You won’t hear Bob Leeman complaining about a snowless December.

Portland’s director of public works is taking advantage of this winter’s mild start by repairing equipment, sweeping streets and patching sidewalks. And with still-vivid memories of last January and February, he also is preparing for the winter weather that Mother Nature will inevitably throw at the city.

“You never know what’s going to happen when January hits,” he said.

It’s not unusual for public works crews across the state to be pressed into service as early as Halloween – and most certainly by December. Only once in the past century has the first snowfall come after Jan. 1.

But most departments in southern Maine have yet to send out the plows. And the forecast calls for mild, snowless weather through Christmas, and beyond.

“We’re very happy,” Leeman said. “The longer (the snow) holds off, the better. Everyone wants a white Christmas, but from our perspective, we’d like to go home and enjoy our families.”

Forecasters predict that northern New England will still get significant snow, as it does every year.

However, they also say a particularly strong El Nino will continue to bring warmer weather to northern and central parts of the country. That means much of the above-average precipitation expected for New England will fall as rain, rather than snow.

The latest date for Portland’s first snowfall was Jan. 16, in the winter of 1999-2000, according to the National Weather Service in Gray. While that record is weeks from being broken, this winter already has the third-slowest start to the snow season in more than a century. The second-latest first snowfall took place on Dec. 24, 1912. The third-latest, until this year, was Dec. 20, 1946, according to the weather service.

The absence of snow also is affecting the private sector, for good or ill.

While the smaller contractors who only get paid when they plow are clearly overdue for some winter revenue, many businesses – as well as homeowners – are saving on plowing costs. However, it’s unlikely that businesses with the largest parking lots – supermarkets, for example – are seeing any savings because they typically contract for snow removal for the entire season, regardless of how much snow falls, or when.

Leeman said the late start to wintry weather has been welcome in the Portland Public Works department, where crews are working to get plows and other snow removal equipment ready for the season. It’s especially welcome after a series of storms last January and February kept crews working long hours, put pressure on equipment, exhausted salt and sand supplies, and forced public works departments throughout the region to exceed their budgets.

“Last winter was brutal,” he said. “The equipment didn’t have time to come in for maintenance. We’ve had a lot of time this fall to make sure the equipment is in great shape.”

Normally by mid-December, Portland’s public works crews are long done with street sweeping and leaf removal. But this year – thanks to the late start to winter and a late leaf drop – crews are still out making sure storm drains are clear. The $1.1 million restoration of the pond at Deering Oaks park also benefited – it was completed three months ahead of schedule because of the mild temperatures and lack of heavy rainfall.

In Sanford, public works crews were called out for their first winter weather event Saturday, when a brief snow squall caused some minor icing. But Matthew Hill, Sanford’s director of public works, said his department has been able to take advantage of the lack of snow to focus on cleaning and making improvements to the public works garage. Part of that process includes looking for more efficient ways to run the department.

“We’re taking this as an opportunity to get all of our ducks in a row in the garage,” he said.

During a typical year, Sanford wraps up its paving projects by mid-October, but this year it was able to extend paving until mid-November. Hill said his employees are still hoping to get extra projects done, but they constantly keep their eyes on the weather forecast.

“At this point, we’re tackling each project with a grain of salt,” he said. “It could snow anytime. We’re definitely operating with that in mind.”

Hill, who has led the department for a year and a half, also is keeping Maine’s history with winter weather in mind.

“I’ve been warned if it’s calm like this in the beginning, we’ll make up for it on the other end,” he said.