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Low snowfall totals across southeast Wisconsin are impacting snow removal businesses, recreation

Milwaukee area is 9.3 inches below expected seasonal snowfall rate

Piles of snow mixed with dirt melt in a parking lot on a sunny day.
Snow melts in a parking lot Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

A warm start to Wisconsin’s winter is leading some local snow removal companies to get creative during a time when little to no snow is on the ground.

Since Dec. 1, 2022, only 7.6 inches of snow has fallen in the Milwaukee area, according to the National Weather Service. That’s not the lowest total on record, but it is 9.3 inches below the expected rate at this time of winter. Southeast Wisconsin and other parts of the state have also been experiencing warmer temperatures after much of the state saw frigid temperatures during the Christmas holiday.

“We’ve been seeing more rain, versus snow, due to these warmer temperatures,” said Rebecca Hansen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Milwaukee/Sullivan.

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In the coming weeks, the weather service is estimating more of the same — warmer temperatures and little to no snowfall.

That’s impacting many popular recreational activities across the state, from outdoor ice skating to cross-country skiing. But it’s also impacting snow removal companies, many of whom rely on heavy snowfall totals as part of their business plan.

Edward Woulard is the owner of Milwaukee-based WeaDoIt Lawn Services and Snow Removal. He started the business last year with his cousin. Woulard said snow removal should account for about 40 to 50 percent of their total business. But that hasn’t been the case so far this winter.

“As far as the winter, it’s really taking a toll on us,” Woulard said. “We’ve really had to find other things to do to make money to pay our bills because of the way our weather has been here.”

That’s led Woulard to “hoping and praying” for more snow in the coming weeks and months.

“We’re dependent on that, in those months,” Woulard said about the snow removal portion of his business.

The slow start to the winter has led Racine’s Belle City Lawn Care, LLC, to think outside the box. They’ve decided to open their shop up for trailer, snowblower and lawn mower repairs to keep them busy while things are slow.

“With the lack of snow, we are offering some great deals to keep our staff busy,” the company wrote on its Facebook page.

KEI, a landscape management business in Oak Creek, is also having to get creative.

“Being here in Wisconsin, snow is a major revenue driver,” said Chris Kujawa, the president and CEO of KEI.

Kujawa said his employees have been working on maintenance projects inside their facility while also cleaning their trucks and lawnmowers.

“We try to do as little as we can, as far as layoffs, because we love to keep our people busy and working, so that gives us an opportunity to do some internal projects,” he said.

Snow removal accounts for about 25 percent of KEI’s revenue. But if there’s little work to do when it comes to snow removal, Kujawa said he allows some of his staff to collect unemployment.

“So right now, it’s just a waiting game for some of these guys and that gets to be boring,” Kujawa said. “People tend to get a little tired of it, and it is what it is and over the years we’ve learned how to deal with it and how to work around it.”

Strips of snow remain along a grassy lawn on a sunny day.
Green grass is revealed as snow melts Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, in near a park in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Warmer Wisconsin winters impact tourism industry

A 2021 report published by the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts found that Wisconsin winters are getting warmer. That can have a detrimental impact on tourism across the state during winter months, as many tourism spots rely on a consistent snowpack and frozen lakes for recreational activities.

Meanwhile, a 2012 economic study from Protect Our Winters and the Natural Resources Defense Council found there was a $1 billion loss and up to 27,000 fewer jobs nationally due to decreasing snowfall patterns as well as changes in the outdoor habits of many Americans.

Even so, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism says “interest in winter outdoor recreation remains high.”

Craig Trost, communications directors for Travel Wisconsin, said the Wisconsin Snow Report is seeing high web traffic, so interest remains.

“We remind travelers that despite unseasonable lack of snow in some parts of the state, many ski and snowboard hills and some cross-country skiing trails are making their own snow,” Trost said in a statement.

Christopher Fons is an organizer with Riverwest People’s Ice Rink in Milwaukee. Normally around this time of year, he’d be organizing an ice hockey tournament that occurs on the rink.

But this year, he’s unsure if the tournament will happen because of the warm temperatures.

“I constantly am telling people I don’t know if we’re going to have the tournament and that’s a bummer, people are really interested,” Fons said.