PORTLAND – Winter businesses are hoping for a cold and snowy season ahead after last year’s washout devastated establishments that rely on winter weather to draw tourists their way.
The National Weather Service’s long-range forecast says Maine has equal chances of being warmer or colder than normal, or wetter or drier than normal.
But a commercial weather service is forecasting that northern New England is due for a normal winter. That means more snow and more cold than last winter – and more business for companies that cater to tourists who want to ski, snowmobile and do other cold-weather outdoor activities.
The New England Outdoor Center in Millinocket hopes the prediction comes true. People who come to northern Maine in winter are looking for plenty of snow to roar across on their snowmobiles, said Linda Meehan, office manager for the center.
“It dramatically affected business last year,” she said. “We had a lot of people that didn’t come. There was just no snow.”
Paul Walsh is a senior business meteorologist with Pennsylvania-based Planalytics, which advises clients on weather trends that may affect business.
Planalytics, he said, is less convinced than the National Weather Service that a strong El Nino will develop in the Pacific Ocean, which could shift winter storm paths south and result in milder weather in Northern states.
Instead, Planalytics thinks winter weather will emerge earlier this year than last. The company a week ago started warning clients in the Great Lakes region of an outbreak of cold and snow, and the area was hit with an early season snowstorm Thursday and Friday.
“Don’t put your skis away yet,” said Walsh.
The state estimates that the snowmobile sector alone brings in roughly $350 million in yearly revenues to Maine. The sector, of course, is dependent on snow, and the number of annual snowmobile-registering residents generally correlates with snowfall.
Last year was so mild that the number of snowmobile registrations fell from more than 100,000 in 2004-05 to less than 75,000.
But after last year’s dearth of snow, people in the industry feel they’re due for an old-fashioned winter with lots of snow and cold.
“We’re feeling really good about the season,” said Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association. “Generally, after a really lousy winter, we get a payback – and this would be it.”