Patel, a native of India, has obviously seen snow during his time in the United States, but this past blizzard was of historic proportions, the fourth highest snowfall ever recorded in northern New Jersey and the largest February snowstorm of all time.
"When I first stepped outside, I couldn't believe it," said Patel, who works for a pharmaceutical company. "I mean, I couldn't even stand in it. I thought I knew everything about snow."
Patel and his wife, Ditmar, didn't have a shovel, so Patel used the plastic lid of a garbage can and Ditmar a wastebasket to dig their car out of the snow.
Town back to normal, almost
By Thursday morning, the town attempted to resume its regular routines.
The Department of Public Works did its best to remove the heavy accumulations from the town's hilly terrain.
"Since we have the second hilliest city in the country, next to San Francisco, removing the snow from our streets is a major job," North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco said. "But our DPW did an exemplary job. Tim Grossi [the deputy commissioner of the Public Works] had a large supply of salt on hand and Jim Wiley [DPW supervisor] and his crew worked through all hours of the night to make sure the streets were clear and safe."
Wiley said that the process began around 5:30 p.m. Saturday night, once the weather reports were confirmed that a major storm was on its way.
"We've been going ever since," Wiley said at around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday evening upon returning back to the office after another long day. "We'll be back out there at 7:30 in the morning. We had so many people working together, with machines, shovels, what have you. The hills are treacherous, but our guys go up and down with no problem. They're all well trained and give 150 percent. If they were a football team, we'd win the Super Bowl. They're that good."
Both Sacco and Wiley admitted that having to deal with the blizzard of 1996, which dropped 26 inches on North Bergen, made everyone more prepared this time around. "I think we all learned from '96," said Sacco. "When it snows, we're always on top of it. Every time there's a crisis, you have to be ready."
The DPW also resorted to drastic measures to insure that the snow was removed from the major thoroughfares like Bergenline Avenue and Broadway. The town towed the parked cars from those streets, systematically removed the snow, and then placed the cars back in the same spots.
"We had to do something with all the snow," Sacco said. "We couldn't wait for the people to dig their cars out. It's a lot faster this way."
The bulk of the snow was removed and dumped in a parking lot inside North Hudson Braddock Park, turning the park into an impromptu ski resort.
The park was a winter wonderland for hundreds of children, who enjoyed their time off grabbing anything they could use to sleigh down the hills.
"I've never seen snow like this," said 9-year-old Ashley Cunningham, who had a plastic sled on which she rode with her 6-year-old sister Angela. "It's really a lot of fun. I don't care if we ever go back to school."
Her father, Harold, wasn't as overjoyed. "She hasn't been introduced to a shovel just yet," he said. "I think her joy would change if she knew what it was like to shovel. I'm happy she's having fun now."
According to Town Administrator Chris Pianese, the snowstorm wasn't as costly to North Bergen as it was to other local municipalities. "We allocate $100,000 for snow removal and salt every year," Pianese said. "Because of the light winters over the last few years, we haven't used that total at all."
The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs has a program that enables townships to take the money not spent on snow removal and place it in a trust fund. Because of that plan, North Bergen had $250,000 in the trust fund in case of an emergency.
"With this storm, we've spent approximately $300,000," Pianese said. "So we tapped the $100,000 from the budget and took $200,000 from the trust fund. We still have $50,000 remaining that we really hope we don't have to use."
Of the spent $300,000, approximately $175,000 went to purchase salt, $75,000 went to overtime labor costs and another $50,000 went to hire a private contractor to help with the snow removal from Bergenline and Broadway.
"I know that other towns are probably declaring financial emergencies because of this storm," Pianese said. "We were lucky because we were prepared. Knowing it was going to be bigger than we could handle, we stayed on guard and made the necessary preparations."
Patel is attempting to follow the town's example of preparedness. "Yes, I will buy a shovel or two," Patel said. "I now know I can't do it this way."