Weather batters businesses

For those in low-lying areas, like DuBois, it’s a scourge. For those living at higher altitudes, it’s merely irritating.

But for many central Pennsylvania businesses, the persistent rain the last few weeks has posed a serious threat to revenue. It’s left homeowners’ lawns growing wild, crops lingering in the fields and amusement park patrons staying at home.

“If you don’t have your money by the third week of July, you can give up” on a successful season, said Steve Sauers, superintendent of recreation for the Central Blair Recreation Commission, which operates Prospect Pool in Altoona. “If it doesn’t turn around soon, it’s not going to be a profitable year.”

Guest numbers at Prospect Pool have mirrored rainfall statistics: Average attendance in June was down more than 50 people daily from last year, while the Weather Channel tallied precipitation in Altoona at 4.47 inches – above the month’s average of 3.92 inches.

The company measured at least a sprinkling of rain in Altoona for seven of July’s 10 days so far.

“It’s been one of the worst years I can remember,” Lakemont Park Manager Bob Larson said Wednesday. “It rains pretty much every day … and the forecast calls for rain, even when it doesn’t rain.”

A relatively warm and sunny July 4, the biggest day of the year for most amusement parks, was a welcome break, Larson said. But it wasn’t long before the rain resumed.

Many days seem to have brought minor drizzle or minuscule precipitation numbers, but the mere threat of bad weather is a concern for parks, said Amy Mearkle, marketing director for DelGrosso’s Amusement Park.

“Our fear is, if you get up in the morning and you see a forecast that has any percentage of rain, your first thought is not going to be: ‘Let’s go to the park,'” she said.

Even local farmers, whose crops rely on steady moisture, seem to have had enough. While those in the American Southwest struggle with a brutal, yearslong drought, continual rain in central Pennsylvania threatens to drown low-lying crops.

“[Some] crops look really good in the well-drained soil,” said Marty Yahner of Yahner Bros. Farms in Patton. Motorists passing through farmland have likely seen tall, healthy-looking corn, but at lower levels, corn, soybeans and potatoes have remained stunted and useless, Yahner said.

“The ground is saturated, the roots are saturated – the plants literally drown,” Yahner said.

With few dry spells, wheat farmers haven’t been able to harvest their fields, leaving the wheat to deteriorate, he said. Yahner said he’s concerned his 350 acres of wheat could drop below flour quality, leaving the end product useful only as low-value animal feed.

Hay sits in local fields, Yahner said, too wet to safely bale and put in barns. If baled too hastily, green or wet hay can bust into flames and rapidly destroy farm buildings.

Even the one business that it would seem certain to profit from rain – lawn care and mowing – has struggled with the weather, said Russell McMasters, owner of Russell’s Lawn Care in Duncansville.

Although the wet weather has encouraged grass to grow at a fast pace, the persistent rain has kept workers indoors, McMasters said.

“It’s actually hampered any progress, because you can’t mow grass in the rain,” McMasters said. “You’ve got to play a juggling game with the customers to try to keep them happy.”

But Yahner said a break might be fast approaching: Forecasts call for sunny weather all weekend, he said, and farmers could use the opportunity to harvest the crops they’ve pushed back. He joined the representatives from parks and lawn companies in hoping that the worst is over and the rest of the summer can be salvaged.

“We’ll take what comes,” he said. “That’s all you can do.”