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How climate change is impacting New England's snowplow drivers


New England winters are known for being cold and snowy, but climate change means that's shifting, and this winter is no exception. New Hampshire Public Radio's Mara Hoplamazian took a ride recently with someone feeling the impact from climate change - a snowplow driver.

MARA HOPLAMAZIAN, BYLINE: Harold Davis keeps his phone close by. In the summer, he's the guy you call to reseal your driveway, fill in cracks in the pavement or paint stripes onto a parking lot. In the winter, he's the guy you call when snow starts to fall. When it storms, he's out all day.

HAROLD DAVIS: It's 20 stops. It's 56 driving miles. Typically, say, 10 minutes average a stop. It's going to take around six hours.

HOPLAMAZIAN: Davis bought his plow and a used truck a few months ago. This is his first season with his own equipment. He spent about a decade working for other snow removal businesses when it gets too cold to do his usual work. He takes care of about 20 homes whenever it snows more than three inches. In December, the first storm came to Concord, New Hampshire's capital city, where Davis lives. He went out with a tape measure.

DAVIS: Oh, we're at an inch and a half. It's almost time to go out. Two inches. And then it was like three. And I'm like - you know, I already had the truck cleaned off and started, of course. And it just felt really good when I dropped the plow for the first time.

HOPLAMAZIAN: That's been the only storm this season big enough for him to plow his entire route. Davis charges per visit. If it snows a foot, he can make a few thousand dollars. He says it'll take about four snowstorms to see a return on his investment in the plow and another five storms for the truck. But driving his usual route, on this day, Davis sees only bare driveways.

DAVIS: You know, rain in a snowstorm melts the snow, and you can't plow a puddle. No one wants you to go plow a puddle, so...

HOPLAMAZIAN: Puddles are increasingly common. Winter is the fastest-warming season for most of the country. New Hampshire's state climatologist Mary Stampone says that means there are more days when it's not cold enough to snow.

MARY STAMPONE: With the warmer temperatures comes a change in the type of precipitation, where we have more precipitation falling as rain during the winter season.

HOPLAMAZIAN: When snowstorms happen, they're getting stronger, says Astrid Caldas. She's a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. She says warmer air holds more moisture that can come down as rain or snow.

ASTRID CALDAS: A lot of people, when they have these huge snowstorms, they say, how can it be global warming? Look at all the snow. Well, that's exactly what's expected under global warming.

HOPLAMAZIAN: New Hampshire's Department of Transportation says it's been kind of a relief to have less snow this season. They have lots of open positions. And they're not alone. States across the country have had trouble finding snowplow drivers. But as New Hampshire's winters get warmer, Davis says small snowplow businesses are struggling.

DAVIS: I think it's already clear to people that you can't count on snowplowing. It's been clear for a few seasons now.

HOPLAMAZIAN: Davis says he worries about climate change and losing the winters he loves. He says he's doing OK financially, but he's trying to figure out next steps for his business.

DAVIS: I'm really still wracking my mind about what else can I do to obviously keep my employees employed and to, you know, keep my family supported throughout the wintertime.

HOPLAMAZIAN: For now, Davis plans to hold on to his plow despite the rain and pray for more snow to come.

For NPR News, I'm Mara Hoplamazian in Concord, N.H. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Hoplamazian