Gone, But Not Forgotten: Wisconsin City's Snow Pile Finally Melts

The pile, located in a downtown parking deck, finally melted on July 9.

The pile, located in a downtown parking deck, finally melted on July 9. The City of Appleton

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A snow pile in Appleton, Wisconsin lasted until July 9, attracting attention from residents and local media.

On July 9, the city of Appleton, Wisconsin bid a sad farewell to a plucky local celebrity: a snow pile in a downtown parking ramp that finally succumbed to summer’s wrath.

The city announced the news on Twitter, saying, “Sad news to report friends. The snow pile that was hanging around in the Yellow Ramp, is now gone. July 9th has to be some sort of record though isn’t it?”

The message ended on an uplifting note.

“But for those who miss it, don’t be sad. It could easily be back in like four months!” the tweet concluded, along with the hashtags #snowgone and #gonebutnotforgotten.

The pile was dumped into a concrete basin in the middle of a downtown parking deck, a design feature that allows the city’s public works crews to plow the top level of the garage so people can park there during the winter. The excess snow gets tossed into the basin, where it collects in a pile, said Chad Doran, communications coordinator for the city of Appleton, located about 30 miles southwest of Green Bay.

“In other parking ramps, the snow just gets piled in the corners and you lose some spots until the snow melts,” Doran told Route Fifty. “The snow in that pile is just snow from the top deck of the ramp that accumulates throughout the winter.”

A snow pile of some size accumulates in that location every winter, never receiving much attention, though it may have been bigger than normal this year thanks to an April blizzard that dumped 21.2 inches of snow on the city. In early June, a resident took notice of the pile's perseverance, snapped a photo and tweeted it at the city.

And thus began the snow pile’s brush with fame.

“That snow pile lasts a fair amount into the year every year just because of the way this parking ramp was designed, but for whatever reason this year the social media side of it just took off,” Doran said. “It just sort of exploded.”

Local media took notice. So did city residents, who began making pilgrimages to the parking garage just to see the pile in person. Weather.com looked into the phenomenon, noting that the pile was one of two final winter remnants clinging to life in the country (the other, in Mount Washington, New Hampshire, melted away on the same day as Appleton’s).

The attention was somewhat baffling, Doran said, particularly the excitement among local residents, who are accustomed to snow and usually happy to see it melt away. (From Sept. 1, 2017 through May 31, the Appleton area received 68.1 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service.)

“Once the social media phenomenon of it took off, people were stopping by just to take a picture in front of the snow pile. They thought it was the coolest thing,” he said. “That’s what made it all sort of unique. Snow is not uncommon here by any means, but snow in July is, certainly. Even for people here who are so used to snow, it was one of those things.”

Doran suspects that part of the draw was the pile’s persistence, even through blazingly hot summer days. From May 1 through July 9, temperatures in Appleton hit 90 degrees or higher seven times, including a high of 97 degrees on May 27, according to data from the National Weather Service. (On that scorching day, one local resident estimated the pile measured 30 feet in height.)

“It still survived, through all of that,” Doran said. “That’s partly what made it more of a phenomenon, was that we had so many hot days.”

Residents were sad to see the pile go, responding to its death knell on social media with disbelief and calls for a moment of silence. Those reactions, Doran said, just proved the power of the pile.

“It’s snow. We see it often here. And for a lot of people in Wisconsin, we’re happy when the snow is gone because our summers are short and we try to take advantage of that as much as we can,” he said. “When people are so sad the snow’s gone, that’s not something we normally hear.”

The attention was fun for the city, Doran said. Officials encouraged people to share their photos of the snow pile and engaged in back-and-forth on social media with residents who couldn’t believe it lasted into July.

“What we really tried to do with it was just have fun and make light of it, and I think we were pretty successful at that,” he said. ”People just thought it was this unique phenomenon, so we capitalized on that.”

Those efforts will likely go farther next winter. The pile may get its own Facebook page. There may be a contest to guess how long it will stick around. Perhaps someone could spray-paint a mural on it, Doran said.

“Because this year in particular it became this phenomenon, I think people will remember it from now on,” he said. “It’s fun any time you see your city being talked about in the national spotlight, especially for something good, and this was certainly unique. It was really fun while it lasted. Now people are sad it’s gone but as we know, it will be back again soon.”

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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