It’s been a long, hot, summer for anyone who works or plays or even walks outside, whether viewed globally or locally. On the global front, NASA reported July was the hottest of any month since adequate record-keeping began in the 1880s. Locally, the month was the fourth-hottest month since recordings began at Mohonk’s Daniel Smiley Research Center in 1896, according to the center’s director of research emeritus, Paul Huth.
Officially, the region hasn’t experienced the sort of drought that has caused emergencies in western New York, for example. But the heat and lack of rain has whipsawed farmers into spending extra time and money contending with the weather, while backyard gardeners have seen their flower beds and vegetable gardens scorched by relentless hot, muggy days.
As for the region’s main agricultural industry, the hot days and cool nights promise a good harvest. But a number of orchards in the region were all but wiped out after a cold snap in late May.
The heat has taken an expensive toll among farmers. Pete Taliaferro estimates it cost him an extra $2000 a week to irrigate his 32 acres of vegetable, flower and fruit crops at Taliaferro Farms CSA on Plains Road in New Paltz.
“I’d say there was a solid six weeks when it was really dry and hot and crazy,” he said. “I was always putting out fires – it was really, really tiring.”
Taliaferro can tell you the dates the rains finally did come, and the amounts that fell, and the lack of relief that resulted. “The rains just kind of slammed in and didn’t do much,” he said. The ground was so hot, he said, it was like water hitting a sizzling frying pan.
Sharon Wilklow, of Highland’s Wilklow Orchards on Pancake Hollow Road, said her farm completely lost its peach and summer plum crops to the weather. For a while, she said the family was worried they wouldn’t be able to offer pick-your-own apples. That fear is now gone, and the apples look good, she said. But it has been a tough year.
One field that isn’t suffering because of the weather is Jim Wild’s well-drilling business in Gardiner. Wild has seen over the years how a hot summer like this one can seem to get even drier to well-dependent residents.
“The hot weather hits, and people start watering their gardens more,” he said. “They do more laundry, take more showers, because they’re sweating more. Their water usage goes up; the well can’t recharge soon enough, and it seems like they’re going dry.”
Sometimes they are, he said, and sometimes it’s a matter of being patient.
The people who are suffering the most, he said, have hand-dug wells that are reliant on surface water that take a beating when it doesn’t rain. Wells that hit bedrock and can draw groundwater are the best solution. Wild cautioned that shallow or hand-dug wells are also more prone to pollution from runoff or poor maintenance; he urged that homeowners be sure their wells are tightly capped.
Wild said he’s had more business than usual this summer, drilling some existing wells more deeply and drilling auxiliary wells as potential back-ups. If it’s not an official drought we’re experiencing, he said, he’s seeing evidence of a decreasing groundwater supply. “I’ve never the Shawangunk Kill as low as it is now. And the lower Wallkill out by Montgomery is the same way.”
Paul Huth at the Smiley Research Center puts down the receiver to retrieve some documents. The center has been tracking weather patterns along the Shawangunk Ridge for 120 years. The long view is its stock in trade, and the long view looks like things will only get hotter as the years go by.
“Yeah, here it is,” Huth says. “The top ten warmest summers – June, July, August – during the past 120 years? Six of them have been recorded in this century.”
He remembers the words of an “old climate scientist” from back in Daniel Smiley’s day who predicted that long-term weather patterns would move like a pendulum, back and forth, with “extremes that would be serious.” “And that looks to be the case,” Huth said.
He said he’s noticed how highway construction crews that once installed drainage pipes that were typically 18 inches across are now installing pipes three and even four feet across. “The things we’ve accepted as normal are now out of range,” he said with a sigh.