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Last updated on Sunday, March 4, 2012, 11:29 am

Construction workers at the Health Professions Building at NWACC haven't lost many workdays to the winter weather.

Mild Winter a Mixed Blessing

by Paul Gatling

Chief meteorologist Garrett Lewis, who works for CBS affiliate KFSM-TV in Fort Smith, is an agreeable fellow even during the nastiest of weather patterns.

To some, that factor has only increased this winter. Above-normal temperatures for every month likely have contributed to below-normal snowfall amounts for Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley.

“When it’s sunny out, everybody loves the weather guy,” Lewis said recently, with a laugh. “And I’m not a big fan of snow, so I love it.”

Winter weather fans notwithstanding, Lewis isn’t the only one who prefers the warmer pattern. The mild winter is having an impact on outdoor-related businesses and industries, including construction, roofing and landscaping.

The warmer-than-usual temperatures have been welcomed with open — and occasionally short-sleeved — arms for those who work outdoors.

“It’d be hard to track it, but people are more productive,” said Rob Dodd, a senior project manager with Nabholz Construction Services in Rogers.

Dodd is overseeing one of the area’s larger construction projects, the $14.2-million Health Professions Building on the campus of Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville.

“The subcontractors are more productive when it’s not freezing cold,” Dodd said. “It helps the attitude of all the workers on the site. You’re able to get more production out of them in a mild climate rather than when it’s freezing cold.”

Preparing for that kind of day has been rare this winter. Fayetteville has had just three days — Dec. 6, Jan. 12 and Feb. 11 — when the recorded high temperature was 32 degrees or below this season.

Last winter, there were 12 combined days of below-freezing highs in January and February alone.

Fayetteville also set a record on Dec. 14 with a low of 53 degrees. The measurements come from Drake Field, an official climate site used by the National Weather Service when collecting data from Northwest Arkansas.

But besides productivity, the mild winter is having a bottom-line impact as well. The NWACC project is one example.

Without giving specific budget numbers, Dodd said Nabholz has spent only 2 percent of the money budgeted for temporary weather protection at the site, for items like portable heaters, fuel, tarps and ice melt

“By comparison,” Dodd said, “during the very cold winter last year, we spent close to $20,000 for weather protection on a project less than half the size of the NWACC project.”

Dan Skoff, chief meteorologist at NBC affiliate KNWA-TV in Fayetteville, said the lack of cold weather would have an impact going forward — an active severe weather season throughout the spring. He said the winter season is likely to conclude with continued above-average temperatures and without a significant snow event.

“We just haven’t had much of a winter at all,” he said.

 

Positives are Plentiful

Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, said the positives of a mild winter on the construction industry are plentiful.

“For the most part, I don’t think there are negatives in construction to having good weather,” he said.

The amount of pull-forward activity, or activity that ordinarily wouldn’t have taken place until spring that’s occurred in December and January, has been evident, he said. That fact is reflected in nationwide employment numbers

Construction employment in the United States is at its highest level since 2010, according to AGC data. It rose by 21,000 in January to a two-year high of 5.57 million, after an upwardly revised gain of 31,000 in December.

Those figures are likely a result to some degree of the widespread mild and dry weather across the country, according to an AGC report.

At the state level, Arkansas ranked 26th in construction employment change in year-over-year data, showing an increase of 300 workers (47,300-47,600) from December 2010 to December 2011.

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