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Slow-melting snowpack may last another month

Rok Skvarca and Svela Veglej enjoyed a bench together along the Charles River Wednesday.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The mounds of snow are finally melting, but it could be more than a month before anyone in the area spies the shoot of a crocus or daffodil, much less wide swaths of grass.

Meteorologists say short- and long-term forecasts make it unlikely that the city will be free of all the piles and banks before mid-April, although no one knows for sure how long it will take to emerge from the historic snow blanketing the region.

Part of the problem is all the ice cooling the waters on Boston Harbor, which will continue to chill the city for weeks with a frosty sea breeze. Also, the densely packed snow on the ground frosts the air, like a ubiquitous freezer.


But the main factor is the unprecedented depth of the region’s snowpack, which last month measured 46 inches, the deepest ever recorded in the past 130 years by the Blue Hill Observatory in Milton. This is also the second-longest stretch, at 39 days and counting, of days with more than 20 inches of snow on the ground.

“I think it’s fair to say we’ll see the massive snow piles stick around for another 40 days,” said Brian Fitzgerald, chief weather observer at the observatory, who expects as much as 1.5 inches of thaw a day, based on current rates, assuming no additional snow or heavy rains.

The possibility of lingering snow piles has organizers of the Boston Marathon concerned about how the snow lining city streets could affect the tens of thousands of runners who will take to the course on April 20.

“We cannot recall a year in which residual snow caused an issue for the race or for participants,” said Tom Grilk, executive director of the Boston Athletic Association. “We’ll continue to monitor the field conditions and road conditions.”


The snowpack could also harm the region’s gardening businesses.

“We need to start getting everything ready,” said Steve Calef, president of Corliss Brothers Nursery & Garden Center in Ipswich. “We need for the snow to be gone soon.”

The enduring snow means it will also take longer for parks to get spruced up this spring.

“Our construction season is delayed,” said Ryan Woods, a spokesman for the Boston Parks and Recreation Department. He said it could take several additional weeks before baseball fields get replenished sod or new clay around the bases.

“Not only do we have to wait for the snow to melt, but we also have to wait for grounds to harden after being so soggy, so not to do more damage,” Woods said.

Until this week, persistent low temperatures have prevented much of any thaw. Monday was the first time in more than two months that the temperature didn’t dip below freezing at Blue Hill, where as of Wednesday morning 27 inches of snow remained on the ground.

The relatively balmy weather of recent days is going to revert to cooler temperatures, and forecast models show that the latter half of the month is likely to be cooler than average, said Cindy Fitzgibbon, a meteorologist at WCVB-TV.

As a result, the thaw is likely to slow.

“It’s depressing,” she said. “It looks like it’s going to be mid- to late April before we’re dancing in the daffodils.”

Despite the collective weariness from all the slush, there are advantages to a long, slow melt. Heavy rains or prolonged mild temperatures that would more quickly devour the heaps of snow would probably also lead to widespread flooding.


“This is how we want it to happen,” Jeanne Richardson, a spokeswoman for the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, said of the incremental melting.

She said city officials have been working hard to clear accumulated snow from catch basins, and “we don’t have any major problems to report so far.”

Similarly, the added moisture from heavy rains could wreak further havoc on roofs, 250 of which have already caved in statewide this winter, before the snow is gone.

“A controlled melt is the ideal way for this stuff to dissipate,” said Peter Judge, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

The gradual melt has made it easier for the thawing ground to absorb more moisture, keeping the region’s rivers and streams at normal levels, said Linda Hutchins, a hydrologist with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.

And biologists say this long, grating winter should have long-term benefits for trees, shrubs, and soils throughout the region. New England these days has 20 fewer days with a snowpack than in the 1950s, as temperatures have risen an average of 2.5 degrees, studies at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire have shown.

“All the snow we’ve received is a huge source of nutrients to the forest,” said Pamela Templer, an associate professor of biology at Boston University, who studies the changing snowpack in New England. “Biologically, this has been great, even if it hasn’t been for us.”


Among those feeling the lingering torment of this winter are the region’s Coast Guard crews, whose vessels have been breaking up ice in Boston Harbor and other vital waterways and relocating buoys dislodged by ice floes since December.

Now Coast Guard officials are concerned about the increased risk of pollution, as run-off from land surges into coastal waters.

“We’re really looking forward to winter being over,” said Petty Officer Matthew Ohrin, a spokesman for the Coast Guard in Boston.

And it will be, by April.

Assuming, that is, that the planet doesn’t punish Boston with more snowstorms.

Pedestrians contended with puddles at the Public Garden Tuesday.SEAN PROCTOR/GLOBE STAFF

David Abel can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @davabel.