This time last year, Maine had seen 54.6 inches of snow, 26 inches more than this year.
And 2011 was a light winter.
Weather watchers aren’t yet declaring it one for the record books, but cities like Lewiston are cautiously optimistic about plow budgets, while ski resorts continue to hope for snow that will allow them to turn off snow-making machines.
There’s still some distance to go.
"We still have two weeks of February left,” meteorologist James Brown at the National Weather Service in Gray said Tuesday. “March from time to time can be a pretty big snow month, so the jury's not out on that yet."
For the season, Maine has recorded 28.6 inches of snow in Portland, 11.5 inches below average. Don’t count the early storms and start measuring Dec. 1, which Brown called “meteorological winter,” and Portland has received 22.4 inches of snow, 15.8 inches below average.
"It doesn't look like this thing on Friday is going to amount to a whole lot, if anything at all,” he said. “Beyond that, it's anybody's guess."
Historically, Portland has closed winter with 70 or so inches of snow, Brown said. Although at this time last year, the weather service had measured 54.6 inches for the season, winter 2011 ended with less snow than average.
David Jones, director of Lewiston Public Works, said salt and sand costs are running about average, but there have been savings in staff hours.
"The overtime budget is where we're gaining some traction,” Jones said. “We haven't had to respond to as many storms.”
By his count, 42 to 43 inches have fallen in Lewiston, also average in his experience. The difference: Early snow and snow that’s melted in place — workers haven’t had to undertake major snow removal, hauling it off to keep roads passable.
"There's always hope (the season could end in the black), although I knock on wood whenever I say something like that,” Jones said. “It can turn around real quick."
Greg Sweetser is hoping it will.
"We are eternal optimists," said Sweetser, spokesman for the Ski Maine Association.
Resorts typically like to stop making snow in January; it’s an expensive endeavour, he said. Shawnee Peak, Sunday River, Saddleback and Sugarloaf are still at it.
Scheduled races have gone ahead and most terrain is open, Sweetser said. Another positive sign: Skiers are sticking to reservations made months ago for school vacation next week.
“We haven't seen cancellations,” he said. "Based on bookings, it looks like this is going to be a strong holiday weekend coming up."
February and March, he said, have historically seen the most snow and accounted for the most skier visits and revenue.
"It doesn't take more than 5 or 6 inches, that would really stimulate the market," Sweetser said. "We've got seven more weeks of strong ski weather in Maine.”
On his first pass through Western Maine, Bob Johnston, senior geologist at the Maine Geological Survey, said he was surprised to find little snow at so many sites. He helps lead the Maine Cooperative Snow Survey, a tool to help predict spring flooding.
"There was no snow in January, but there was more than a foot at those locations when I went back in late January, early February,” Johnston said. Still, "the measurements look like they're in the lowest 25 percent of historic measurements that we have. A little farther north, Rumford, Farmington, they look to be more in the lowest 10 percent."
His records go back to 1994.
"I've already gotten some emails from canoeists asking me, 'Is there going to be enough water in the Saint John to run the river in May?'" Johnston said.
He's told them to hold their paddles: "It's still too early to tell."