Warmer winter weather impacts local ski mountain

It’s a beautiful Tuesday afternoon in the beginning of March. The sun is bright, the air is warm and there’s a gentle wind blowing across the ski mountain in Truxton, New York. And a girl of about seven years of age is skiing in gym shorts.

Surprisingly, Labrador Mountain is still open for skiers and snowboarders despite the lack of measurable snowfall in the past month. But the one running chair lift at the resort, that has had less than twenty unique users per day this past week, reflects the overall season the mountain has had.

“It’s just been a light season this year. Many less skiers than our usual,” Kevin Smith said. Smith has been a ski lift attendant at Labrador for the past 46 winters.

“Mother Nature doesn’t tell us what she’s bringing every winter, you just have to see how the winter goes. Unfortunately this winter brought us more rain than snow, and that really affects the conditions on the mountain,” he said.

The light snow and warm temperatures of the 2015-2016 winter season has taken a toll on ski resorts across the country. Thomas Franklin, an avid skier since 1970, said this ski season has been particularly slower on the mountains.

“I’ve been all over the East Coast this winter skiing and empty, every place is empty,” Franklin said.

The Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester  published an article on March 8 reporting that ski resorts in New York State lost a third of their average annual revenue this season, or about $330 million.

Ski resorts in states like Michigan and Vermont have also felt the challenge of the unusual winter, having their mountains open less days than usual and having to use snow-blowing machines to make snow.

But just how unusual was this winter weather?

This winter was almost 5 degrees warmer than average, according to data published by the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University.

“This winter, the months of December, January and February, had an average temperature of 30.7 degrees fahrenheit [in the area],” Jessica Spaccio, one of the center’s climatologists, said. “Normal is a 30-year average based on 1981-2010; the normal winter temperature [in Ithaca] is 25.8.”

Spaccio said this year’s winter could also have been affected by a natural phenomenon known as the El Nino, which she believes was particularly strong this winter.

The El Nino is a phase of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation cycle, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. During this phase, the ocean and the atmosphere interact in a climate interaction that produce a periodic warming of the ocean. The warm water then continues to impact other variables of the weather, like the temperatures and precipitation, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere.

Typically, El Nino “episodes”, and their effects, can last anywhere from nine months to about a year, but Spaccio believes warmer winters could become a trend in New York and surrounding areas.

“We have seen winters warming in the Northeast, due to climate change, and expect this trend to continue,” she said.

And these changes in the climate could lead to more changes in the environment, Spaccio said.

“With the warm temperatures and less snow, the mild winter made survival easier for some animals. This is also true for pests, like ticks.  The lack of snow also means the lack of spring snowmelt, this can change the timing of peak streamflow and soil moisture conditions. There was less lake ice and lake temperature will also be affected. Some winter crops were able to be harvested later than usual,” Spaccio said.  “[Even] allergies [will be] more of an issue.”

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