Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011: Recalling A Year Of Adirondack Weather

It’s been quite a year for Adirondack weather. As we head into winter proper with recent warm temperatures and little snow on the ground, it’s worth looking back on this year’s weather highlights. A good place to start is with the Almanack‘s resident naturalist Tom Kalinowski’s predictions for what kind of winter he thought we’d have. Turns out, Tom was more correct in his prediction than the National Weather Service, both Farmers Almanacs, whooly bears, and wasps. When it comes to predicting this winter’s weather, so far, so good Tom.

Last year, after a somewhat dry early start, winter deep snows beginning in mid-January and February proved a boon for mice, and a struggle for whitetail deer.

For a while in late March, it seemed the snow might last through summer. Phil Brown climbed the Colden Trap Dike in still deep snow and Dan Crane was musing about the arrival of mud season, when the spring floods arrived.

At the time, we counted ourselves lucky that a string of warm weather had meant that most river ice had gone out, ending the threat of ice jams. But waters were already high and the ground saturated when heavy rains and even warmer weather arrived in late April. The resulting devastating floods forced all the region’s major rivers and eventually Lake Champlain above flood stage. More than 75 roads were closed due to roads and bridge collapses and major flooding forced evacuations along the Hudson, Schroon, Ausable, Bouquet, Saranac, and Raquette Rivers, and along Mill Brook in Moriah, which was particularly hard hit.

The floods were followed by a generally wet summer that had Dan Crane proclaiming “The Year of the Mosquito“, but the summer wore on with two minor earthquakes and rains that contributed to what was already the state’s largest land slide on record in Keene>. The worst weather of the year was yet to arrive.

In late August when the Department of Environment Conservation (DEC) closed the region’s campgrounds and warned that the approaching Hurricane Irene had the potential to cause massive damage and warned people to stay out of the woods, some were skeptical. That warning proved correct, however, as Irene reached the eastern High Peaks. The Almanack reported on the approaching storm (1, 2), and the by now well-recounted results (1, 2).

Irene left behind a changed landscape, isolated communities, disastrous flash flooding and historic damage to local infrastructure, homes, businesses, roads, bridges, and trails. In the backcountry, dozens of new slides were created or extended, and Duck Hole Dam (1, 2) and Marcy Dam were breached.

Thankfully, we had a quiet fall of clean-up. And although the warm start to winter has extended the opportunity to rebuild, repair, and rest, it has been a tough year for local businesses that rely on snow, particularly the region’s ski facilities.

Of course, the big question on the minds of many is whether or not climate change is to blame for the dramatic weather we’ve been seeing. This past weekend the New York Times reported that scientists are struggling to answer that question definitively, in part thanks to Republican climate change deniers. Even without coordinated and funded federal studies however, the evidence is beginning to mount.

“For instance, scientists have long expected that a warming atmosphere would result in fewer extremes of low temperature and more extremes of high temperature,” the Times reported. “In fact, research shows that about two record highs are being set in the United States for every record low, and similar trends can be detected in other parts of the world.” The paper also noted an increase in atmospheric moisture leading to heavier storms, and more snowfall and rain.

So as we await the heart of the winter season, my eyes are on Tom Kalinowski’s prediction for what’s to come: “minimal amounts of snowfall into mid January. Normal to slightly above normal temperatures for the rest of the winter with above normal amounts of snowfall.”

What do you think?

Photo: A snowmobile sits in flood waters on the Schroon River in Chestertown in early May, 2011. Photo by John Warren.

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.




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