We don’t know about you, Baltimore, but “Winter Wonderland” was particularly triggering this past holiday season. The region has seen a gray, dreary, mostly snow-free winter, with the first measurable snowfall not coming until just a few weeks ago.
And even then, it barely registered — just 0.2 inches.
This is not normal. Typically, Maryland sees an average of 20 inches of snow in a season.
Until this year, Baltimore’s weakest winter in terms of snowfall was the 1949-1950 season, when just 0.7 inches fell, according to Brendon Rubin-Oster, lead forecaster at the Baltimore/Washington forecast office of the National Weather service.
“We could beat that record this year,” Rubin-Oster said.
The country is experiencing a La Niña this year, which typically means the mid-Atlantic region can expect warmer conditions. That’s part of the explanation for why it’s been so warm in Baltimore this winter, even as other parts of the country have seen huge snowstorms, Rubin-Oster said.
“A La Niña pattern leads to this ‘winter has not happened yet’ type of feeling,” he said.
This entire winter season, and especially February, has been warmer than usual. Derek Beasley, a meteorologist at WJZ, said Baltimore has been seeing high temperatures that are 10-20 degrees warmer than usual.
“We haven’t had much winter,” Beasley said.
The forecast this week doesn’t look to be changing that, at least in Baltimore. As the middle of the country braces for a snowstorm, parts of Maryland could see some ice, but Beasley said the Baltimore region will most likely see only rain.
“Any chance for icing is likely going to stay very well north and west of our area,” he said. “By Thursday, we’re going to see near-record-high temperatures.”
While the mild winter caused disappointment and a lingering climate change anxiety for many, the warmer temperatures also took a toll on some businesses that usually thrive this time of the year. Spring-friendly places, on the other hand, are seeing a welcoming uptick.
The Baltimore Banner reached out to several of these businesses asking how the warmer temperatures have been affecting them. There were some surprises: Firewood stands actually sold out earlier in the season. Some stores that specialize in winter clothing weren’t really affected, as their demographic usually goes outside Maryland to ski.
But other places had to make do. There were many days of frostration.
Waverly Ace Hardware, 601 Homestead St., Baltimore
Large bags of ice melt sit in stacks on the floor. Colorful sleds lean against a wall as snow shovels hang on a shelf. More than 20 snow brushes stick out of buckets near the front of the store, waiting to be purchased.
The hardware store is where many people in the area turn for supplies during the winter months, when sidewalks may freeze or cars may be covered in snow, manager Pat Berberich said. And the store wants to have those supplies in stock for when neighbors need them.
During previous winters, some brands of ice melt have sold out. And “those usually get picked through,” Berberich said, pointing to the brushes.
But this year? “Not so much,” he said. “It’s definitely different.”
With no snow, the store hasn’t been able to sell as many snow supplies, Berberich said. Someone did recently come in to buy a sled, he remembers, but “I don’t know where they were headed.”
Still, Berberich knows the supplies will get sold eventually. It might not be this year, it might not be soon, but at some point people will need them.
“Maybe next year we’ll do better. I hope,” Berberich said. “I hope it snows again.”
— Cadence Quaranta
Wisp Resort, 296 Marsh Hill Rd., McHenry
In a perfect season, visitors go down the white slopes of Wisp Resort on skis, snowboards or tubes. Even in a good year, where the average snowfall in Garrett County is between 100 and 120 inches, staff will still go to most trails of the resort with snowmaking guns and machines — but it’s mostly to boost what’s already there, said Lori Zaloga, director of marketing of East Coast Properties for the Pacific Group Resorts. Seven trails would be open just based on a natural snow.
The past few months, Zaloga said, have been a bit of a roller coaster. The season started off well: The resort opened the day after Thanksgiving, the earliest in over 15 years. The weather was consistently “right,” Zaloga said, allowing the resort to make enough snow to create a solid base.
But January brought warmer temperatures and rain to the slopes, which was challenging. The ideal condition for snow-making comes down to air temperature and humidity — very cold, dry weather. The staff made snow every opportunity they had so that the resort could survive through the winter. Still, several natural snow trails did not open this year.
