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February 23, 2012

Winter shaking out well: Mild weather bringing salt savings to area cities

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Winter 2012 has been a kitten for most of the Midwest.

Save for a tornado outbreak in January, it’s been calm. Temperatures have rarely dropped below freezing for any extended period of time. And snow flakes have seldom fallen.

And with only 26 days remaining in the season, the mild weather has turned into a big savings for local cities and towns. With little snow, municipalities haven’t had to use nearly as much salt, manpower or fuel to keep area roads clean. If the mild temperatures hang on for the rest of the season, some officials say they might not even have to buy salt next year.

David Hosea, Jeffersonville Streets and Sanitation Commissioner, said his crew has only once had to get out and salt the roads this winter.

“We went out one night, spent a couple of hours throwing some salt,” he said.

The snow took place after hours, starting about 1 a.m., so the crews were working on overtime.

Last winter, the city used 1,800 tons of salt, but only 400 tons have been used this year. Most of that was dumped in the northern part of the city, where snowfall was a little heavier during an event a few weeks ago, Hosea said.

Savings may not necessarily be realized this year, as the cities using a state bulk buying program have to confirm their salt buys well before winter hits. New Albany, for instance, was on the hook for 800 tons of road salt this year.

Mickey Thompson, street commissioner, said New Albany can stockpile 2,500 tons, so the lack of wintry weather this season means less will be needed next winter.

“We’ll be in good shape next year unless we still get a lot of snow,” he said.

Winters are a toss up, and there have been times when the city was left without enough road salt, Thompson said. During a recent winter, Thompson said the city’s salt supply fell short and New Albany had to pay about $120 per ton for more. Through the state’s bulk buying program, cities pay about $72 per ton of road salt.

Clarksville has only used about 70 tons this year — including the salt used for brine mix. Brine solution is put on streets before a snow hits to help keep roads from freezing.

Normally, the town will use about 1,500 tons of salt each year.

“That gives us more savings with salt but also with overtime hours and fuel usage,” said Street Commissioner Brad Cummings. “[Salt] doesn’t lose it’s effectiveness sitting in our domes. We’re full. We won’t have to buy salt for next year” aside from perhaps replacing the 70 tons, he said.

Senior National Weather Service meteorologist Michael Koch in Indianapolis said Indiana’s winter has averaged about 5.6 degrees warmer than normal, making it the warmest since 2002, according to The Associated Press. Koch said that through Feb. 16, it’s been Indiana’s 11th-warmest winter based on weather records that go back 142 years.

Koch told the Herald-Times of Bloomington that the mild weather is likely due to a cooling of the central Pacific known as La Nina that’s kept the jet stream further north. Thursday’s forecasted highs are in the upper 60s. Temperatures get more seasonal for the weekend with highs in the mid 40s, then it’s back to the 50s next week.

— Staff writer Daniel Suddeath contributed to this story

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