Welcome to spring. By the time you read this, the polar vortex will be a fading memory, and those 6-foot-tall piles of snow that have accumulated in every parking lot in town will have melted and washed down the storm drain.
OK, maybe not.
When you consider that some of the worst blizzards in Montana history have struck weeks after the vernal equinox, it’s possible that winter isn’t quite ready to let go. The biggest storm in Billings history occurred on April 2-5, 1955, when 42 inches of snow fell. That single event accounted for more snow than even the 37 inches that fell during the record snowfall month last February.
Another memorable storm struck during the third week of April in 1984. At least three people in northeastern Wyoming perished after being stranded in the storm, and thousands of head of livestock died. Red Lodge received 73 inches of snowfall, and drifts reached 10 feet high.
Although it seems obvious, economists like to remind us that retail sales are closely correlated with weather, and we’re not just talking about sales of snow shovels and rock salt.
U.S. auto sales reached 15.6 million in 2013, up 7.6 percent from 2012. But car sales hit the ditch during the first two months of 2014 when blizzards pummeled wide sections of the East and Midwest and temperatures plunged below zero. Can you blame people for not feeling like shopping?
Home construction is off to a slower start in Billings this year, with 32 single-family homes permitted in January and February, compared to 58 for the same period last year, a decline of 44 percent.
Of course the tough winter is a factor, but many real estate professionals are expecting a big boom in activity this spring because of pent-up demand for people who couldn’t get out earlier in the year.
On Feb. 26, in the midst of a nasty, snowy cold snap, Billings Realtor Damian Forrester encouraged his Facebook friends to think about spring. His post included a photo that shows a dazzling sea of flowers in the foreground with the Grand Tetons in the background.
“Let’s think about the cooped up Cabin Fever Real Estate Buyers and Sellers out there ready to jump in and Buy and Sell Homes. THINK POSITIVE, it’s going to be an AMAZING 2014!!!!!” Forrester wrote.
Stephanie Patterson, an agent with Prudential Floberg Realtors and the current president of the Billings Association of Realtors, said the local housing market always picks up this time of year, regardless of whether the previous winter was brutal or mild.
One of the biggest factors in the current market is that there just aren’t a lot of homes for sale, Patterson said.
“When inventory is low, people typically wait until spring to list their homes,” she said. But when the new listings hit, you can expect to see plenty of interest.
Mark Hedin, who has been running the Home Improvement Show at MetraPark for 30 years, said a tough winter almost always gives people extra incentive to check out new home-oriented products and services at the big trade show. And when there’s a touch of spring in the air, people flock to MetraPark.
“Everyone is so ready for spring to be here,” Hedin said.
Amen to that. But just to be on the safe side, don’t put the snow shovel away yet.