PEORIA — Peorians have seen 18.5 inches of snowfall so far this winter, very close to average, but nearly double what had fallen last year, according to the National Weather Service. For the snow removal companies that rely on snow to make it to spring, every flake is a relief after the mild winters of the last couple of years.
“You kind of have to take it with a grain of salt, literally, and just hope that you’re going to get it, but you can’t bank on it,” said Mitch O’Shaughnessy, owner of DreamScapes Landscaping in Pekin.
O’Shaughnessy started cutting grass and plowing driveways for his neighbors in 2007, when he was 14. He has since expanded with regular lawn maintenance and landscaping. DreamScapes has snow and ice management contracts to clear 25 parking lots and about 50 driveways.
In his 11th year in the business, he said it took some figuring out, but he estimates central Illinois gets “good” snow every three years.
“I’ve kind of gone back over the last 10 years and I’ve looked at the weather year-by-year,” O’Shaughnessy said. “And it seems like that third year — and this was that third year — we get nailed and that’s been a pretty good prediction so far.”
Based on Peoria’s snowfall in the past two years, James Auten, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Lincoln, said there is actually some truth to O’Shaughnessy’s theory.
“He’s correct,” he said. “Last year there was not a lot of snow, and the year before that, not a lot of snow.”
At this point last year, the Peoria area had only 9.5 inches of snowfall, according to the National Weather Service.
After two snows within a week that left 4 inches on the ground as of Tuesday, O’Shaughnessy said he’s had to sacrifice some sleep, but it’s worth it.
“It was coming down so good on Saturday night, I just backed my truck in the shop and I slept in the truck for a couple hours and I got to work,” O’Shaughnessy said. “I knew if I went home and slept, I wasn’t going to wake back up.”
O’Shaughnessy said his main plow driver, Jim Ellis, makes the same kind of sacrifices.
“I can call Jim at 2 a.m. and he’ll be plowing by 2:30,” he said. “And he’ll stay out as long as I need him to, he’s always there.”
While DreamScapes has fewer than 10 drivers on call when the snow hits, Blackshor Services in Peoria has a fleet of more than 100 employees in the winter months, focusing on commercial properties instead of residential.
With 200 snow removal contracts, Blackshor President George Blackburn said business doesn’t suffer in the winter, they just do different work.
Blackburn said the company upholds the promise listed on its website, “No job is too large for Blackshor!”
“We do big lots and we do small lots,” he said. “One of our bigger parking lots is Par-A-Dice and a smaller one would be the little restaurant on Sterling.”
When the winters are more mild, O’Shaughnessy said his company starts landscaping projects early and focuses on marketing for spring and summer.
“We’ll get out and try to do as much winter landscaping as we can, maybe market a little bit, get some tree trimming jobs, anything to kind of keep the cash flow coming,” he said.
Private landscape companies often depend on customer repetition to maintain business, and O’Shaughnessy said he’s had some of his customers for 10 years — since his high school days.
“When I first starting plowing, I had a fourth-hour midday study hall, so if it was snowing, my mom would call me in, and I’d leave high school and go check on all my parking lots,” he said.
He’s not skipping study hall anymore, but with this job, he said it’s a round-the-clock deal.
“It might snow on Christmas Eve, and you’re gone for two days,” O’Shaughnessy said. “It’s a little bit of sacrifice at times, but it’s worth it.”
When hit with a lot snowfall, Blackburn said all they can do is give it their all.
“Remember that we work 24 hours a day and we’re out in the elements when everybody else is warm in bed,” he said. “Try to give us a little room and a little break.”
Kelsey Watznauer can be reached at 686-3194 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @kwatznauer.