Mild winter brings cost savings for some in central Indiana

Cities have saved millions on salt this winter.

This winter is the fourth warmest on record for the country and 27th warmest for Indiana with above average temperatures and below average snowfall.

The mild weather has saved the state millions of dollars in snow removal. Through January 25, 2011, the Indiana Department of Transportation spent more than $28.5 million on snow removal. Through January 26, 2012, INDOT has spent just $11.5 million on snow and ice operations.

The state's biggest city is also saving money on snow removal. So far, it's spent about $6 million less than last year on salt, equipment and over time.

But the mild winter is costing others. Hedlund's Hardware has lots of unsold merchandise.

Mike Hedlund rattled off a long list.

"we got sleds, show shovels, snow blowers, ice melt, firewood. And it's not just us, but all the businesses that sell this stuff," HE SAID.

Hedlund said even if central Indiana gets pummeled in the weeks ahead, it's unlikely he'll unload everything.

"by this time of winter, most people will wait it out. They won't take time to buy a big ticket item like a snow blower, maybe a shovel or ice melt, but not a big ticket item," he said, noting the merchandise would be put back in storage for next year.

Rusted Moon Outfitters in Broad Ripple also has a large inventory of winter gear, everything from down coats and wool hats to warm boots and thick gloves.

Tonya Furuhashi is a buyer for the store.

"We put some items on sale earlier than usual this year," she said, with some coats marked down 40 percent.

"It's been the best and worst winter. People are active outdoors but they're not doing snow sports. They're wanting lighter weight clothing, not the heavy coats," she said.

If you're a homeowner, your energy bills are no doubt lower. Citizens Gas reports that so far, usage is down 18 percent this year over last while IPL says homeowners who have electric heating are paying on average 15 percent less.

It's a mixed bag for farmers. Indiana Agriculture Director Joe Kelsey said even though there's considerably less snowfall, rainfall is ahead of schedule.

"If it continues, conditions look good for a great wheat crop," said Kelsey.

But on the other hand, it hasn't been cold enough to kill off the larva, insects, mold and fungus that can damage crops.

Lynn Habig works at the Indianapolis Museum of Art's greenhouse. She says most gardeners needn't worry.

Pointing to a flower bed on the IMA grounds, she said, "See, there are several early blooms there, but they're going to be perfectly all right. They're not damaged."

Noting the early buds on a Magnolia tree, she said, "This one is far along. If it goes to 22 degrees, you might get some brown spots around it, but there are plenty of other buds on here and they're not remotely close to opening yet."

Habig said the trees to watch are fruit trees. "If they're small enough, cover them if it gets below freezing, but if (the buds) are swollen be careful because you could knock them off.

She said in general most plants have no problem handing the early warm-up.

"Think how many times you've see snow on the crocuses coming up. It's charming. It says mother nature is going to send us spring on a permanent basis," said Habig.