2017 was record-setting weather year for north country
A cottage on Sandy Pond is surrounded by water and sandbags in May. AMANDA MORRISON / WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES
The past year saw some unusual weather patterns across much of the north country, according to weather data from Buffalo and Massena.
Storms in August and October caused power outages and flooding in much of Jefferson County during the wettest year on record.
Meteorologist Aaron Reynolds said that the average yearly rainfall total for the area is just under 35 inches, and 2017 has seen 48 inches of rain so far. More than a foot of additional rain had fallen this year, making it the wettest since record keeping began in 1949.
Jefferson County FEMA Director Joseph D. Plummer said the storms that blew through the area in October were “unusual for us. That kind of flooding is usually a springtime problem caused by ice jams,” Mr. Plummer said, “as opposed to just pure rainfall. But we just dealt with it.”
Mr. Reynolds said the pattern of drier weather in the western U.S. creating wet “troughs” in the eastern part of the country was common.
“We were in a kind of trough that kept us cool and wet during the spring and summer. We sort of broke out of that pattern during the fall and winter and dried out a little, but we see now that the pattern is coming back.” The pattern was “very persistent” in 2017, the meteorologist said.
Mr. Plummer said that living “in an area that really feels all four seasons, it brings a lot of different flavors of problems” when it comes to weather.
He said that having more of one sort of weather creates different sets of challenges for his department. “With thunderstorms, you may have downed power lines, but with floods, you’ve got basements filled and roads washed out.”
Waterfront flooding presented a new challenge to Mr. Plummer and his colleagues, because “places were being flooded that just never had been before.” Water levels in Lake Ontario were nearly three feet higher than average in 2017, and the resulting flooding prompted Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to declare a state of emergency in May.
From the National Weather Service office in Buffalo, Mr. Reynolds said that the wet trough pattern is likely to continue for the rest of the year. “It’s an area-wide pattern; we’ll likely see it in our whole coverage vicinity.”
St. Lawrence County residents faced similar problems due to the same wet weather trough.
According to data gathered in Massena by the National Weather Service, January and February were warmer than usual — almost 10 degrees warmer, on average. But the milder winter gave way to a cold, wet spring and summer.
“For most of the growing season, we were way over on water and way under on temperature,” said Dr. Kitty A. O’Neil, a field crops and soils specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension who monitors the weather in the county and across the north country.
According to Ms. O’Neil, there was excessive rain through the entire growing season, except for three weeks in September, with much of it coming at the beginning part of the year.
“The excessive spring rains ... set people back worse than the excessive rain throughout the rest of the season,” she said.
According to the National Weather Service data, precipitation from March to August was close to 30 percent over the average, delaying planting and causing lower yields for crops like strawberries.
Even crops that were able to be planted on time were slowed by the cool temperatures, reaching similar growth to crops planted a month late. “The plants came up and then just sort of sat there,” Ms. O’Neil said.
The rain also led to infrastructure problems across the county. In October, heavy rains washed away part of Emeryville Road in Fowler, trapping about eight families, and flooded other roads around the county.
In December, the county Board of Legislators approved over $6,000 in overtime expenses for the highway department as a result of flooding that damaged roads and culverts over the year.
Donald R. Chambers, director of the county Department of Highways, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
“This is part of the prediction for the near and distant future,” Ms. O’Neil said. According to climate scientists at Cornell, climate change is expected to bring more rain overall to the region, as well as more drastic weather events — such as massive thunderstorms or long periods of drought.
“We’re just trying to get farmers used to the idea of more extreme weather,” she said.
According to Ms. O’Neil, winters in the region may also become warmer, leading to less ice on the Great Lakes and therefore more snow.
So far this year, preliminary data for the late fall — November and December — shows temperatures close to the average, or a little under, with average or low precipitation.