OCEAN CITY — While there is still a long way to go and February and March might yet deliver the toughest blows, the remarkably mild winter thus far has been a blessing for most across the Lower Shore.
Temperatures peaked out in the mid-60s this week with some areas approaching the 70-degree mark, continuing a winter-long trend of extremely mild temperatures and relatively dry conditions. With the exception of a handful of days, the month of January has been one of the mildest on record in the mid-Atlantic area.
According to the National Weather Service, the warmest January on record in the mid-Atlantic region was 2006, when the average temperature came in at a balmy 41.6 degrees. January 2012 ranked right near the top with an average daily temperature of 37.9 degrees, and there have been more than a few days when the daytime temperature has topped out at over 60 degrees.
While the weather has not necessarily translated into big crowds in the resort area, those who did come enjoyed outdoor activities including a remarkable winter fishing season and an equally impressive offseason for golf, for example.
“In terms of demoflush numbers, it looks like we’re right about where we normally are for January, so there’s no hard evidence of a spike in the number of visitors,” said Ocean City Communications Manager Donna Abbott this week. “Anecdotally, the weekends have certainly seemed to be pretty lively, so maybe our residents and visitors are taking the opportunity to get out more. There just seems to be more people out and about.”
While the numbers haven’t spiked up, those who have come to the resort are getting out and enjoying Ocean City’s offseason amenities.
“I’ve heard the golf courses have done well throughout the month, even during the week, so that’s definitely a positive,” said Abbott. “Hopefully, people are getting out more and enjoying all we have to offer and spending a little money in our businesses.”
Winter is often a time to move forward with significant improvement projects and this year is no different. However, the balmy weather has kept most moving forward steadily.
“Obviously, the weather has been a blessing for both the Boardwalk and convention center projects,” said Ocean City Engineer Terry McGean. “The good weather has helped keep both projects on schedule.”
McGean said most major projects have contingency plans for bad weather as expected, but the warm winter weather has resulted in few delays.
“On the Boardwalk, we lost only two days in January to bad weather and that was rain,” he said. “Ordinarily, I would expect to lose six or more days this time of year to rain and snow, or even cold, which prevents concrete pours.”
As usual, the State Highway Administration (SHA) has been locked and loaded for winter in terms of snow and ice removal, but its fleet of vehicles and tons of materials have been left largely idle this year.
“It’s definitely been one of the warmer winters in recent memory,” said Charlie Gischlar of SHA Communications this week. “We’ve only had one response on the entire Eastern Shore this winter and that was relatively minor. There have been a few more responses in the central part of the state and in western Maryland, obviously, but even those haven’t been too significant. We know we’re far from out of the woods, but we’re loaded and ready to go.”
Gischlar said a big advantage of the mild winter for SHA has been that many of the agency’s highway repair and rehabilitation projects are either finished or way ahead of schedule. He said applying the final surface during a repaving job requires a temperature of 50 degrees or better, a scenario that has played out for much of the winter thus far.
“Usually, as we get into Thanksgiving or later, we have to make a decision about whether or not to move forward with a project or even start one,” he said. “This year, we’ve been able to finish some projects we wouldn’t normally think of starting because it’s been so nice.”
The unusually mild winter has also been a blessing for Lower Shore residents normally battling high energy costs this time of year.
“In Maryland, we saw an 8.4-percent reduction in electricity usage, comparing December of 2010 to December of 2011,” said Delmarva Power Media Relations Manager Matt Likovich. “The drop in energy usage is probably attributable to the mild winter weather, as well as many customers adopting energy-saving practices in general.”
However, while many residents are seeing significantly lower energy bills due to the mild winter weather, there is still a huge demand for energy assistance despite the warmer temperatures. For example, Shore Up!, which provides financial assistance to those in need on the Lower Shore, has not seen a drop in the number of requests despite lower energy usage. “We have not really seen fewer applications and we have about the same number as we did at this time last year,” said Shore Up! Planning Coordinator Alicia Robinson. “We do not track energy usage, we just look at how many applications we are getting. There are still a lot of people who need help out there.”