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Still, a mild winter so far

February 09, 1997

By LAURA ERNDE

Staff Writer

This season's mild winter had given Tri-State area snow removal crews - and their budgets - a much-needed rest.

But the break screeched to a halt this weekend.

On Saturday, snow hit. By 9:30 p.m., when it had tapered off into sporadic flurries, five inches had fallen on the area, according to Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer.

Before Saturday's snowfall, Hagerstown had spent about half of its snow removal budget on five small storms, said Hagerstown Public Works Director Doug Stull.

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In January, usually the snowiest month of the winter, Hagerstown saw just 3.6 inches of snow, most of which fell on Jan. 9.

But officials in the snow-removal business know the worst weather sometimes comes closer toward spring. Just four years ago, one of the worst storms on record fell in March.

Snow that falls later in the year, however, often melts more quickly.

Even when the ground isn't covered with snow, road crews have plenty of work to do that might otherwise be put off until summer during harsh winters.

Those things include trimming brush along roads, patching potholes, repairing guardrails and indoor maintenance work.

Intense winter storms last year cost West Virginia taxpayers $22.8 million in snow removal compared to $11.4 million this year, said officials with the Department of Transportation.

The department uses an average of 100,000 tons of salt during a typical winter. Before this weekend's snowfall, the state had used only 80,384 tons.

But that doesn't translate into a surplus locally, officials said.

Said Jefferson County Maintenance Superintendent Jerry Grove: "We're not running a whole lot of surplus, but we're not in the red like we usually are."

Washington County had to spend a lot of money restocking its 6,000-ton supply of salt and anti-skid material, said Transportation Superintendent J. Theodore Wolford.

And don't look for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge to give up on increasing the gas tax to improve the state's transportation network.

"If we had to depend on a mild winter (to save up the money) to do paving, that's not good," said Ed Leighty, acting roadway programs coordinator for the Franklin County office of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Even transportation officials can't predict the weather, said Wolford, who this year bought a snowblower that has been idle much of the winter.

"I don't have a crystal ball out here," Stull said. "I watch The Weather Channel like everybody else."

John Coleman, roads superintendent for Morgan County, W.Va., said he doesn't miss the snow and his vacations certainly don't involve skiing.

"Ocean city suits me fine," Coleman said.

- Terry Talbert contributed to this report

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