In the middle of February, Kevco Professional Painting owner Kevin Morris normally would be painting indoors.

Instead, he was loading power washing equipment into his pickup truck to go work on a customer's back deck.

Winter on the Vineyard typically is a far cry from being pleasant for outside work. But this winter has not been a typical, adding up so far to one of the least snowy on record. That day last month, Morris found, was a sunny 50 degrees.

"It was the first year that I actually did some power washing in February," said Mr. Morris, who has been painting and power washing for 20 years. "There were two times that I was outside because the weather was warm and I was doing some decks and doing some exterior trim on a house."

With a late start to the winter season - temperatures were mild until mid-January - and minimal snowfall, many small businesses like Mr. Morris's, specializing in power washing, carpentry, roofing and other outdoor trades, were able to put in more hours this winter.

While the average yearly snowfall on the Vineyard is about 25 inches, this year it has totalled eight inches so far - one inch in January, six inches in February and one inch in March. On the other extreme, just two years ago the Island's snowfall exceeded 64 inches.

Even dedicated contractors who normally work straight through the winter season were able to avoid "snow days" and save on the time it takes to clear work sites from snow that gets in the way of the workers and equipment.

"Not having the snow has definitely helped extend the season of the outside work," Rosbeck Builders Corporation owner Peter Rosbeck said. "It definitely makes it a lot easier."

But for snow plowers, this winter was a disappointment.

"I've been snow plowing since 1972," Sylvia Tree & Landscape Construction owner Edward Sylvia said. "Some years for the state I would do $70,000 to 80,000 of work."

But this year, he has only plowed two days, both in February. He estimates he's made $4,000.

"It was not a really good one for making money for snow plowing," he said. "We have some maintenance that we can do and some tree work, but other than that [the cold] really limits what we can do."

Landscaping work is as much restricted by the cold as by snow, he said, since there is not much that can be done once the ground is frozen.

At Shirley's Hardware, the handful of sleds and snow shovels sat unsold this winter and weren't reordered, while general hardware items sold better than usual.

"Seems like overall sales were about the same," Shirley's Hardware owner Jesse Steere said. "Luckily we have something here for every season, so what they weren't spending on snow shovels, they were fixing things up around the house."

But the lack of snow was good news for towns, whose snow removal budgets are actually in the black this year. In Oak Bluffs, about 150 tons of salt and sand purchased last fall sit in a shed, waiting for next year.

"The impact was positive - we didn't spend nearly as much money as we did last year," Oak Bluffs highway supervisor Richard Combra Jr. said. "We didn't hire any private contractors this year."

Last year, the town hired two or three private contractors for each storm.

Oak Bluffs overspent its snow removal budget the last few years, Mr. Combra said, but this year he estimates it has spent only 25 per cent of the $40,000 budget. Two winters ago, he estimates the town spent $70,000, although some of that was reimbursed by the government.  

"In general, we usually use everything we buy," Mr. Combra said of the 200 tons or so of sand and salt that the town buys each year. "I would say we probably have 75 per cent left over of what we bought in the fall."

In West Tisbury, roughly $19,500 has been spent out of this year's $30,000 snow removal budget, town accountant Bruce Stone said.

Last year, the town budgeted $25,000 and spent $26,600. The year before, the budget was the same but the town spent about $84,600.

"It was great for the town because the town didn't pay a lot of money this year," highway superintendent Richard Olsen said.

But speaking as the owner of excavating company Richard T. Olsen and Son Inc., the lack of snow wasn't so great.

Frozen ground impedes excavations, so Mr. Olsen uses plowing to keep his staff employed through more of the winter. Usually, he supplies his trucks and men to the town and hires a few other private contractors as well.

"That's the reason I do snow plowing - to supplement to pay my men so I don't have to lay them off," said Mr. Olsen, who has been plowing for 47 years - since he was 16. "What we ended up with this year, was a lot of frost and no snow, so it affected us." This winter he had to lay off two men.

Tisbury public works director Fred LaPiana estimates the town has spent less than half of its $15,000 snow removal budget. The town gets free sand and salt through an arrangement with the Massachusetts Highway Department, so its snow budget is smaller than in other towns.

"It's been a good winter as far as that goes," Mr. LaPiana said. "We've had to go out a few times for sanding and I think a couple times for plowing."

But the public works employees were still busy this winter.

"We're never in a situation where we lack work," Mr. LaPiana said. "What it does allow us to do is perform other work that needs to be done before spring." The department is responsible for maintaining the cemeteries, recreation areas, streets, sewer processing and town buildings.

Diversity of trades did not help several private businesses this winter though, leading some to say there has been a slump in the Island economy.

Serusa Road Grading & Maintenance in West Tisbury is primarily a welding company, fabricating steel parts for equipment and trucks, but the company also has plowing and sanding contracts with some businesses and nine private road associations on the Island - about 60 homes.

"In the past winters when they say it's going to snow six or eight inches, I roll my eyes because I have so much work to do in the shop," company owner Daniel Serusa said. "I don't know whether it's the way the economy's been - nobody's spending money on repairing anything."

It would have been a good winter for a lot of snow, but no such luck.

"We didn't even plow hardly any of the road associations because there wasn't any snow," Mr. Serusa said. "Off the top of my head I'd say we'd be lucky to make 1,500 bucks."

But some snow plowers say the season is not over yet.

"We'll probably get one or two more storms," Mr. Sylvia said. "It's been that way for years."