Snowplows that have been removed from trucks are lined up at the Department of Public Works in Portland earlier this month. The lack of snow this winter has helped municipal snow removal budgets. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Most winters, it’s all hands on deck in Portland, where public works crews remove snow and ice from hundreds of miles of roads.

Things played out a bit differently this year.

“We did snow removal on two or three evenings and only one time under a snow removal parking ban,” said Mike Murray, Portland’s public works director. “This year was definitely out of the ordinary.”

By the first day of spring on March 19, only 24.1 inches of snow had been recorded at the Portland International Jetport, less than half of the total typically seen from December through March.

An early spring dose of wintry weather last weekend brought up to 7 inches of snow to some parts of southern Maine but didn’t put a dent in the season’s overall snow deficit – or in plowing and sanding budgets.

For towns and cities throughout southern Maine, the lack of snow meant less time – and a lot less money – was needed to clear and treat roads. The mild and mostly snowless winter also brought a drastic drop in the number of miles plowed and tons of salt used by the Maine Department of Transportation and the Maine Turnpike Authority to keep the state’s highways clear.


“It was certainly unique,” said Patrick Fox, Saco’s director of public works. “I can’t think of a lighter winter as far as snow activities in my 20 years of doing this.”

Besides leaving money in snow removal budgets, the mild weather also gave municipalities a jump on springtime work, like sweeping roads and repairing culverts.

Maine’s public works departments know there’s always a chance for more wintry weather before warm temperatures truly take hold. April can bring significant snowfall in same parts of the state, though Portland typically will see only 2 inches of snow after April 1.

By the first day of spring, MDOT had plowed more than 500,000 fewer miles than any other winter in the past two decades, said spokesman Paul Merrill. The department had recorded 1,043,177 plowed miles by March 20 – down from 1.6 million during the 2022-23 season.

The lack of snow resulted in savings for the state agency, which allowed the department to cover the cost of repairing storm damage, particularly from the Dec. 18 and Jan. 13 storms, Merrill said.

“Had we had a snowier winter, we’d be singing a much different tune right now related to our bottom line,” he said.


One of the salt sheds at the Portland Department of Public Works is still half-full because of the lack of snow and icy weather this winter. The trend has helped municipal snow removal budgets – but has hurt snow-dependent businesses. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


This year had a clear upside for Portland taxpayers because the city spent only about a third of its budget on winter operations, Murray said. The city is responsible for plowing and treating 500 lane miles of roads.

Portland budgeted $1.35 million for winter operations this winter but had only used about $475,000 by March 20. Murray said he had not yet calculated the additional costs related to last week’s storm, which kept his crews busy clearing roads, erecting barricades across roads closed by downed trees and lines, and putting up temporary stop signs at intersections without power.

The money left after winter operations are done for the season will go back to the city’s general fund.

There are 60 positions in public works, but with vacancies and leaves of absence, there were only about 45 people on staff this winter. The shortage would have been more of a challenge if the winter had not been light, Murray said.

In the past few years, Portland has had to respond to more “out of season” storms in October and early April, often when the ground is soft, resulting in more tree damage and power outages. That means the city has to stay prepared for whatever weather comes its way.


“Even though this winter was considered mild, we keep core equipment ready for winter operations through April,” Murray said.

Across the bridge in South Portland, that city’s public works department went into winter fully stocked with salt to treat roads, but only used about a third of it, Director Melissa Hutchins said.

In a typical winter, the Maine Turnpike Authority uses well over 20,000 tons of salt to treat 656 lane miles. This year, it used less than half that amount11,626 tons – through March 20.

The Turnpike Authority also saw a 42% decrease from last year in regular hours spent on winter operations and a 39% decrease in overtime hours, according to data provided by Chief Operations Officer Peter Merfeld. Most of the overtime used this year was at night when crews needed to address issues with ice and refreezing.

Merfeld said there were also savings on fuel and equipment repairs because plow trucks weren’t out as much.

Crews have been working on picking up litter, sweeping and repairing guardrails, but they also know winter isn’t really over yet, he said.



Crews weren’t spending as much time plowing, but that doesn’t mean the winter didn’t present other challenges for public works departments.

Public works crews across central Maine scrambled to deal with major flooding in December, and coastal communities faced similar pressures after coastal flooding in January.

Fox said Saco experienced damage at a level it had never seen along the coastline. Public works repurposed labor and equipment that would have been used for snow to coastal repairs.

“We certainly stayed busy,” he said. “The coastal storms took up a lot of time. Saco is sort of a hotbed of coastal erosion when we set into cycles of storms like that.”

The lack of plowable snow also gave crews in many communities extra time for maintenance and long-term projects, and let them get ahead on some work.


In Portland, crews were out sweeping streets until Jan. 5, then resumed on Feb. 26 – much earlier than usual.

Hutchins said the South Portland street sweeping crews have already finished three-quarters of the main arterials, which will allow the city to start line striping by early June. They’ve also been working on fixing plow damage on roads and last week started on closing curb cuts from state paving projects, work they usually wouldn’t do until April.

As soon as the asphalt plants open, the crews will be ready to start on paving and sidewalk repairs, Hutchins said.

In Saco, public works got a head start on dock rebuilds, ditch and culvert replacements and lots of brush trimming and ditch cleaning, Fox said.

Despite the mild winter and the long-term warming trends, Fox said he still has to plan for the possibility of a winter that brings far more snow and ice.

“One or two years of this doesn’t make a permanent change,” he said. “We’ll have to see how the cycles play out over the next three to five years.”

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