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Where’s the snow? Here’s the impact of the warm winter on Upstate NY

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By George Murphy-Wilkins & Jacob Mack via Cortland Standard |

Gray skies, wet streets, no snow. This winter’s white Christmas was short lived, as temperatures rose unusually high and snow melted. The weather is affecting business, too.

December’s average temperature was 28.1 degrees Fahrenheit, exactly the same as the normal average temperature, and a 6.1 degree decrease from 2021’s average. However, this winter’s weather has been on the extremes.

“We had both warmer than normal temperatures and a period of much colder temperatures,” said Mitchell Gaines of the National Weather Service in Binghamton.

The National Weather Service of Binghamton reports 20.4 inches of snow from Dec. 1 to Jan. 6, 2.3 inches more than the average of 18.1. Well, where’s the snow?

“We’ve got a pretty warm weather pattern going on recently,” Gaines said. This all relates to the weather in the Pacific Ocean, and is affected by weather around the world, like thunderstorms over the Indian Ocean.

“This biggest program that this (weather) is affecting is our nordic center,” said Ilya Shmulenson, executive director of Lime Hollow Nature Center. The center typically rents snowshoes and cross-country skis, but hasn’t yet opened this season. Once the weather is conducive, Shmulenson said, Lime Hollow will begin rentals and extend its weekend hours.

“We certainly have organizations that depend very heavily on mother nature cooperating,” said Michelle Enright, executive director of Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Being that within a 30-minute drive you can hit three ski mountains makes Cortland County a very popular destination during the winter.”

People visit from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, “within a five- to six-hour drive you’ll see a lot of people come out this way,” Enright said.

Visitors that come to Greek Peak Mountain Resort are just glad there are some trails open during a thaw like this, when they may have been met with bare trails in previous years, Greek Peak Director of Marketing Jon Spaulding said Saturday.

“I think it’s pretty typical of any January thaw we’ve had,” he said. “We didn’t close down for it, but we had almost 30 trails open, and today we’re down to 14. Now that it’s getting cold again, we’re making snow this afternoon and Sunday we’re making some. We’ll be able to build up a base and open more trails next week.”

“The big thing was the $1.3 million we put into ski infrastructure during the offseason,” Spaulding said. “It was important because we were able to make more snow earlier and cover more of the mountain. Previous January thaws like this might have shut us down in years prior, but we still have 14 trails to ski on today and we’ll open up more as it keeps getting colder.”

“I think it’s typical of any skier to be disappointed that not all the terrain is available to them, but if anything they are happy that we’ve remained open every day,” he said. “If anything they are happy to still be able to ski even if some of the trails are closed.”

The other activities offered in the county also make Cortland an attractive tourist destination during the winter. Performing arts centers and breweries supplement outdoor recreation. Because the area is quieter in winter than summer, people can take advantage of more activities without the crowd, Enright said.

“We’ve logged hundreds of hours preparing the trail systems,” said Judi Whittaker, president of the Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club – all in hope of snow accumulating to accommodate a snowmobiling season.

The club maintains more than 100 miles of trails in four counties and has about 450 members.

The holiday hunt is an extension of the late bow and muzzleloader season in the Southern Zone of the state. It lasted from the week after Christmas to New Year’s, which pushed snowmobile trail openings to Jan. 2, which is also around the time the temperature went up and snow melted. That means this winter still hasn’t provided an opportunity for the recreational vehicles, Whittaker said.

Congestion on trails in Tug Hill have led some visiting riders to look for an alternative, which the club’s trails provide. “We see a lot of folks coming from Pennsylvania,” she said. The club’s location in Whitney Point makes it right on the way for those headed north.

“We get questions from riders all the time about where’s a good place to drop and ride,” Whittaker said. She estimates 50 to 60 riders come from outside areas to utilize the trails each winter.

Top: Nowshin Chowdhury/Cortland Standard Skiers slide down the trails at Greek Peak Saturday despite some bare terrain. (Credit: Cortland Standard)