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Signs Point to a Return to "Real" Winter This Year

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa- A lot of eastern Iowans are probably getting the message now this winter won't be a repeat of the last two.

The Public Works Department in Cedar Rapids tracks the amount of yearly snow that drivers plow. Last year and the year before, the total amount was about two thirds of normal. But the 16.3 inches recorded in Cedar Rapids so far this year is about 50 percent of the amount in an entire normal winter. And the city routinely plows snow for another three months if not longer. So chances are very good 2013-14 will wind up as a "real" winter.

John Martin, who was out clearing a sidewalk Tuesday, said most Iowans would take a return to real winter in stride. But he just returned from spending part of the holidays in the south.

"We just came back from Kentucky. When we left it was 55 degrees. When we got back (to Iowa) the other night it was zero. So it's a little bit of a shock," Martin said.

Craig Hanson, Cedar Rapids Public Works maintenance manager, said the city saved money in the last two winters both on salt and sand for roads and also overtime paid to drivers who plow snow. But even if winter continues the way it has so far, it won't wreck the budget.

Hanson said the city boosted the snow removal budget quite a bit after a severe winter in 2007-2008. That will help this year as well.

"The council approved a significant change in the salt budget. Specifically, we almost doubled the amount of money we used to have for it. That really helped," Hanson said.

A rugged winter so far has also sent more customers in search of snow blowers. At Midway Outdoor Equipment in Hiawatha, sales are double last year and snow blower repairs are up 50 percent.

But owner Rod Schutzman said even that bit of good sales news presents a potential problem for both him and customers. Because of the two mild recent winters, manufacturers didn't make as much equipment this year and Schutzman didn't order as much. With manufacturers switching to lawmowers and other summer equipment now, it's impossible to retool and build a lot of new snow blowers in time to sell this winter.

"What we have now will last us, based on our sales, maybe a month. But after that we will be hard pressed to find product to meet the demand," Schutzman said.

Schutzman also said smaller snow blowers are likely to sell out first if demand remains high. So customers will have a choice of buying the larger, and more expensive machines, or sticking with a shovel.

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