Today's forecast for snow and blizzard-like driving conditions may be a horror to commuters, but it's great for snow-dependent businesses that have been suffering through one of the mildest winters on record.
From hardware stores stocked to the rafters with unsold winter goods to ski hills where fall-like conditions kept people away from man-made snow on the slopes, they have been waiting a long time for relief.
Contact information ( * required )
Bob Sadler, owner of Glen Ellyn-based Avalanche Snowplowing, has been in the business for 38 years and said he doesn't remember "a worse winter" for his company. That may be about to change.
AccuWeather.com issued an alert Wednesday of possible near-blizzard conditions during this evening's rush hour due to the combination of plummeting temperatures, 3-6 inches of snow and howling winds.
Travel will become hazardous with visibility limited by blowing snow as winds gust over 30 miles per hour, said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. Delays at O'Hare International Airport are likely.
As of Wednesday, less than 2 inches of snow had been recorded at the National Weather Service's O'Hare weather station. Temperatures in December were about 8 degrees above normal and temperatures so far in January have been almost 10 degrees above normal.
"It's killing me," Sadler said. "I thank God for what little icing we've had, but it doesn't pay the bills."
He estimates he's lost out on between $20,000 and $30,000 of business so far this season, while laying out $12,000 on salt and paying maintenance fees to prepare his vehicles for plowing.
"You have to pray to God that we'll get some snow in April," he said.
While Sadler charges by the job, some competitors rely on seasonal contracts to help keep them afloat.
"We do get some income regardless" of the weather, said Tom Peters, owner of Schaumburg-based Northwest Snow and Ice Control Inc., which gets about 25 percent of his jobs through a seasonal contract.
He estimated that business is down about 80 percent compared to this time last year. "I'm not worried about being pushed out of the business ... but I'm sure some guys are."
Brian Lutz, president of Regional Truck Equipment in Addison, said about 90 percent of his business revolves around selling snow equipment at this time each year. Without the snow, there is a lack of demand for service parts and repairs.
Lutz said he is concerned about next year's sales because a lack of snow this year will mean people won't need to buy new equipment. "We really need the snow to make things wear out, I guess," he said with a laugh.
But like a glistening snowflake that won't melt, twinkles of optimism are still coming from the owners of many businesses that rely on cold weather, as they all know winter conditions will inevitably change.
Kevin Serio, recreation director at Four Seasons Alpine Snowsports in Lisle, said he had to close only for five days due to the weather as man-made snow is keeping the facility open. But it costs money to make snow, and when people don't have snow on their front lawns they tend to forget that there is snow at the facility.
The 300 or so employees at Four Seasons, which include many college and high school kids looking to make extra money while on break, are also feeling the effects of the weather.
"Unfortunately if there's not a whole lot of snow going on, there's not lot of work," Serio said. But he remains optimistic. "This year it's a slow start, but that doesn't mean its going to be a poor finish."
David Ziegler says sales at his family's nine Ace Hardware stores in the Fox Valley area are about even with last year's, the difference being in which items are selling.
"Our winter-related stuff is down 20 to 30 percent. But our other things in the store are up quite a bit because people are still doing things outside," he said.
He said the three most popular items each winter -- snowblowers, ice melting products and shovels -- are sitting fully stocked on the shelves, but there are no plans to mark them down so they will sell.
Ziegler said he feels that "people aren't going to buy a shovel for half off if they don't need it."
And they may need it beginning today. If they don't, "my grandpa always told me shovels never rot," he said. "If you don't sell them this year you'll sell them next year."