The new year brought with it 14 days of triple-layered wool, frozen pipes and drained oil tanks. We are so over winter. But is winter over us, yet? “So far, this winter has played out as expected,” said Bill Potter, one of the two weather wizards behind the Hudson Valley Weather website. “We anticipated some very cold snaps, but the severity of this snap was not something we could have foreseen.”
Hudson Valley Weather covers Delaware, Greene, Columbia, Ulster, Dutchess, Sullivan, Orange, Putnam, Westchester and Rockland counties, with periodic hyperlocal forecasts which focus on weather patterns exclusive to smaller pockets, such as the Catskills. Not only are Hudson Valley commuters relying on localized forecasts, but businesses, farms, schools, emergency responders, institutions and more require very specific information. “As a first responder in both fire and EMS, it’s nice to have someone local that is more accurate than the big guys to help me prepare for work,” said Mike Campbell of Sawkill.
Potter wrapped up his winter look-out with some much-needed warm words. He added that he expects winter to continue being near or below average in terms of temperatures. “We’ve got a long way to go with winter and the cold weather … the good news is that we have seen some very harsh conditions already, so the rest of the winter is likely to be not as severe,” he said.
Hurley resident and Hudson Valley Weather CEO Alex Marra started Hudson Valley Weather as a Facebook page in 2011, well before his 30th birthday. A self-referred “weather junkie,” Marra said he found himself often frustrated with forecasts stemming from either New York City or Albany that did not pertain to the unique weather patterns happening here in the Hudson Valley and Catskills. Several hurricanes and tropical storms later, Hudson Valley Weather earned their fan-base now of more than 115,000 followers on Facebook and a website with millions of views (hudsonvalleyweather.com). They can be found on Twitter @HudsonValleyWX, there’s an Android and iOS app for smart phones and their forecasts can be heard on six local iHeart Media radio stations and viewed on Instagram. The Facebook and website pages are a refreshing mix of both Marra’s and Potter’s natural speaking voices that feature their weather skills, intelligence and unmistakable playful snark. Up-to-the-minute conditions for various localities are often found within the comment threads under their social media posts, posted by fans talking about what’s going on right where they are.
Dawn Reed Schwartz said she follows Hudson Valley Weather because she lives in Kerhonkson and works in New Paltz, and noted the difference in weather on one side of the mountain and the other. “My boss [who] lives in Highland kept saying one to three inches, per what he was reading on Thursday [Jan. 4],” she said. “I left New Paltz at 11:30 with at least five inches, got about three to three-and-a-half inches here in Kerhonkson.”
Onward and upward
Within the next few weeks, there will be an update to Hudson Valley Weather on its iOS app. Potter explained that costs were the factor in developing iOS and Android apps separately. “The result was the Android app was superior … and we’re re-releasing the iOS app in the format that Android users have been using. We’re very excited about the re-release.”
Potter said a remodeled website launch is also imminent within the next few weeks, with a changed look and feel for the site, as well as current conditions (based on the individual’s GPS or Internet service provider info). Content on the site will become more streamlined and user-friendly; interactive radar, 24-hour forecast and five-day forecasts will be seen on the site’s main page.
Marra touts Hudson Valley Weather for its “accuracy, local, organic, passionate, care about the communities we forecast for, mixing nerdy-ness with humor, sense of community amongst all of the followers.” He said they employ multiple forecast models, draw from their base of knowledge of local microclimates and topography and their background of 25 years of forecasting for this region, and throw in some “good old intuition to boot. Also part of the mix is a humble weather station on Marra’s property, other local personal weather stations “… and learning from mistakes,” said Marra.
Heidi Firmbach Lenza of Glasco said she follows Hudson Valley Weather because they keep it real. “They get that we need our own personal forecast to protect ourselves and family,” she said. “They update the forecast as the weather changes and explain why it changes. They never ‘sell’ the weather — they inform us on the weather. [Hudson Valley Weather] is also a great resource to know what the road conditions are.”
How much time does it take out of their personal lives? “All of it,” emphasized Potter, who said he really wouldn’t have it any other way. Both Potter and Marra make posts, and regularly interact and respond on comment threads. “Sure, it’s a ‘job’ at times … but more often than not, it’s something we look forward to doing … and love doing it. We love the interaction with the community that Hudson Valley Weather affords us, and when the weather gets exciting, that is when we’re in our glory,” said Potter. “Tracking and forecasting the wild weather … that’s why [Marra] created Hudson Valley Weather, and it’s what keeps us addicted to operating it. We’re fascinated by what Mother Nature can do, and we love to share that interest with others. So keeping everyone a step ahead of the weather becomes almost a side effect of our passion.”
But global warming, though?
As with any social media page offering topical information, there’s the occasional troll dissatisfied with the forecast or, perhaps, the weather itself. “Ninety-eight percent of our fans are great,” said Marra. “But about 2 percent get banned.”
Potter said during a bitter cold snap, they inevitably see, “So much for global warming.” or “Al Gore was wrong.” Or some variation of statements claiming global warming isn’t real. “The truth is that arctic outbreaks say nothing about global warming or climate change,” Potter explained, fully engaged in Weather Geek Speak. “The weather varies all the time, and weather has always had extreme periods. Climate on the other hand, is composed of decades and decades of weather, all lumped together. Then we take all that data, and get an average of the weather conditions to determine the climate of our area. Climate change is an extremely complicated discussion. But no matter what your position, using an extreme weather event as proof of — or proof against climate change — is a flawed argument. Extremes have always been a part of our weather, and will always be going forward. This arctic blast isn’t the result of climate change, nor is it proof that climate change isn’t real.”
We spoke to Potter near the conclusion of the recent “epic cold snap,” that is. He said all our air masses have been coming straight from the polar region, which is not unusual in itself, but what is unusual is the duration. “The atmospheric pattern has been locked into place for two full weeks now, allowing an unabated stream of polar air, right into the Hudson Valley. To have temperatures 20 to 30 degrees below normal for a day or two isn’t that uncommon,” he said.
“To have temperatures 20 to 30 degrees below normal for nearly 14 straight days … is so rare, we will need to research if and when this has happened before.”