SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Century-old water mains here have ruptured behind City Hall, popped in residential areas and split under the city's bar and restaurant district. Exhausted crews work 18-hour shifts in subfreezing temperatures to repair the damage.
The exceptionally cold and stormy winter battering the Midwest, South and Northeast has forced cities and states to put road crews on double shifts and to step up purchases of asphalt, trying to keep up with an epidemic of potholes. They have bought and spread so much salt that there is a shortage in the mid-Atlantic states.
With revenues and staffing still below pre-recession levels, many local and state governments face a new financial strain from storm-related increases in spending on overtime pay, contractors and supplies. On Saturday, another snowfall covered the Northeast, a reminder that winter is far from finished.
"Cities still do not have a lot of cash available, so this particular storm season is having a really severe impact on their budgets," said James Brooks, a director for community development and infrastructure at the National League of Cities. "We've also had many years of disinvestment in things like roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, which makes them more vulnerable when something like this happens."
Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said such things are too often overlooked when politicians want to spend money on economic development.
"You don't cut ribbons for new water mains, but that's really what matters," she said.
Northern regions tend to have older, more brittle pipes and bridges, while areas farther south tend to be ill-equipped for snow drifts and subfreezing temperatures. Officials around the country said the costs would be steep, but many said they would not worry about tabulating them until the crisis was over.
"We don't ask those questions, but we do keep receipts," Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina said in an interview. "At this point in time, you're putting out the fires."
He said he expected to tap into the state's emergency fund to pay for storm response. Local governments will also have to bear some of the financial burden, he said.
Harsh weather can also mean lower tax revenue by slowing economic activity. A downtown Syracuse water main break left a deep crater in front of the Miss Syracuse diner, surrounded by Water Department barricades.
"It doesn't appear to be a lot," the owner, Joe Todisco, said of the business he has lost, "but it's a lot to me."