Thursday, January 7, 2016

Snow-Shoveling Time, and No Snow to Shovel

Here in southern Pennsylvania for the first time that I can recall, we’re looking at a fair possibility of a winter with no snow events. The first four weeks of December were too warm for snow, and weather forecasters expect February and March to be 5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. The best chance for snow, then, is right now. Instead, we expect a heavy rain event this weekend followed by a return to dry weather. It is too soon to predict the weather for the second half of the month in the same level of detail, but the snow will certainly be less than the snowfall of a normal winter if there is any snow at all.

To be sure, some will lament the absence of snow. The mild weather has been a problem for retail, with Macy’s reporting only a fraction of the usual winter clothing sales. Some shoppers were fooled by the October-like weather in December and completely forgot to do any Christmas shopping. Still, for anyone with a house or a car to take care of, it is undeniably less work this way. As long as there is no snow to shovel, I am using the hours freed up to clear vines and downed tree branches from my lawn. This is work that ordinarily would wait until March, and with no snowstorms, there aren’t so many downed branches this winter. The point is, I am getting ahead in my work. At the same time, households and businesses will find it easier to make ends meet financially while they pay a third less to heat their buildings. With only a small fraction of the usual snow removal expenses, the state government may eventually be able to pass a budget.

This might not seem such an exciting story, but economic trends are built on just such random large-scale events. The weather pattern is affecting not just Pennsylvania but a whole corner of the country. Recent economic forecasts have predicted a slight recession for the United States in 2016, but with the financial benefits of a benign winter, that becomes unlikely. If I am getting a head start on my early spring lawn work, perhaps I will also find the time to add to my work skills and solve new problems. In a similar way, students facing fewer snow days have the chance to learn more and become more productive.

On an individual level, if you have extra time because of the weather, use that time to solve some of your own persistent problems, and that will put you in a better place going forward. This mild winter weather is not a trend, more a chance event, so make the most of it.