Blizzard is 'nonstop madness' for plow drivers

In the snowplowing business, there's something about 12 inches.

"Everything's great until it snows a foot. Beyond that, there's no place to put it," Rick Whittle, a veritable snow-removal baron, said Wednesday. "You push 2 feet of snow eight feet and you've got a 16-foot pile. There's just nowhere to go with that much snow. Nobody wants it."

Whittle, who owns Mystic-based Allied Snow Removal, which he said is one of the biggest operations of its kind in the country, described his office's post-blizzard state in colorful terms.

"It's hell," he said, "Nonstop madness."

Having cleared such expanses as the parking lots at Crystal Mall, The William W. Backus Hospital, the courthouses in New London and state police barracks in Montville and Westbrook, Allied trucks were now hauling mountains of plowed snow to dumpsites around the region.

"If I could jump off the Gold Star today, I would," Whittle said.

He'd been flat out since 5 p.m. Tuesday, his adrenaline-fueled workday consisting of scheduling some 200 people, about half of them subcontractors, and scores of snowplows, sand spreaders, front-end loaders, backhoes and snowblowers.

And then there were the customers, who seemed to never stop calling.

"Until the snow is gone - all of it melted - someone will want us to move it around," Whittle said.

He figures he spends about $15,000 on diesel fuel and gasoline before a flake flies and as much as three times that before a storm like this week's is over. He's got to spread about 200 tons of salt at roughly $100 a ton. Contracts generate millions in revenue.

"At the end, you hope something's left," he said.

This week's deluge altered the complexion of a season that had been one of the worst in recent memory from the snow-removers' perspective. Whittle has some protection from mild weather in the form of contracts that call for him to be paid, snow or no snow. Regardless, he's got to maintain his equipment and pay hefty insurance premiums all the same.

Whittle likened the latest storm to the blizzard that struck the Northeast in February 2013, dumping 2 feet of snow on the region. Fortunately, he said, the snow that fell Tuesday into Wednesday never turned to rain.

Derek Dyer, owner of A n' D Landscaping of Waterford, who operates five snowplowing trucks, said the earlier blizzard may have been worse than this week's storm because warmer temperatures produced wetter, heavier snow.

"There might have been more snow this time, but it's stayed colder, which has been good," he said.

In general, snow-removers prefer winters that feature more frequent storms of lesser snowfalls to a blizzard or two.

"I could be in a grocery store in August after a winter of 12 storms, all 3 inches each, and all I hear is, 'Oh, you had a bad year,'" Whittle said. "Now, a year like this, a blizzard, I'm on the verge of bankruptcy, the girls in the office are getting browbeaten and everyone thinks I'm getting rich.

"I threw up three times last night, couldn't eat."

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

Twitter: @bjhallenbeck

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