Despite recent temperature variations that have kept local thermometers bouncing around like a pogo stick, the winter of 2012-13 has been rather blah.
Snow cover has come and gone, and come back again. Snow depths have been adequate for skiing the backcountry and after a short spell of slushy conditions, ice cover has remained pretty consistent.
Fortunately, the region was largely spared by the recent winter storm that ravaged the coast of New England, however, there is plenty of time left, in that regard.
Prior to the turn of the millennium, the truly severe weather events hit the Adirondack region only about twice a century. A few of those record setting events included The Great Windfall of 1845, The Great Floods of 1858, The Blizzard of 1888, and The Big Blow of 1950.
However, the frequency of intense weather events began to accelerate after a crippling blizzard struck the northeast in December of 1964. That event was followed soon after by another big storm that pounded the region in December of 1969.
Those initial storms provided a forewarning of a frequency that was soon to follow, and soon in November of 1971, a massive Thanksgiving Snowstorm effectively crippled the entire state. The next monster storm to pound the northeast arrived in February of 1978, and yet another hard storm arrived on February 13,1980. Fortunately, the fierce February storm of 1980 delivered enough of the necessary white stuff for the snowless community of Lake Placid to host competitions during the XIII Winter Olympic Games.
In following years, major snowstorms began pummeling the northeast with increased frequency, and a number of record setting foul-weather events occurred over the next decade with blizzards in January 1983, October, 1987 and December 1992. In March of 1993, the first Superstorm arrived, and it was packing powerful, hurricane force winds. Labeled as the ‘Storm of the Century,’ the raging blizzard was responsible for over 30 deaths and left over 2.5 million people without power for weeks. The massive storm paralyzed the entire east coast with floods in the south, and blizzard conditions throughout the northeast, but after it finally ended, there was another long lull before any similarly wayward storms occurred.
Nearly a decade had passed before the long drought was finally shattered by two powerful storms that pounded the northeast with a series of punishing, back to back Nor’easters over the Christmas 2002 and New Years 2003 holiday. The devastating, double whammy of the holiday season was soon followed by another major storm that struck the northeast in a span of less than two months.
The powerful storm arrived on Presidents Day weekend, 2003, and it was the last of three devastating winter storms that rumbled through the region that season.
After three major storms plowed through the Northeast in the winter of 2002-2003, the pace of major storms began to slow again. The next major storm to visit the Northeast was a Category 3, Winter Storm. With hurricane force winds and heavy snow, it battered the Northeast on Valentine’s Day, 2007 and shut down trains, planes and automobiles, and plunged millions of households into total darkness for days.
The Valentine’s Day Disaster of 2007 was followed by The Great Ice Storm of ‘08, which encased the entire northeast in a thick layer of ice that toppled trees, telephone poles and transmission towers in late December.
The storm produced a staggering mix of ice and heavy snow that crippled the entire region for more than two weeks in an area stretching from Montreal, Canada to Washington, DC.
In recent years, the frequency of such fierce storms has steadily increased, and those storms have grown more powerful as evidenced by the destructive powers of Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Tropical Storm Irene ravaged the region’s roadways in 2011, and it will take many years for the local waterways to recover from the scouring caused by the resulting floods.
Fortunately, the Adirondack region was largely spared from any extensive damage as the remnants of Hurricane Sandy blew through the area in October of 2012. However, we can expect to see more of the same according to a report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report explains that due to increasing moisture in the atmosphere, such severe weather events will become more frequent and more turbulent.
Daily rainfall records collected from a variety of Adirondack weather stations over the past century reveal that "extreme rainfall events" of 2 inches of rain or more have become common in recent years.
It is no surprise, for as the climate warms, more moisture is released into the atmosphere. And we all know, “What goes up, must eventually come down.”
According to international climate scientists, climate change will result in more frequent droughts, heavier floods and more prolonged heat waves. Eventually, the experts predict, conditions may become so increasingly severe that some locations will only be “marginal as places to live.”
Scientists expect climate change will have a variety of serious side effects in the Adirondacks, according to a recent study conducted by the NYS Energy Research and Development Authority.
Projections indicate a rise of just 2 degrees in the average temperature will significantly reduce the costs associated with heating our homes. It sounds good to me!
However, these changes may also require us to learn how to deal with 90 to 100 degree temperatures. And there will be other effects as well. Maple production will suffer, or possibly disappear all together. Cold water species such as brook trout may be threatened by competition with warm water species such as bass, perch or the introduction of invasive species.
With the rise in temperature, air quality will be reduced, and there will be more pollen, and more allergies. Warming trends will disrupt many traditional Adirondack pursuits, and the threat of invasive species will increase.
Outdoor enthusiasts will be among the first to experience the impact of climate change, which will affect many of their activities. Many long held, Adirondack sporting traditions will be affected. Ski seasons will be condensed, as will other winter activities such as snowmobiling, ice fishing, pond hockey, as well as the availability of tracking snow during the big game hunting season.
It is expected the winter season will be condensed, and it will be wetter. Summers will become warmer, and longer in duration, and overall seasons will be less distinct.
Precipitation will arrive mostly in the form of heavy storms, and rainfall will become less frequent. Summer droughts will become common, and they will last longer. It will be drier.
Water levels will be diminished in the rivers and streams, and water temperatures will increase.
Lake ice may no longer support activities such as ice fishing, ice sailing or even pond hockey. If ice cover does set up, it will be thinner and less consistent.
Frogs will begin singing nearly a month earlier on average, and birds will arrive sooner. Seasons will be expedited, and far less defined. Already, there is evidence of local apple trees blooming over a week earlier than they did in the 1960’s.
Projections indicate some wildlife populations, including whitetail deer will increase, as will the incidence of Lyme Disease.
The traditional range of many habitats will shift, as oak and hickory begin to replace maple and beech. We may lose spruce and fir trees in the upper elevation, boreal forests.
The shift will affect many of the birds and animals that depend on such habitats. The intricate web of life supported by the vast system of local boreal bogs will likely be endangered.
Projections are dire, and the remedies are few. The world that we have known for generations is changing rapidly, as are many of the traditions that define our way of life.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.