By Cheryl Higley
State of the Industry: Over the last two to three years, labor and salt availability led the list of top challenges for snow and ice contractors. This year, however, weather - specifically shifts in storm patterns (27%) and frequency of snowstorms (25%) - trailed recruiting reliable workers (53%). Further, shifts in storm patterns ranked second on the list of trends that will impact operations this season (behind labor).
Bob Dylan was right on the money when he wrote: “A change in the weather is known to be extreme.” When it comes to snow and ice management, contractors would be wise to consider the following to help insulate their companies from the short-term impacts of weather:
- Track your weather data. Without doing so, you have no idea what you’re really up against.
- Evaluate your portfolio mix. Do you have a mix (seasonal, per push, etc.) that will protect your company’s bottom line for the inevitable extremes?
- Consider extreme condition clauses. Many contractors have begun adding clauses to their contracts to temper expectations in the event of extreme events. In addition to specific weather clauses (blizzard, extreme conditions, etc.), contractors also added clauses protecting them from the fallout of such events: in-season salt price increases (26%) and indemnity in the event customers dictated or limited service levels (29%). If you add these clauses, run them past your attorney to ensure wording is clear, enforceable and defensible.
- Investigate insurance. This solution is not for everyone, but some contractors purchase snow insurance to help mitigate the uncertainty of winter. This isn’t on the radar for most companies - (80%) of respondents do not plan to purchase snow insurance - but 18% say they will.
While there’s no doubt the past few years have dealt a ferocious blast to many areas of North America, do these trends reflect a change in the weather? Or is it just the “circle of life” so to speak, fluctuations that are part of the ebb and flow of weather cycles?
Ken Elliott, a long-range meteorologist with WeatherWorks, says this question points to the importance of looking not just at five-year averages but further out as contractors plan their sales and operations strategies.
“If you look, for example, at New York City over the last 50 years, you see short-term variability over the past five and 10 years; but over the long haul, things don’t change all that much. This speaks well to the struggles of creating well-thought-out bids for snow contracts,” he says. “From a contractor’s perspective, it has always been a goal to understand weather and make sound contracts based upon patterns. Given tough competition and so much available weather data and forecasts, it has never been more critical. Unfortunately, patterns are patterns on a large scale. But weather is changeable day by day and even town to town, making it tempting, and potentially risky to over-rely on the expected weather from any given pattern.”
Cheryl Higley is editor in chief of Snow Business magazine. Contact her at