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Stephen Daignault, middle, director of the Narragansett Department of Public Works, is pictured with DPW employees Pete Russo, left, Jason Teolis, and Rick Terminesi in front of the town’s plow trucks.  Also pictured is Town Manager James Tierney.  Daignault said the lack of snow so far this winter has allowed his crew to focus on other projects that would typically be placed on hold during snow removal operations.

Theresa Kelly Christy is thankful for being in South County, but has one complaint.

“(It’s) My first year returning to New England (South Kingston) after 40 years in Texas! I thank Texas for bringing me back home! Now, where is the snow?!!!! I love all of the seasons!” she said.

That’s a question many people are asking these days, though some aren’t pleading for the harsher weather winter brings.

“This is pretty much how the winter of 2015 started, then we got kicked in the butt for about six weeks,” said Peter Hanson.

Indeed, there’s still always that surprise that could hit with a solid punch that wipes away those wistful thoughts about where are the New England snows and like a visitor — who eventually wears out the welcome — you’re sorry they came.

The mild season is bringing many days of above-average temperatures due to the atmospheric jet stream off the pacific. It is causing floods in western parts of the country while a strong polar vortex keeps mild air in place and bottles up the artic’s frigid temps that eventually head our way.

Around South County, the slow start to winter is affecting everything from snow plowing roads and frequently delayed school starting times to towns saving money on winter storm costs and preventing injuries from slips and falls on ice and snow.

It’s also sparked conversations about climate change’s effects — or maybe not — too much mud that create havoc in the care of barnyard animals and the ability to do more work outside in an extended time when cold weather usually forces an end to it.

Town government public works officials are holding their breaths, hoping the mild winter will last.

“We’ve only used about 6.5% of our budgeted costs so far,” said Rich Bourbonnias, South Kingstown’s Public Services director. “I am going to be cautiously optimistic that the savings will continue.”

Weather forecasters may be on his side.

“Warmer-than-average temperatures are also favored in the Southeastern U.S. and along the Atlantic coast,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Adam White, North Kingstown’s director of Public Works, said, that like South Kingstown as well as Narragansett, right now his town is receiving a financial benefit from not having a harsh winter.

“Now that we have spoken about it, prepare for the rest of the season to be full of storms which will then deplete any savings we are currently experiencing,” he said with a laugh.

Jim Tierney, Narragansett town manager, noted how the slow-starting winter so far is benefitting his town. Officials in North Kingstown and South Kingstown mentioned similar matters.

School goes on without interruption which allows students to attend school and parents aren’t faced with childcare issues due to school closures from inclement weather.  

Senior citizens attend community centers, socialize and have meals offered in their towns.

DPW equipment isn’t running around the clock, thus saving fuel and maintenance costs.

Overtime pay related to storms has dropped for police, fire and DPW highway plow drivers and other staff.

Salt used on roads that can contribute to erosion on cars and pose other environmental problems has been significantly reduced.

Staff injuries from hazardous conditions such as large storms and severe weather events are reduced.

DPW departments also can use the time when not plowing roads, putting down salt and moving snow piles to do other work, such as tree trimming, cleaning catch basins, trench clearing, and maintenance projects at facilities and on equipment.

“However, we expect the tide to turn at some point but, to date, a definite savings for a town,” said Tierney.

The happiness doesn’t quite extend to snow plowing services paid on a per-plow basis. However, it’s a boon for others handling commercial businesses and residential complexes that have seasonal contracts.

Contracts mean an agreed-upon amount paid for the season no matter how many storms occur requiring their services.

Betty Thayer Cotter of Charlestown pointed out, “I miss the snow. So do the plow drivers - landscapers are among the professionals who rely on plowing for winter income.”

One plow driver said, “As a snow worker with three trucks, it’s tough to take. As a guy outta work, it’s nice on expenses but I can’t afford anything extra like dinner out and house repairs are on hold for now.”

“It is very disappointing,” said ThereseRose O’Shield, who with her brothers John and Bruce Stephenson, work at Chief’s Mowers in North Kingstown. The repair service also does commercial snow plowing.

“I enjoy it. It is a lot of fun,” said O’Shield, 36, who rides shotgun in their blue Chevy truck with her brother John, 34, while he plows parking lots and she shovels walkways.

“It’s beautiful in the morning after you’ve been plowing all night to see the sun come up over the horizon,” she added.

Plowing may not be a problem for some with farms and farm animals, but the wet and thawed ground in a warm run-up happening now does bring its issues.

Amanda B. Leigh wrote in a social media post about the warmer-than-usual weather, it is “mud season, never-ending on the farm this year, sooooo much mud …and ticks! We took six off our dog yesterday, they just won’t die.”

Jessica C. Mayhew, chimed in, “I’ve had to lay down so much shavings to try and keep the mud down in the chicken runs and in the yard. I want frozen ground. I’ll happily defrost waterers instead of slip in the mud.”

For local cold-weather enthusiasts, warmth has put a chill on opportunities for ice skating and snow tubing. It’s also made local skiing something done on manufactured snow, not the real thing.

“We have been open the days that aren’t raining and we’ve been able to hold on to our snow base though the warmer days,” said Tracy Hartman, owner of Yawgoo Valley in Exeter.

Snow is made as allowed by falling temperatures so that the snow machines work properly. The number of people visiting the ski area varies, Hartman said.

“It can go either way as some guests prefer to ski on the warmer days and others prefer the colder temps. The lack of cold has hindered us getting ahead on the snow-making,” the owner added.

Keith Merski of North Kingstown wrote recently on social media, “Well... it’s been two months since putting the boards up for backyard hockey. Can’t put the liner and lights on until we get a significant cold snap!”

Rick Dyer wrote, “No ice sailing on Wordens!! For the last few years, we get to within a day or two of ice and the warm hits. Most people sail central & northern Mass and up into NH. If we do not have ice by February, it’s game over.”

Ashlee Brie added, “I’m sorry I got my kid a snow tube so it’s probably gonna be 50s all winter.”

However, hope remains strong in others that the snows of February will come.

“I love at least one big weekend snowstorm. I’m kind of bummed we haven’t had that yet. I’m talking only a weekend snowstorm. The kind kind that you really have no place to be and no one loses power, cable or WiFi. Those to me are the absolute best,” said Tracy Coppa-Bianco of Narragansett.

Lyn Fontaine Wozniak expressed wariness about even a story about warm weather in the winter.

“You have just resigned the area to a massive blizzard — never comment about how great things are because it comes up to bite you in the butt,” she exclaimed.

Write to Bill Seymour, freelance writer covering news and feature stories, at independent.southcountylife@gmail.com.

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