Where’s All the Snow?

Blankets of white missing during warm winter 

Rain pelted the liquid surface of the shuttered ice rink at Philipstown Recreation Department on Tuesday (Feb. 21) afternoon. 

Out of February’s 21 days, it was the 19th in which the high temperature stayed above freezing. A day earlier, the temperature had topped out at 61 degrees, the third time in a week it had reached the 60s. 

There are other images from this weird winter: seemingly untouched displays of ice scrapers and plastic toboggans outside Drug World; lost revenue for ski areas and plow businesses; and unused snow-removal budgets and stockpiles of road salt. 

Although Philipstown set up its ice rink on Jan. 15, skaters are still waiting. (Photo by L. Sparks)

Although Philipstown set up its ice rink on Jan. 15, skaters are still waiting. (Photo by L. Sparks)

In addition, on Feb. 10, a teenager died after the ice broke while he and another teen walked on a body of water in Taconic State Park in the Town of North East — on a day when the temperature reached the 50s. 

A summer characterized by below-normal rainfall and water-conservation alerts in Beacon and Cold Spring has been followed by another drought: above-normal temperatures that have spawned a nearly snowless winter in the Highlands. 

snow chartLuke Junjulas of LJ Lawn and Property Maintenance in Cold Spring, who normally plows snow during the winter, is using the extra time to get organized ahead of the spring season. 

“It’s weird because this is winter but it’s not winter, and it’s not quite spring,” he said. “So, it’s this weird season that I’ve never really experienced before.” 

High temperatures in January averaged 45 degrees and in February, 48 degrees (through Sunday, Feb. 19), according to data from a weather station on Route 9, just north of the border between Dutchess and Putnam counties. 

Both figures are the warmest for those months since at least 2009, and followed a December that averaged 43 degrees, a six-year high. 

The relative balminess is preventing precipitation from becoming snow. In Beacon, snowfall totaled 0.6 inches in January, 3 inches in December and none in November, according to data from a weather station that measures precipitation in the city. 

Dutchess and Putnam counties are in an area of the state where total snowfall through January was 10 inches to 20 inches below normal, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University. 

The impact on municipal budgets is palpable. Philipstown has used some of its salt and spent on overtime, but “nothing like in years past,” said Adam Hotaling, the town’s highway superintendent. 

Beacon has so far used a “very small fraction” of the $269,000 budgeted for snow-removal this year and still has leftover salt to use from last year, said City Administrator Chris White. “We are still using 2022 salt and haven’t had to dip into 2023’s funding yet,” he said. 

Samantha Borisoff, a climatologist with the Northeast Regional Climate Center, said the jet stream, a band of wind that blows west to east along the boundary between cold and hot air, has kept warm temperatures over New York and other Northeast states. It has also blocked storms from the Midwest and Ohio Valley from reaching the Mid-Hudson region, she said. 

Because of that, precipitation in the form of rain, melted snow and ice has been near or above normal, and snowfall below normal, in the southeastern part of New York, including Dutchess and Putnam counties, said Borisoff. 

The End of Snow Days?

Warmer, rainier winters in the Northeast are rooted in climate change, she said. “Each month and season can have natural variability, but climate change increases the likelihood of experiencing these unusually warm temperatures,” she said.

Major snowstorms are still possible in our area with enough cold air. Cooler temperatures, but still above freezing, are forecast for the rest of February. For March, the federal Climate Prediction Center is forecasting temperatures that lean above-normal, and equal chances of below-, near- or above-normal precipitation.

“You get winters like this and it just feels like you’re constantly waiting for that one big storm,” said Hotaling.

Remembering Snows Past

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