Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Cost of Winter

The sub-Arctic, northern Canadian weather in New England this year is wreaking havoc with my life. So much snow has fallen in the Boston area (more than 70 inches and counting) that there is nowhere to put it when you go to clear the driveway. Our two car driveway is so narrow that the snowbanks are halfway up our ground floor windows and had to be cut back so that we could fit more than one car in. The leftover snow went in the back garden which now resembles the bunny slope at Sugarloaf ski area. I hate winter and New England winters were one reason I decamped at the age of 22 and moved to Europe (which is now getting its comeuppance). Now that I am back, I can't help but wonder what on earth I was thinking.
Meanwhile, on my way back from a canceled writing class in Boston last Tuesday, I calculated the cost of this winter. For me it has meant finding blokes with shovels and snowblowers and plows to take care of our various properties. At Beaver Cove, ME our plow guy had to clear the driveway 7 times between December and mid January. In Boothbay Harbor our caretaker had to shovel the walk 5 times and clear the roof once so far. In MA we have had the blokes in 6 times with some remedial work on top to cut back the snowbanks. My class in Boston has been canceled twice after I paid for and took the bus to get there and back, missing prime working hours. Several hours in mornings have been wasted shoveling and then tracking down the blokes to get it finished and mopping salty floors. I gave up on trying to fit my car into the drive (and keeping it from getting smooshed by giant falling icicles) and took it to a storage unit for the next two months. I reckon the winter has already cost me a few thousand dollars that I would really have rather spent going to the Caribbean.
But I am a small fish in the ocean. My colleagues and contacts have had to work from home more often than not. This leaves empty, heated, lit offices sucking up money and does God-knows-what to productivity. Municipalities and states are already over budget for snow removal, having to go begging for extra Federal dosh. This is on top of the serious deficits in municipal budgets already and a looming pensions crisis. (About which, BTW, Meredith Whitney is completely right. I was tipped off about the looming pensions shortfall a year ago when writing an article for CME Group Magazine, by someone who should know.)
All in all, the weather in the winter of 2010-11 could be the straw that broke the camel's back the second time. A fragile recovery may not be strong enough to withstand the costs of this winter. I know I'm not - strong enough that is. Off to Florida....

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