Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Recalling The Warm Winter Of 1932

“Is our climate changing? This is a question heard often these days. Some are inclined to believe it is, but others are inclined to believe it is just one of those unusual open winters. The weather has been so mild that pussy willows are showing buds, woodchucks are out, and caterpillars were found crawling on the ground.” Those aren’t my words. They’re from the Norwood News, January 20, 1932.

While reading about years past, it struck me how this mild winter parallels those of 1932 and 1933.
In both instances, ice fishing was drastically curtailed by the open waters of Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River. Fishermen were successful back then by using motorboats from Whitehall to Rouses Point, in the dead of winter, to access the best fishing spots.

Temperatures were often in the 50s, pleasant for sure, but not so much for business. Logging, a mainstay of the region’s economy, was months behind schedule. Even when brief cold snaps allowed construction of the required ice roads, balmy weather quickly turned them to slush and mud. Cut timber, ready to haul, lay in the woods until cold weather returned, which wasn’t often.

It was feared the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid would be cancelled due to a lack of snow: January’s temperatures averaged nearly 13 degrees above normal. At one point, the entire bobsled run was washed out by heavy rain. Snow was hauled in by train to ensure the games would be held. A storm just days before the opening ceremonies helped, but warm temperatures caused problems throughout the games.

In 1932 and 1933, events normally associated with summer occurred throughout the winter, grabbing everyone’s attention. In January: outdoor picnics; bicycling; ducks and geese flying north; the picking of wildflowers; and, in Whitehall, using the village street-sprinkler to suppress road dust.

In February: fishing from rafts at Port Henry; boating on Lake George and Lake Champlain; woodchucks, chipmunks, and other mammals out and about; blackbirds, robins, and other songbirds sighted regularly; and snakes (some of them hit by cars) seen on area roadways.

Both months saw golfers on area courses, interrupted only by occasional cold – and thunderstorms! Baseball players couldn’t resist the opportunity to play, although the effort was often better characterized as mudball. Still, in most any other year, just playing catch in winter wasn’t a consideration.

Experience tells us we’ll still get slammed this season, but just as folks did back then, we can marvel for now at how far into winter the weather has remained so warm.

Photo above, December 2015; and below, a headline from January, 1933.

A version of this story was first published in the Adirondack Almanack in 2012.

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Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.

3 Responses

  1. Tony Goodwin says:

    Climate change, regardless of how it is caused, is never a “straight-line” progression. The Smith “History of Essex County” published in 1885 notes a few 19th Century winters when Lake Champlain did not freeze. A warming climate is, however, indicated when the frequency of these warmer than average winters increases; and the last two years when Lake Champlain did freeze were what has become the exception, not the rule.

    • says:

      Yes, Tony, I’ve often said the same thing on climate change. Everyone forgets that millions of years ago, we had an ice age, then the glaciers melted, carved out our valleys and lakes and left behind debris that shaped the Adirondack Mountains. And how many thousands of years passed before the earth’s climate became temperate enough to create the animal and plant species that humans depend upon?
      Then there’s the familiar saying, “records were meant to be broken.” We have always experienced floods, droughts, above-average snowfall and lack of snowfall, but our lifespans are so short and our memories shorter, though your parents and grandparents might remember extreme weather occurrences. (Now we have the Weather Channel to inform us of the past!)
      Nevertheless, I believe that our industrial age is causing an escalation in climate change and it behooves future generations to prepare and adjust to those changes. It cannot be stopped.

  2. John says:

    You could have also included the winter of 1980 and the problems it caused for the Olympics. It was very similar although not quite as warm. Snow had to be trucked in to cover the X-country trails at Van Ho.

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