GREENFIELD — Meteorologists are predicting warmer temperatures and less snow this winter, which means residents might spend fewer days fighting snow-covered roads.
It would be welcome news for local residents and street crews alike, who have braved cold and snowy weather the past few winters, especially in 2014, the snowiest winter on record in central Indiana.
For residents, a mild winter might make for safer commutes, fewer hours spent shoveling and fewer potholes — the result of water freezing and cracking the road.
Meanwhile, the city’s street and county’s highway departments should accumulate fewer overtime hours and use less salt and other materials, which could result in cost savings for Greenfield and the county.
The National Weather Service recently released a forecast for winter that suggests there’s good chance the area will see above average temperatures and drier conditions for central Indiana from December to February.
The average low temperature in the Indianapolis area from December to February is 22 degrees. During the same time frame, the area usually sees about 22 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service. During the 2013-14 winter, more than 50 inches of snow fell in the area.
Last year, the average temperature for January in Indianapolis was 25 degrees, and about 3.2 inches of snow fell Dec. 1 through Jan. 31. Last February was the fifth-coldest February on record in the area, and 13.8 inches of snow fell Feb. 1 through the March 1.
This winter could bring a break from the chill. A strong el niño — the weather phenomenon whose above-average sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean typically result in warmer temperatures — is partly responsible for the milder forecast, according to the National Weather Service.
Though they said they’re happy to hear Mother Nature might be kinder this year, officials and residents added they won’t believe it until they see it. And street and highway officials said they’re preparing for the worst.
Tyler Rankins, superintendent of Greenfield’s street department, said that, no matter what is predicted for winter, his department prepares as though it will be the worst winter on record. Crews are prepping equipment and materials as they did last year and the year before. He said he’s hopeful winter will be mild but won’t make any bets in the forecast’s favor.
“It’s great news if you believe in long-range forecasting,” he said. “I don’t put a lot of trust in that. … I have to plan like it’s the worst winter ever. I always plan on four and a half months of winter.”
Not everyone is singing the praises of a warmer snow season, however.
Karen Burke of Greenfield pointed out the promise of less snow doesn’t guarantee safer conditions for motorists or homeowners; and after 20 years working in insurance, she knows the issues the season can bring.
Burke worries that icy conditions could lead to more wrecks and accidents related to falls — some of the most common claims she sees during the winter.
“You gotta watch what you pray for, wish for, because it’s not always a good thing,” she said.
Gary Pool, engineer for the county highway department, echoed her sentiments, saying ice is a bigger concern than snow for road crews.
When the temperatures fluctuate, the roads freeze and thaw, leaving county roads a pothole-marked mess, he said.
“Warmer is normally better but not necessarily,” Pool said. “If it goes form 40 to 30 all the time, that’s just as bad as 35 to 25.”
His department is gearing up for winter. A barn is full of salt that will be spread on roads throughout the season, and employees are out driving snowplows to practice navigating county roads in their trucks.
The departments won’t save much money when it comes to materials such as salt because they have contracts already in place. But if winter is as mild as predicted, it could mean fewer overtime hours for employees, Pool and Rankins said.
Nathan Riggs, public information director for the Indiana Department of Transportation, said the state department is gearing up for winter as it does every year. Salt is ordered ahead of the winter season — the average first snowfall in Indianapolis is Nov. 19 — and plow drivers are training.
When winter does arrive, officials said they have one tip for residents: Be safe, alert and prepared. And when the first significant snowstorm hits, they said they ask residents to be patient. It typically takes 24 to 48 hours to plow all the roads in the county.