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Staff photo by Don Himsel


Peter DeSalvo and his dog Diesel. Part of DeSalvo's construction business includes plowing. This season has experienced a distinct lack of snow, particularly compared to last year.
Friday, February 17, 2012

Local plowers are – fittingly – up and down about the lack of snowfall

MERRIMACK – Faced with the 12-inch snowstorm that rocked southern New Hampshire last October, Steve D’Eramo consulted an “old Indian saying” to make his next move, he said.

“If the first snowflake is big, it will result in little snowfall,” D’Eramo, owner of D’Eramo Contracting, of Merrimack, and local plow guy, quoted.

D’Eramo swiftly sold one of his snowplows after the historic “Snowtober” storm and hasn’t looked back, he said.

He hasn’t needed to. So far this winter – from Dec. 1 through Feb. 16 – the National Weather Service reports that a measly 10.8 inches of snow has fallen in New Hampshire, which is about 28 inches below the state’s normal value, with just 21⁄2 snow-friendly months to go.

The least-snowy Granite State winter on record, from 1979-80, saw just 16.3 inches. And for those praying for snow, the regional forecast for the next 10 days calls for barely freezing temperatures and a few scattered rain showers.

D’Eramo, who’s been clearing driveways and rooftops for 15 years, said this is “definitely” the slowest season he’s seen so far.

Last winter, D’Eramo’s crews trekked outdoors 15-20 times to clear out snow, he said. This year, they’ve headed out “probably three.”

“Generally, when we go out, we’ll generate about $1,000 per storm,” D’Eramo said. “That’s down to about $500 per storm this year. Even when it does snow, we’re still not getting what we used to, because everybody wants to do it now.”

Peter DeSalvo, owner of Peter DeSalvo Contracting LLC, of Hudson, said the lack of flakes has been hurting him, too.

“I made a couple of investments. I haven’t been able to make my money back,” DeSalvo said. “It’s one of those things. You have to learn how to change gears and focus on a new direction.”

To prepare for this winter, DeSalvo said, he spent roughly $100,000 purchasing a new truck, a new sander and two new plows.

“I was just planning on having a good winter,” DeSalvo said.

Just because he hasn’t been plowing, though, DeSalvo said he’s been plenty busy.

“We do commercial construction, so this just gives us more of a chance to focus on that,” DeSalvo said. “I’ve definitely spent more time marketing and doing different things to get more business besides the snowplowing.”

For other snowplows in the area, however, times could not be better than with this kind of weather.

Steven Desteuben, owner of Nashua Commercial Snow Plowing, said his contracts for commercial accounts sometimes eat more earnings when the snow comes down harder.

Some snow removal contractors set service prices depending on how much snow falls during a storm, or before the whole snow season even hits.

Destebeun said he sets a given season’s price for the majority of his commercial clients, no matter what happens that winter – a method that has crushed him in years past but has evened out a little this year.

“This year, it swung in our favor, because they pay the same amount,” Desteuben said. “Last year, we were completely in the negative, so put together, it’s kind of like a normal year.”

Rick Clark, owner of Keepin’ It Green Ground Maintenance, of Nashua, also made out with some of his fixed accounts, he said.

“I do contracting and I do it per inch, so I have enough contracted where if it doesn’t snow, it doesn’t affect us that much,” Clark said.

Clark, who’s been plowing local roads for eight years, said it’s the first year he hasn’t been run down by the weather.

“No complaints, especially after all the years of endless plowing,” Clark said. “I get to spend more time with the family. Last year I was on the road, and when I wasn’t on the road I was hauling, loading and moving snow.”

Desteuben doubted whether he slept at all during the whole month of January 2011, he said. Last month, he barely had to heat up his truck.

“The biggest loss this year is that we bought 15 yards of salt for $150 a yard,” Desteuben said. “We haven’t touched it. This time last year, we were starting to run out.”

Desteuben, along with the other local plowers, said he has spent the winter months performing maintenance tune-ups and saving on the equipment costs of heading out day after day to replow the weather-beaten roads.

“Usually, on a given snowstorm, we probably spend over $100 per truck to fill up each time we go,” Desteuben said. “We use four to five tanks of fuel in a snowstorm. … The storms seemed to be coming three days apart. One of the trucks was always breaking down last year.”

But one plow’s savings is another plow’s losses.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve saved any money, because when our trucks are out there, we’re making a substantial amount of money to pay for our expenses,” DeSalvo said. “Last year, we did over $70,000.”

And there are still bills to pay, even when the trucks aren’t out on the roads, D’Eramo said.

“You’re still going to run around,” D’Eramo said. “You’ve still got to pay for insurances and the truck payments, but on the other side, it doesn’t wear out your trucks as much.”

This year’s snow drought has allowed D’Eramo’s contracting company to finish up on repairs left over from previous wintry blows, he said.

“We’ve gotten involved with a lot of major repair works from two winters ago, when we had snow loads that exceeded what buildings were rated for,” D’Eramo said. “This October, we had a lot of roofs we had to go in and repair. Those gave us a lot of work and has carried us through.”

Clark said Keepin’ It Green already is looking forward to getting out for the spring landscaping season a little bit earlier than usual.

“A lot of the equipment is ready to roll, so it’s a little bit of a waiting game,” Clark said.

Desteuben, who is involved with two other business ventures besides Nashua Commercial Snow Plowing, says he’s been busy with his other jobs – not to mention the wedding he’s planning with his finance for the early summer.

“It’s actually kind of funny, because (my fiance) works full time,” Desteuben said. “She started feeling bad. I was picking up a lot of the legwork. … It takes a lot of stress off everything else.”

Though this year’s weather can pose losses or benefits depending on who you ask, Desteuben said the business is all about reacting to whatever Mother Nature throws at you.

“Any time it snowed before November, we never got snow that year,” Desteuben said. “So when we had that large of a storm in October, we almost took a gamble on it right off the bat. In this kind of an industry, you can’t gamble on that at the bank. You have to be ready for it.”

D’Eramo said it’s not time to put away the plows just yet.

“I’d say Mother Nature’s probably got a surprise in store,” D’Eramo said. “Don’t let your guard down, for sure. It’ll be a windstorm or something, if anything.”

“I think we’re still going to have a late storm – one of those gross March ones,” Clark added.

Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or mgill@nashuatelegraph.com. Follow Gill on Twitter (@Telegraph_MAG).