Saturday, February 6, 2016

With this crazy winter weather, think about getting a snowblower – I did - February 5, 2016

Two weeks ago we had 24 or more inches of snow dumped on us as the Blizzard of 2016 blasted through our area. And just the past weekend, temperatures soared into the 60s.

We have wacky weather.

But let’s focus on those 24 inches of snow. We may not have another snowstorm again this year. However, with climate change, past winters are no longer reliable indicators for how often we will get major storms. We will have it again, and maybe even more next time.

This column tends to focus on the high-tech and new technology for the family. Unfortunately, there is little high-tech snow-removal technology.

You’d think with MIT being near Boston, those guys would come out with some sort of magic-beam gun to send the snow far away – but alas.

We finally bit the snow bullet in our home and went with the tried-and-true technology for removing snow, a snow blower.

I’d love to say we researched them carefully and negotiated with multiple vendors before choosing the one we wanted. Nope. We went out Wednesday night before the storm and bought the only model we could find at the nearest Home Depot that had them in stock--up in Falls Church. As we left Home Depot it took us more than three hours to get home since the falling snow caused havoc on the untreated streets and highways. That was the storm before the blizzard.

However, we didn’t do too badly for a last-minute purchase. We ended up with a three-stage unit with power steering, headlamp, heated handgrips and electric start.

Snowblowers are not a luxury in the kind of snow we just had. They can save the lives of those who might have a heart attack from the great exertion of moving two feet of snow by hand. And they can save backs. A few-hundred-dollar expenditure dwarfs the cost of back surgery, lost work and therapy. My wife insisted we buy one, as she did not want anything to happen to me or our son. Thankfully I came to understand this in time.

The big feature of a snowblower is the number of stages it has. They can be a one-, two- or three-stage machine.

A single-stage uses one action to pull the snow into the machine and throw it out again. A single-stage unit is always electric. It is appropriate for sidewalks and short driveways with only a few inches of snow.

Electric snowblowers come in cordless and corded models. With a corded model, you have to be sure the cord you are dragging around behind you won’t stiffen in cold weather. The cord you already have for your electric leafblower may not be appropriate.

Gas-powered blowers come in two- or three-stages. A two-stage has one set of augers that pull in the snow and another set to throw the snow. It can handle more snow and throw it farther. The blizzard we just experienced required at least a two-stage to be effective.

A three-stage is a bit of a two-stage on steroids. It can move more snow and throw it farther. My wife affectionately named ours the Snow Beast.

Snowblowers come in widths from 21 to 45 inches. A wider one requires fewer passes down your driveway, but be mindful of the storage space needed in the off season.

I estimate that five minutes of snowblowing was about one-man hour of shoveling in this recent blizzard. I probably used it for two hours during this blizzard. The potential work it saved me pains my back just to think about it.

My father bought a snowblower while I was in high school. After doing our driveway, I’d do others’ driveways for $5 if I could do it sometime during the day. If they needed it done right away, I charged $20. This was in 1970s dollars. So, lease that blower out to your kids and you may recoup your expense fast.

My day job requires me to be on the snow-lined streets from before sunrise to mid-morning so I was impressed by how well the school district handled the snow closures this year. This was too much snow to simply push aside with a plow, so running a blade down a street did not make the street bus-ready. Front-loaders had to come in to physically pick up and move the huge piles of snow.

As the area puts the Blizzard of 2016 behind it and the Snow Beast is stored for the winter, I know I am ready for the next one, whenever it comes. 

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Added 2/6/2016: A friend wrote this cautionary tale about snowblowers we should all heed.

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