- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

WEST BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - Record-setting snowfall in parts of Michigan and lingering below-freezing temperatures are becoming a financial burden to people in the form of higher utility bills and vehicle repairs.

Residential customers used 26 percent more natural gas this winter compared with a year ago, Jackson-based Consumers Energy reported Wednesday.

The typical residential customer has paid 15 percent more for natural gas this winter than a year ago, according to the utility.

The deep freeze also has made driving dicey due to winter-scarred roads, said Dino Incarnati, manager of the Belle Tire auto shop in Oakland County’s West Bloomfield Township.

His shop, northwest of Detroit, usually repairs about 30 car and SUV wheels each winter. It eclipsed that number last month.

“The weather has been horrible,” Incarnati said Wednesday. “Potholes are popping the tires. Potholes create gravel. You kick up the gravel. It cracks windshields.”

Snowfall is above average this winter in many parts of the state, including the southern Lower Peninsula. The Detroit area had a monthly record of 39.1 inches of snow in January. The previous monthly record of 38.4 inches was set in February 1908.

The Detroit area’s average temperature of 16.4 degrees last month ranked as January’s sixth coldest. Freezing and thawing cycles fracture concrete roadways, creating potholes.

“Since the first big snowstorm we’ve had a rash of cars coming in with wheel damage, tires with pinched sidewalls. One day we had 52 cars here and 40 were for pothole damage.”

Depending on the tire and wheel damage, the cost to vehicle owners for a pothole encounter could be anywhere from $200 to $500,” he added.

That’s about what JoAnn Vernon expected to pay. Her Lincoln Town Car was in the Belle Tire shop Wednesday.

“I hit, I think two potholes,” said Vernon, 73, of Southfield. “It’s mind-blowing. It’s absolutely terrible. I’ve got to have a brand new tire. I don’t know about the rim yet. I might wind up spending between $200 and $300.”

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