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No snow a concern for businesses

Tuesday - 1/17/2012, 11:42am  ET

trying on coats (Frederick News Post/Grahma Cullen)
Anthony Weddle of Thurmont watches his daughter Sarah, 16, try on a coat Monday at Southern States cooperative on East South Street in Frederick. Unusually warm temperatures this winter have hurt cold weather clothing sales at the store. (Frederick News-Post/Graham Cullen)

Many people welcome snow-free days.

But continued balmy temperatures -- such as the 64 degrees in the Washington metropolitan area last week -- could spell trouble for agriculture, water levels and businesses that rely on frigid weather and snow to make a profit.

Unusually warm weather is affecting some store inventories. Items that usually fly off the shelves this time of year aren't selling, said Dave Stas, manager of Southern States Cooperative on South Street in Frederick.

"We're not moving shovels, and warm clothes aren't selling like they usually do," Stas said.

If inventory doesn't sell, Stas said he will save some for next year and discount the rest to move them out the door.

Stas said he hoped it won't be a bad spring for water levels and farmers because the success of his business heavily depends on farmers being successful, Stas said.

Warm temperatures in December translated into a 25 percent decline in home heating oil sales at Southern States Cooperative on Buckeystown Pike in Frederick.

"This is one of the slowest Decembers we've ever had," Southern States Manager Bob Roberson said. "It's good for the customer but tough on business. Customers are conserving. They're not using what they did last year."

Last year was colder than average and it is warmer than average this year, Roberson said, adding that snow removal services are hurting, too.

"A bunch of them buy diesel from us for their snowplow, but they're doing nothing this year. It ain't pretty," Roberson said.

Like retailers, people who sell home heating oil have only a certain window in which to make money, Roberson said.

"And if that window gets smaller, we can't make up for the loss," Roberson said. "If retailers lose Thanksgiving, they only have Christmas to catch up."

Monday's cold temperatures combined with wind made for a good day for the home-heating business.

People use more heat when the wind is blowing, he said.

The unusual winter weather is being experienced throughout the country, Frederick County Farm Bureau President Ray Ediger said Monday, speaking from Denver. Ediger said he was looking at the Rocky Mountains, which are usually snow-covered this time of the year, but they had no snow.

"But we still have a considerable amount of winter yet, so it's not over," Ediger said. "Grain farmers like the snow. It's like a blanket that holds heat and protects the grain. It's that cold, biting wind that's hard on crops."

Adamstown cattle farmer Cathy Stracner, who was leaving Southern States on Monday, said the fall was just as unpredictable as this winter.

"October is usually the driest month of the year, but we had 18 inches of rain," Stracner said.

The Farmers' Almanac has called for a colder than average March and April, Stracner said.

The lack of snow across the U.S. so far this winter has raised questions about effects on water supply, ski resorts and agriculture across the country, according to AccuWeather.com. Only 22 percent of the nation was covered by snow on Jan. 4.

For all but the Southern states, Jan. 10 ended another mild weather week as drought conditions continued across much of the East, West and north, according to the National Weather Service. Abnormally dry conditions are expanding into Virginia and the Delmarva Peninsula, and widespread development of dry conditions are becoming apparent in the region.

But there's no need to worry yet, National Weather Service forecaster Andy Woodcock said Monday. Regional and local water levels are near normal.

"We haven't been having snow, but it's been raining, and that's good," Woodcock said. "As long as we keep getting rain, water tables will stay up. We are good right now."

Woodcock said what concerns him is that this region usually experiences high winds this time of year and "if someone lights a match, wildfire could spread pretty quickly."

"I just think we need to keep an eye on things because coming into spring you want to be in a precipitation-surplus situation," Woodcock said.