump of snow in February, he won’t be able to service customers coming in for a last-minute tire change.
Demand for overseas travel has also dried up along with the warm, dry weather, and has hit local travel agents hard.
“It’s had the greatest effect on leisure travel,” said Sue Edwardson, co-owner of Uniglobe Sunburst Travel.
People typically just start planning late-winter and early-spring getaways after Christmas, she said. Edwardson has noticed about a 10 per cent drop in bookings this year over the same time last year, with people deciding to stay at home for one of the mildest winters on record.
“Why go to Hawaii when you live in Hawaii?” she said.
Just a week ago, loggers and truckers weren’t too concerned about the weather. Roads were relatively free of snow and yet had enough ground frost to keep them solid, especially at the higher elevations.
“This is just beautiful logging weather,” said Roy Nagel, general manager of the Central Interior Logging Association. “But we are apprehensive that if this continues for three or four more days we’ll be in trouble.”
Indications are that it won’t continue for much longer. While the city broke half a dozen temperature records in just four days between January 3 and 6, forecasts are calling for a cooling trend.
“I think what we’re seeing today [Monday] with the very mild weather, that’s going to change a bit,” said Bob McInnes, a forecaster with Environment Canada. “It’s still going to be above normal, but cooler.”
There is also not a lot of precipitation in the forecast. That could bring even more consequences in the long term, he said.
“When you miss out on that for the winter, you leave yourself exposed for an early start to the fires season.”
Without the snow pack, there is also the risk of drought come spring. And that could spell disaster for local farmers, already hurting from a late spring and dry summer last year.
Summer temperatures last year were about normal in Prince George. However rainfall was down about 33 per cent on average from June through August.
September was the only month since May to see greater than average precipitation.
November and December were when the real trouble began.
During the last two months of the year, the city saw temperatures averaging 3.7 to 4.6 degrees above normal.
Precipitation was down by 30 per cent in November and by 90 per cent in December, with only 5.8 millimetres of rain and snow.