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North Country readies for winter


It’s never too early to start thinking about winter in the north country.

Between advertisements for mail-order Viagra and food canning secrets, the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the nation’s oldest prognosticator, predicts that much of the country will have below-normal winter temperatures and above-normal snowfall this year, though the north country may escape the worst of it.

According to the National Weather Service, temperatures and precipitation in the region will be close to normal for the next three months.

But with AccuWeather forecasting the season’s first snowfall for mid-November, municipalities are already readying their snowplows and residents are bracing themselves for the flurries to fly.

On a day that had its own hard-to-predict weather patterns, business owners and residents sought shelter in the Paddock Arcade, downtown Watertown, from the sudden downpour on Monday morning. Despite comparatively balmy conditions, specters of winter were clearly visible over the horizon.

Marjorie G. Burnett, 89, of Watertown, is already planning to head south to Virginia for the winter as she has for the past 13 years.

There she will stay with her daughter, Terry L. Galliger.

Mrs. Burnett, who has lived in the north country since she was 5 years old, said she worked for a number of years for pediatrician Dr. George S. Sturtz. She can recall walking to work through the snow when the roads were impassable.

And sometimes the snow wouldn’t stay outside.

“Remember when you used to leave the window open and you would wake up to snowdrifts in the bedroom?” her daughter asked.

Mrs. Burnett began traveling south after her husband, former Watertown city firefighter Robert J. Burnett, died in 2000. She said she heads down around Thanksgiving and tries to come back after the last signs of winter have disappeared. Sometimes that doesn’t happen until April.

“It looks nice, it stays nice and then it snows,” she said.

The two women passed by Europe Cakes bakery, where owner Monica P. Atanasova said that while it took her some time to get used to the north country winters, she eventually came to like them.

“You get used to it, you start to like it. ... Whatever happens, happens,” she said.

Mrs. Atanasova moved here from Bulgaria 10 years ago to join her husband, Atanas P. “Nasko” Atanasov, when he was hired as a network administrator for Bernier, Carr & Associates after graduating from Jefferson Community College.

She said that in her native country the winters are mild because of the salt water of the Black Sea.

It is salt of a different kind that Mrs. Atanasova will be dealing with this winter, however.

Municipalities dump an average of 38,000 tons of salt and 35,000 tons of sand on roadways across Jefferson County, according to County Highway Superintendent James L. Lawrence Jr.

And even that pales in comparison to the 115,000 tons of salt that the state Department of Transportation drops on state roadways across Region 7 — which includes Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Franklin and Clinton counties.

“They cure bacon,” city Public Works Superintendent Eugene P. Hayes said.

The city of Watertown uses about 3,000 tons of salt a year and begins winter preparations in late August, according to Mr. Hayes.

The DOT goes on winter scheduling sometime in November in Jefferson County and even earlier in northern counties. Winter hours provide for 24-hour coverage, according to spokesman Michael R. Flick.

DOT hires 40 to 50 temporary workers to deal with snow and ice, Mr. Flick said.

In Jefferson County, the first plow will be affixed to the first truck sometime this week, according to Mr. Lawrence. After that, the county will slowly ramp up its preparations and will be fully equipped in six weeks.

“We use Columbus Day as our point of reference to start outfitting plows,” Mr. Lawrence said.

According to the National Weather Service, the 30-year temperature averages for November, December and January for the Buffalo region, which includes Jefferson and Lewis counties, are 38.3 degrees, 26.4 degrees and 19.4 degrees, respectively.

The service will release its official winter forecast next week.

The average first snow in Watertown is Nov. 12; the earliest was on Oct. 1, 1946, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center.

The earliest snowfall in Canton was on Sept. 26, 1939.

This year, predicts snow on Nov. 11 and 12.

The change in the season is not necessarily bad news for everyone.

David P. Bartlett, owner of Johnny D.’s Restaurant in the Paddock Arcade, said that business often picks up in the winter when residents who flock to river destinations in the summer decide to stick closer to home.

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