Fox News Weather Center

Unabating Winter Takes Bite Out of State, Local Budgets

A vigorous start to winter is chewing up state and municipal budgets across the Northeast and Midwest in the United States.

Many places last year had a mild start and a snow drought to start the winter of 2012-13, but not this year.

It will remain active for road crews for at least the next 10 days. There are two chances of snow this week and one the following week, Expert Senior Meteorologist Bob Smerbeck said.

"Thursday into Thursday night, a weak storm will push snow across the Ohio Valley and lower Great Lakes; it could be a couple of inches and, with enhancement, may push as far east as Philadelphia and New York City," Smerbeck said.

Another storm is possible over the weekend, but the area of potential impact is not yet set in stone.

The storm may impact the northern Plains into the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes, Smerbeck said.

Snowfall Totals for Northeast U.S. Cities (as of Jan. 8)

Snowfall (Inches)
New York City

The snow created an earlier start for road crews, who use a variety of materials including salt brine, anti-skid and sand in their efforts to maintain highways.

"The start of this winter has been more active than last winter and more costly in terms of material, overtime and fuel consumption for snow and ice removal," Spokeswoman Jennifer Post of the New York State Department of Transportation said.

"However, the 2012-13 winter season had one of the milder starts that we have seen in the past decade, so it's not a good benchmark for trends."

Post said she didn't have specific numbers on how much has been spent so far this winter but did say January and February are historically the most active winter-weather months in New York.

"With those months ahead, it's too early to make any fiscal projections about this winter," Post said. "If the budget for snow and ice removal is exceeded, we will make adjustments to other programs to cover the additional expenses."

While not budget help, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did give crews aid before the Jan. 3, 2014, storm that hit the state.

Cuomo declared a state of emergency and closed Interstate 84, the New York State Thruway between Albany and New York City and the Long Island Expressway in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

"The highway restrictions allowed snow clearing operations on critical roadways to be maintained overnight while ensuring the safety of motorists and plow operators," Post said.

The advanced notice also encouraged motorists to stay off the roads during the height of the storm.

As of Dec. 26, Wisconsin had spent about $25 million for snow removal, Michael Sproul of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's Bureau of Highway Maintenance said.

The state has $73.3 million budgeted for winter maintenance during the 2013-14 fiscal year.

"At this same time last winter, which was the most costly winter on record ($95 million), we spent only $8 million. The five-year average through Dec. 26 is $11.5 million," Sproul said.

"Keep in mind that last winter we really didn't start until about the 19th of December when we had a large snowstorm in the south. In contrast, this winter started in the south about Nov. 22 and hasn't let up. This winter is also much colder, and in colder temperatures, it's much more costly to remove snow and ice."

Summer maintenance will be reduced if the winter work goes over budget.

"Things that are not safety related get cut. Things like litter pickup, shoulder and pavement maintenance, and mowing and weed control," Sproul said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has a winter maintenance budget of $189 million, spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt said.

PennDOT spent more than $195 million last winter.

"If winter operations go over budget, it will be forced to borrow from funds set aside for spring maintenance," she said.

As of Dec. 27, PennDOT had used more than 331,000 tons of salt, compared to the department's five-year average (2008-12) of 188,000 tons.