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Lack of snow makes businesses weather storm

– Just a week ago, things looked dire for Sarah and Tim Long, owners of Timbers Resort in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Snow is their winter lifeblood, drawing outdoor sports enthusiasts from far and wide, yet the ground was bare.

Then came a desperately needed arctic blast. Suddenly the drifts were thigh-deep – and snowmobilers were flocking to the mom-and-pop operation’s cottages on the northern end of Lake Gogebic.

“Right now it’s going very good. We’re getting tons of snow,” Sarah Long said Friday. But after losing nearly three weeks’ worth of reservations and enduring a dismal season a year ago, she’s not ready to declare the crisis over.

“It’s been pretty scary. Hopefully we can still recover.”

The Longs’ experience illustrates the increasingly fickle nature of winter in the Upper Midwest, where dry, mild weather is making life difficult for businesses that rely on abundant snow, from ski hills to plow trucks to taverns near snowmobile trails. Even as icy temperatures gripped the region over the past week, snowfall remained spotty – a feast in some locales, a famine elsewhere.

“This year and last year, there’s been what we’d call a snow drought,” said Jake Crouch, a climate scientist with NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.

Even places with snow are getting less than usual. The Lake Superior shoreline city of Marquette, Mich., is nearly 4 feet off its usual pace. Total accumulations are below normal by 14 inches in Minnesota’s Twin Cities and 32 inches in Muskegon, Mich.

Chicago is more than 15 inches below normal and finally got an inch-deep layer Friday morning. It was the city’s latest first snowfall of at least an inch since record-keeping began in 1884.

Some resorts have begun offering winter activities that don’t require snow, such as wine tasting and ice fishing. Diversifying helps, but there’s no substitute for a powdery white landscape to draw tourists northward.

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