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A Record-Breaking Winter in the Adirondacks

Photograph by Flickr user katiew via Creative Commons license

The “mercury… curls up in the bulb like a hibernating bear,” wrote Robert Louis Stevenson in 1887 from a cottage in Saranac Lake, where he was taking the cure for tuberculosis.

A winter “colder than Siberia” was the observation from the Associated Press. Adirondackers would surely agree as they watched the snow pile high and the degrees dwindle.

“February 2015 was the coldest month of all time in Indian Lake,” said Darrin Harr, a professional meteorologist who is also coordinator for the Indian Lake Chamber of Commerce. “There were 19 days of below zero temperatures and the average for February was 3.3 degrees, shattering the record set in 1934 by two degrees.”

Larry Master, who reports conditions to North Country Public Radio and national weather sites, has seen brutal cold at his Intervale Lowland farm outside Lake Placid. “Like the weather station at Saranac Lake Airport, at Lake Clear, we are in a valley, which, when there is little wind (as is the case on most cold mornings), we have a temperature inversion as cold air flows down the valley sides and settles on the valley bottoms. As a result our weather station often records the coldest temperature of any weather station in the Adirondacks and sometimes the lower 48 states,” he said. Last month there were four mornings of -30 or colder.

These instruments have been carefully checked for accuracy, Master said. “So far this winter Intervale Lowlands was the coldest recorded weather station in the lower 48 on January 21, 25 and 26 and February 6 and 17.”

At the Lake Clear airport, 2015 presented a chilling fact: the mean temperature in February this year was a paltry 1.3 degrees. The icebox extended to the southwestern Adirondacks too—the January average temperature was 15 degrees and February just 3.5, according to Alexa Bennett of the Old Forge Visitor Information Center.

Accuweather explained the prolonged, severe cold as the result of a cross-polar flow, with frigid air from Siberia traveling over the Arctic and continuing thousands of miles, through Canada, the Midwest and the eastern U.S. Harr commented that during December through February the average temperature was 12.8 degrees, putting 2014-15 in the five coldest winters since record-keeping began. This cumulative figure is all the more interesting since, he pointed out, “December was very warm, with average temperatures of 25.5.” Then the deep freeze began.

The typical January thaw just didn’t happen. “On January 4 the high was 46 and three inches of sleet and snow fell, then that night it dropped to the teens. The snow we’ve gotten this winter—70 inches in Indian Lake—has just stayed on,” Harr said. The white stuff has accumulated considerably in Old Forge, where Bennett calculated that the total, since November, is 130 inches.

Last  March, as anyone making maple syrup would recall, was bitter. “March 2014 was the coldest on record for Indian Lake,” Harr observed, “with below zero days even at the end of the month.”

And this March, at Intervale Lowlands, Larry Master said, “We tied for the coldest recorded spot in the lower 48 on March 1 (with Berlin, New Hampshire) and March 3 (with Saranac Lake).”

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