CHAMPAIGN COUNTY — Not everyone is giving the unseasonably warm weather a warm welcome.
Your city or town could be saving thousands by not having to run snowplows this week, but some departments are spending more to keep you safe. The good news is, you won’t believe how much money (and salt) Champaign public works is saving. But while they catch a break, some fire departments are keeping a closer eye on what happens.
“42 inches of snow, or 24 inches of snow, really bogs us down with a lot of overtime, with plowing, or purchasing salt,” says Champaign Public Works Public Information Officer Kris Koester.
But forget about that: so far this season, Champaign has seen a mere six inches of snow.
And no matter how you feel about that, consider how expensive a central Illinois winter can be.
“About 19 thousand dollars per inch of snow,” says Koester, speaking of the last time they calculated it a couple years back.
That’s your tax dollars at work. Koester says without having to pay for salt, snowplow maintenance, or driver overtime, staff have time and money to do other things.
“We’ve made sidewalk repairs, we’ve actually patched the pavement for certain areas, we’ve been filling potholes, which there aren’t as many, because we haven’t seen as much of the freeze-thaw cycle that usually causes those potholes,” says Koester.
“It’s a little funny,” says Cornbelt Fire Chief John Koller, “It’s kind of like the first snow, and car accidents, is what I would compare it to or equate it to.”
Koller says firefighters may have a different experience. He says people often use warm winter days to burn yard waste. That’s what started a rural Champaign county tire fire that got out of control. Three departments were called to put it out.
“Just last week, we had one where a gentleman was burning some items off, he had left for just a little bit, then the wind changed, and it was into a tall grass field. It can happen very quickly,” says Koller. “We received a lot of phone calls with concerned citizens, so we were out and about checking on them.”
Koester says, though public works may have it easier, they’re still doing a fair amount of head scratching.
“It’s also presenting, not any problems, but challenges, if you will,” says Koester. “Like, how soon are we going to have to start mowing grass?”
Public works officials say they’ve gotten a head start on removing trees infected with the Emerald Ash Borer. Now is a good time to remove those trees if you have them, but fire officials say, whatever you burn, be careful and use common sense.
It’s probably no surprise, but this season’s snowfall total pales in comparison to years past. These numbers are for Champaign, since the beginning of winter in December:
By February 20th last winter, the city got almost 9 inches of snow. The winter of 2014-2015: 11 inches. The winter of 2013-2014: more than 36 inches.