THE TIME-LAPSE radar images of this week’s snowstorm, courtesy of the National Weather Service in Albany, looked a lot like one of those clear plastic winter-scene trinkets that produces a flurry every time you shake it, over and over and….
On the computer screen waves of snowfall rolled off the Atlantic and made their way across the Berkshires to Columbia County in a generally eastward flow, while out at sea the storm center lumbered northward. It reminds you why they call these storms nor’easters.
This one was noteworthy not only for the amount of snow it dropped on these parts but for its duration—Sunday afternoon until early Tuesday morning. It also seemed a little different because the disturbances that shaped it were apparent off the coast of California a week ahead of the storm’s arrival here. That left time to prepare and an opportunity for TV news to obsess about the storm’s track, feeding the anxiety of holiday travelers during a quiet period traditionally considered a “news drought.”
If you live in the Hudson Valley, snow in December, even on the first day of the month, comes as no surprise. If there isn’t natural snowfall, the region’s ski slopes make their own whenever temperatures are cold enough. They’re hoping to attract skiers and snowboarders during the Thanksgiving holiday. Beware the calendar that insists it’s still fall. In the Northeast, December 1 marks the beginning of meteorological winter, not the winter solstice at the end of the month.
The federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says the deepest snowfall recorded in Columbia County in one day was 24” on February 4, 1926. That’s only half what the record snowfalls are in the “snow belt” counties of central and northern New York state. NOAA predicts we’ll have an increased chance of higher than average precipitation for the next three months and an equally greater chance of higher than normal temperatures.
The same maps from NOAA show California this winter will be warmer and much drier than usual from December through February. That’s not good news for Californians, who must cope with wildfires. But in case anyone here takes too much comfort in the local weather forecast consider a 2017 study published in the online science journal PLOS|One. The study says that the Northeast is warming at a rate faster than any other part of the contiguous 48 states.
This has to do with how much more land there is in the northern hemisphere and where we are situated on that land. Maybe the study’s authors have got it wrong, but don’t count on it. This is a fact of climate change not a prediction of weather.
There are steps we can take to reduce our impact on the climate and slow down our unwanted leadership position in atmospheric warming. Joining a group like the Citizens Climate Lobby is one place to begin. Holding elected officials at all levels accountable for enacting practical measures that reduce greenhouse gasses is another. But it’s not a matter of doing one thing. We have to change how we live and how we contribute as communities to lowering carbon emissions.
So go outside. Try to enjoy the snow. Take steps to ensure its preservation.