Snowflakes of economic opportunity

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Tired of the snow?

This is Maine after all. Right?

And, while it seems this season’s snowfall has been particularly disruptive, we’re not trapped by a historic amount of snowfall.

Not even close.

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In fact, no place in Maine ranks among the top 10 snowiest cities in this country this year.

The good folks of Erie, Penn., have moved 108.5 inches of snow, which, according to the NOAA National Climate Data Center, is well over the 75-inch average that usually falls in that city of 101,786 people.

The second-snowiest city in the country this year is Buffalo, N.Y., which is in the same lake-effect snow zone as Erie. In Buffalo, 94.7 inches have fallen, or 24 inches more than the average snowfall.

Then, in order from 3rd to 10th snowiest, are: Grand Rapids, Mich., Syracuse, N.Y., Rochester, N.Y., Ann Arbor, Mich., Detroit, Mich., Toledo, Ohio, Worcester, Mass., and Billings, Montana.

So, despite the national weather reports of storm after storm after storm crippling the East Coast this year, Worcester is the only East Coast city falling among the Top 10 snowiest.

In Maine, the snowiest season ever recorded — which plenty of people will still remember — was in 1970-71, when 107.6 inches of snow fell. Of that, 22.3 inches fell in one 24-hour period on Dec. 17.

The second snowiest season was in 1933-34, which fewer people will remember, with 102.7 inches. Last year, not much snow at all, and the year before that we were strolling on snow-free streets in 80-degree temperatures by mid-March.

In 1979, 62.4 inches of the season’s entire 86 inches of snow fell in January, the snowiest January on record in Maine.

What may be the absolute weirdest winter statistic in Maine is the wimpy 9.5 inches of snow that fell during the 1936-37 winter season. That’s less than the amount of snow that fell across the state on Thursday.

Generally speaking, considering high seasons of 100 or more inches of snow and seasons of 20 inches or fewer, Maine’s average snowfall is 62 inches. For such a hardy population, that shouldn’t sound bad at all.

Our snow falls, on average, on 28 days. That’s just five more days than it snows in Massachusetts, and 17 fewer days than in Michigan. New Hampshire has more snow days, and it usually snows 54 days in Vermont. That’s nearly double the snow days in Maine, and they generally get about 20 inches more snow than we do each year.

So, even though it may now seem like the snow just won’t stop, there are usually 337 days a year when it doesn’t snow in Maine. That’s a lot, considering that Maine is also one of the sunniest states, with an average 101 days of clear, pure sunshine. That’s the same number of sunny days enjoyed by Floridians.

Over that span of time Florida does get more hours of sunshine packed in each day, but that’s only because of its latitude closer to the equator.

Maine is one of the coldest states in the country, on average. Only Alaska and North Dakota are colder.

So, any and all complaints about the cold are valid.

But, think about this: When it snows we get to enjoy this state’s vast expanse of playground in a whole new way. And, that tremendous level of play draws visitors to Maine where they stay in our hotels, dine in our restaurants, shop in our stores, purchase lift tickets to ski and board our mountains, and snowmobile along thousands of miles of our trails. These visitors support our businesses, pay retail taxes and help create jobs.

When we don’t have snow, the economy takes a hit and we wring our collective hands. So, when we have bountiful snow — although not a record year — like this year, let’s celebrate. We’re not just shoveling away snow, we’re shoveling up money.

According to a recent University of New Hampshire study on “Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States,” more than 23 million people participate in winter sporting activities in this country every year, which researchers measured through visits to downhill ski resorts and snowmobiling.

In Maine, those visits are measured in 5,523 jobs, with $185 million in labor income, and $322 million in additional revenue.

Maine has one of the highest rates of snowmobile registrations per resident, second only to Alaska and Wyoming, which is something we really need to preserve. While skiing is also an economic driver, we are not among the top skier destinations in the United States, ranking 15th among 30 states that have ski resorts.

More skiers visit Massachusetts than Maine, but we boast five times as many snowmobile “visit-days” than the Bay State, with “visit-days” determined by an estimate of days ridden per registered machine.

The real evidence that our snow accumulation is economically important is the fact that during low-snow winters, Maine suffers 14 percent fewer skier visits, our resorts bring in $27.1 million less revenue and there are 329 fewer seasonal jobs. The damage of less snow is a loss of $20.5 million in winter recreation spending.

So, we can either happily brace ourselves for more snow or brace ourselves for an economic storm.

Snow, bring it on.

jmeyer@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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