Busy winter creates boom for local snow removal services

The increase in snowfall this year is keeping private and city snow removal services busy.


Jeff Sigmund

The Old Capitol from behind a snow fort wall, on Wednesday, Jan 6, 2021.

Lily Rosen Marvin, News Reporter

In the freezing hours after a blizzard, as Iowa City residents crank up the heat and tuck themselves under blankets, the employees of Medellin Landscape Solutions grab their equipment, pile into their trucks, and head out into the snowy streets.

This winter has seen a boom for businesses such as Medellin Landscape Solutions, owner Mario Medellin said. According to National Weather Service data, as of Feb. 3, Iowa City has already seen 5.8 more inches of snow than during the entire winter last season. With the possibility of more snowy weeks to come, Medellin said new clients are calling in almost every day.

“We get [our client list] set back in August and September for the colder months,” Medellin said. “For the colder months people would call and ask to be placed on the list a little later than our expectations were. So right off the top of the season, things just started off a little crazy.”

With the large variations in the amount of snowfall from winter to winter, snow clearing services have to be ready to adapt to new challenges every cold season. Medellin said for business like his, a snowy winter means a boost in yearly revenue. With roughly 60 percent of Medellin’s yearly profits coming from snow-related services, the more snow, the better.

It’s not just private snow removal companies that have to be ready to adapt to the unpredictable winter. Large snow events can also present a challenge for the city’s snow removal service, Iowa City Street and Traffic Engineering Superintendent Brock Holub said.

“You have to be prepared,” Holub said. “No matter what mother nature gives you, whether it be a lot of snow or a little snow. Either way, we just need to be prepared. It’s a public safety aspect of our job.”

Although the city budgets a specific amount of money for snow removal services each year, the department is given the flexibility to guarantee they can keep the roads clear and ensure the safety of Iowa City residents, Holub said. This flexibility gives him the staffing and supplies to make it through the winter, he said.

“Staffing for winter events can be difficult because you just never know how long you’re going to have to go and if there’s more snow coming back-to-back,” Holub said. “So, our staff is very dedicated to what we do. And even when we hire them, we tell them that winters can be very long.”

For major snow events, blizzards, for example, the National Weather Service puts out warnings 12 to 36 hours ahead of the storm system, National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Phillip said. This means snow removal services have to be ready to mobilize quickly. These warnings can be great tools for local snow removal services, Philip said.

“Road crews may focus on temperatures and determine what type of road treatment to be putting down,” Philip said. “They can use [the warning] for planning purposes as far as handling supplies or services for the storm system.”

Although this winter’s increase in snow may be an annoyance to some Iowa City residents, it’s a relief to businesses like Medellin’s.

Last year, many of Medellin’s workers had to take on part-time jobs to get by, the owner said. This winter, there’s been so much snow that Medellin said he has been referring clients to other local snow removal businesses.

“There’s enough work to go around this year,” he said.