“The longer we can make snow, the better the base and the prolonged ski season,” Zaloga said.
— Clara Longo de Freitas
HMD Landscaping Inc., 2222 Aisquith St., Baltimore
When snow falls in Baltimore and needs to be removed from sidewalks and driveways, HMD Landscaping Inc. may get hundreds of calls.
The company has been operating for more than 30 years and has amassed around 350 clients in and around the city, said owner Tim Roberts.
Workers will plow driveways and use hand shovels and snowblowers on walkways. If a client asks, they’ll put down rock salt, too.
But this winter, the Baltimore company hasn’t received a call for snow removal. “Not a one,” Roberts said.
And that means the company doesn’t get paid. Unlike commercial landscapers that might have ongoing contracts that pay regardless of snowfall, HMD primarily serves individual households. They charge by the hour, so prices depend on how long it takes to get each snow removal project done.
Without any calls for snow removal, “we haven’t been able to bill anything. And it’s tough,” Roberts said. “This is a slow part of the season for landscapers, and the little extra revenue certainly helps out.”
In the winter months, the company’s typical mulching, lawn maintenance and spring cleanup projects “slow to a turtle pace,” Roberts said. Snow removal services help carry the company over to spring.
“But if it doesn’t snow, we don’t get to do anything,” Roberts said.
— Cadence Quaranta
Ladew Topiary Gardens, 3535 Jarrettsville Pike, Monkton
During the offseason, evergreen trees line red brick walls and swan-shaped shrubs sit along the horizon overlooking the 22 acres of Ladew Topiary Gardens. In the Rose Garden, abundant cold-hardy plants sit alongside mostly barren vines that would typically be filled with blooming roses between May and June. But because this year’s winter is milder, the roses, as well as tulips and magnolias, are showing early signs of growth.
In winter months, the grounds could be coated in frost or snow, which acts as a protective barrier and prevents new growth, said Adrianne Gettman, director of horticulture and facilities. Because plants are weather dependent, the mild winter spurred the growth that could lead to an early blooming.
If the plants blossom early and an unexpected frost coats the blooms, that could damage and even kill some flowers.
“It’s hard because we love the 65-degree days, but the plant care part of our brains are stressed,” Gettman said.
Ladew does not open to visitors until April 1, giving the staff more than a month to prepare, clean and trim the gardens, which they cannot easily do in winter months, Executive Director Emily Emerick said.
While it is nice to get a head start on the prepping, Lead Horticulturist Raymond Carter said they have to take the weather as it comes — meaning they cannot pause when the flowers, such as tulips, bloom.
“We have to be flexible,” he said. “We can’t control the weather.”
The horticulturists stagger the plantings, so visitors will still be “surprised and delighted when they go into each room” in the garden come April, Carter said.
— Abby Zimmardi
Baltimore Classic Five golf courses
Although the uncharacteristically mild winter may negatively impact winter-dependent businesses, the warmer temps increased the number of rounds at Baltimore Classic Five’s golf courses by 124% compared to this time last year, Executive Director Tom Pierce said.
“While winter is technically not over yet, we have seen an increase in play and golfers in January, February this year over last year,” he said. “The golfers have been coming out to the course in droves, taking advantage of that weather. It’s been very good to the start of the calendar year.”
Baltimore Municipal Golf Corporation operates four courses in the city — Carroll Park, Clifton Park, Forest Park and Mount Pleasant — and Pine Ridge in Timonium.
Even though golf can be a year-round sport, not all golfers enjoy playing in cold conditions, so there are typically fewer rounds during winter months, Pierce said. Additionally, when there is frost or a snowfall, the courses are closed to prevent damage to the grass and to avoid injuries due to slippery conditions. With less snow, there are fewer closures.
The uptick in golfers also helped to cover costs for additional aspects of business that suffered from inflation, such as turf management, he said.
The difference a mild winter can make, Pierce said, is thousands of rounds of golf. He said he remembers a heavy winter around 2010, and in that February, golfers only played 40 rounds between the five courses. During the next mild winter, he said golfers played 7,000 rounds in February.
— Abby Zimmardi