VERNON--On a February afternoon with the temperatures hovering near 70 degrees, Britt Klein was in a dark T-shirt and sunglasses as she skied down a wet, slushy slope at Mountain Creek, not liking the spring-like conditions at all.
"It wasn't so bad this morning, but now there's pools of water all over the place," the Lynbrook, N.Y., woman complained.
It was hard to ski, she said. The edges at the base of the slope she had just come down were muddy, soaked by puddles of melted snow. It was slow going in many areas and a grassy patch at one spot presented an obstacle for snowboarders.Britt Klein, who found a T-shirt was better than a ski jacket on a warm February day at Mountain Creek. (NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
On another trail, a kid could be seen on a snowboard in his shorts.
The unexpected early spring has many shedding winter jackets as trees already begin to bud.
But not everyone is happy that Punxsuatawney Phil, who predicted six more weeks of winter on Groundhog Day, got it so wrong this year.
"There are definitely winners and losers," said Scott Bernhardt, president of Planalytics, a Pennsylvania-based research firm that provides weather intelligence for retailers and other businesses.
While winter is not over yet, the month has set records for warm temperatures, and that has affected many who depend on the cold.
At Mountain Creek, nearly all the trails and lifts were open on Thursday, but a day later with continued high temperatures, they were down to 37 out of 45 trails open for skiing, and 5 out of 10 lifts.Not only could New Jersey's ski season could be cut short this year, heating bills are down, which could affect the bottom line of the state's gas utilities. The guys who plow your driveway have had little work, while there have not been a lot of snow shovels and scrapers sold in recent weeks.
Winter comeback unlikely
And those early buds on the trees? They could spell doom for New Jersey's agricultural industry.
"While it's lovely to have this warm weather, it's a serious problem," said Larry Katz, director of Rutgers Cooperative Extension. "The fruit trees get in trouble if they bloom too early."
Despite the warmer-than-usual weather, frost remains a danger this time of year and the return of the cold can destroy the buds. At the same time, while farmers have ways of keep their trees warm, it's also far too early for the bees to emerge to pollinate them, added Katz.
"It's a little tough to trick the bees to come out of their hives," he said.An apple tree bud. The warm weather may have kick-started the growing season, which could be a problem for New Jersey's fruit crops, experts warn. (Cindy Schultz | The Albany Times Union via AP/file photo)
If apple and peach trees start to bloom and there are no bees, then there won't be any fruit.
Seed crops like Jersey corn are not in jeopardy. Those fields have not even been planted yet. However, peaches, nectarines and apples--which represent a multi-million-dollar harvest--are all at risk.
"It's a serious economic problem," he said.Utility officials said it is too soon to predict the financial impact on rates, but acknowledged they are selling less natural gas. At Public Service Electric & Gas Co., the largest utility in the state which supplies gas to 1.8 million customers, the 2016-17 heating season has been about 16 percent warmer than normal.
Spokeswoman Karen Johnson said she could not comment on any revenue impacts since the utility is still in the middle of its first quarter earnings cycle, but noted that PSE&G has a "weather normalization clause" that makes adjustments for temperatures that are either colder or warmer than usual.
"So well after the winter, we will make a filing with the Board of Public Utilities based on actual results," she said. "Customers still save on the avoided cost of fuel if weather is warmer than normal."
Elizabethtown Gas, which serves 279,000 customers in Union, Middlesex, Sussex, Warren, Hunterdon, Morris and Mercer counties, said temperatures this month alone are expected to be approximately 19 percent warmer than in January.
"A residential heating customer used about 24 fewer therms of natural gas in February compared to January," said spokesman Duane Bourne, noting the average residential customer will spend approximately $18 less on their monthly bills this February compared to January.Warmer weather a boon for some
The warmer-than-normal weather in the Northeast, meanwhile, is not bad news for everyone. Retailers set their floors for the spring season at the beginning of February, and mild weather brings out the shoppers.
"They want you to be thinking spring," Bernardt said.
Home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowes also benefit, he said. While they may not be selling shovels and ice melt, Bernhardt noted an early spring brings out the DIY crowd, as homeowners turn to fixing up their yards and embark on other improvement projects they have put off all winter.
It is also good for sporting good stores, he added, with more people heading outdoors to play.
Still, there are those trying to stretch out the winter as best they can.
The outdoor skating rink at Edison's Roosevelt Park remains open and "business is booming," according to Tracie Reed of the Middlesex County Department of Parks and Recreation.
"We have compressors that are strong enough to keep the ice. In temperatures like today it may get a bit watery, but it settles in the evening when the sun goes down," she said.
At Mountain Creek, despite the conditions, the resort was continuing to attract many skiers seeking to hold onto the winter for just a while longer.And just over the border in Pennsylvania, a spokesman at Shawnee Mountain ski resort in East Stroudsburg reported that they were still "hanging in," despite the warm temperatures.
"This holiday week has been strong, business-wise," said Jim Tust. "Lots of families, beginners taking lessons and snow tubers enjoying the spring-like snow conditions."
Tust said Shawnee hopes to continue to make snow as temperatures permit into early March.
"We plan on being open daily through at least March 19, and longer if weather, and skier demand cooperate," he said.
Ted Sherman may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TedShermanSL. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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