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Changing with the seasons

PREP WORK: Employees at Hoffman’sLandscaping and Nursery prepare for the winter months by planting evergreens as business slows down.

by ANDREW CHRISTMAN - achristman@wabashplaindealer.com

As temperatures begin to drop through the next several months, local contracting work takes a different approach to maintain its industry.

Brian Hoffman, owner of Hoffman’s Nursery and Landscaping Inc., said the winter months bring a shift of focus. Instead of landscaping, efforts are put into snow removal in North Manchester and smaller projects such as patio work and preparations for the upcoming year. The slow down, however, is not always seen as a bad thing.

“My guys work so many hours during the season they look forward to the downtime in the winter,” Hoffman said. “They enjoy not working 55 hours a week all through the winter. Most of them go down to 30 to 35 hours a week ... It’s just part of the job.”

Hoffman said with his business the slower season has changed drastically. When he was younger, he said, contracting work would essentially cease from Thanksgiving to spring break for the schools. These days, as long as the weather is cooperative, Hoffman said he will work up until Christmas before really going again in late February.

Because of the less serious demands on the business in the winter months, some employees at Hoffman’s Nursery and Landscaping are temporarily laid off before being rehired in the spring. However, Hoffman said he tries to maintain 19 full-time employees to cover the necessary jobs.

“Snow removal takes about 12 people for us,” Hoffman said. “You’ve got to make sure you have the people for that. There is shop work and other odds and ends we can do in the winter.”

Another difficulty comes in the form of unpredictable winter weather. This year, however, the National Weather Service is predicting above average temperatures. NWS Senior Meteorologist Sam Lashley said over the next two weeks, climate predictions indicate temperatures and precipitation will be above what is typically seen in the area.

“With most winters, we have bouts of arctic air that come down, and in between it relaxes,” Lashley said. “As forecasting has evolved, there are things in the Arctic and North Atlantic we watch.”

While temperatures may be above average, Lashley added the difference could be as little as one degree. Average temperatures for the Wabash County area are around 36.4 degree highs and 20.7 degree lows for December, 33 degree highs and 16.4 degree lows for January, and 37.1 degree highs and 19.1 degree lows for January.

Despite precipitation levels expected to be higher than average, Lashley said it is difficult to determine if it will be rain or snow due to the number of factors leading into snowfall.

“We can be above normal temperatures and still get snow,” he said. “(If it’s) just a degree or two above normal, it’s still cold enough ...”

Average snowfall for the winter months, as tracked out of Fort Wayne, is 8.5 inches for December, 10.1 inches for January and 7.7 inches for February.

While the season will slow down area contractors, Hoffman says it is a time when his team focuses on the coming year.

“A lot of people look at it as their downtime, and yeah that is true, but it allows your guys to prepare for the upcoming season,” Hoffman said, adding planning, logistics and equipment maintenance become priority tasks.