In case you haven’t noticed, it’s been raining. A lot. In fact, this past September it rained 14 days out of the month. Not only did it spritz and spray, but it poured, soaking the region with 12.7 inches of rain: in excess of 8.3 inches above the 122-year average (as collected daily, without fail, since 1896 by the Mohonk Lake Cooperative Weather Station). If you thought you had accidentally stepped into a swamp or bayou or dank holler, take comfort, because you kind of did. This September came in as the wettest September on record. To make matters even moldier, it was preceded by the fifth-rainiest August on record and is being followed up by a mushroom-propagating October.
What does this mean for our local businesses, especially those fueled by our leaf-peeping, pumpkin-picking, rock-climbing, bike-riding, hiking and hayriding ecotourists and visitors? “We put out a rainy-day plea to our membership list,” said Gretchen Reed, director of communications for the Mohonk Preserve: “This record-breaking season has had a major impact on our day fees and membership renewals, so we still need your help to continue to provide the services and support that make the Preserve such a special place,” read the request, noting that donations could help to build a bluebird box or print trail maps or even fund trail maintenance during these wet, dreary times.
The Preserve’s day fees are down 17 percent in 2018, but Reed said that “the majority of that loss happened during the past two months.” Fall is typically the Preserve’s busiest season with foliage-loving hikers, bikers, birdwatchers, runners, horseback riders and rock climbers. “It rained the weekend of the Gunks Climbing Festival, which we co-sponsored,” she said. “It rained during Indigenous People’s Day Weekend, which is also a big weekend for us.” And even when it didn’t rain, Reed and others pointed out that, if it was forecast to rain, that kept people away who might have traveled from the metropolitan/tri-state area. “People plan ahead for climbing day trips, or to come horseback riding or hiking, so if the weather was threatening rain, they likely chose not to risk it and come,” said Reed.
The weather posed a serious challenge for local farmers as well, many of whose businesses and farm markets thrive on the apple-picking, hayriding, pumpkin-patch-and-corn-maze-frolicking families and tourists. When it’s overcast, wet and muddy, people are less likely to make the trek to one of our many local farms.
In terms of growing conditions, Sandy Ferrante of the multigenerational Wallkill View Farm said that there were “some crops we couldn’t even get in the ground, because it was so wet in July and August,” citing the fall broccoli as an example. “We don’t have any high ground here. We’re in the Flats, so when it rains this much, the crops just sit in that water, which is not what they want. It severely impacted our fall crops — particularly our vine crops, like our winter squash and pumpkins, which saw much lower yields.” While the crop for which they’re most known, sweet corn, can handle the wet weather, the vine crops got hit with more disease and rot than they would under milder conditions. When it was a beautiful fall day, the farm had a great turnout; when it rained, people didn’t come around as much. “With all of that said, we’ve certainly experienced worse,” Ferrante noted.
Up the road, off Route 299 in the foothills of the Shawangunks, the Jenkins-Lueken farm was also impacted by the weather, but not as badly as its low-lying neighbors. Grower Fred James said that, although the “apples are great this year, getting to them and getting them out has been tough because of all of the rain.” As the orchards lie on hills, constant rain meant for muddy conditions for tractors, which could get caught sliding downhill en route to harvest the apples or to bring them back to the cooler and market. “Vegetable crops were certainly impacted by the rain, and we also do a lot of fruit here in July, so it was challenging. When it was sunny weather, the people came in droves. When it was rainy? It wasn’t a good day. We rely so much on these months come winter, so we feel the loss of all of those rainy days.”
There are also many community supported agriculture (CSA) farms whose crops had to try to survive the unrelenting ground saturation.
“At Rock and Snow, the weather dictates how business will be,” said Rich Gottlieb, owner of the outdoor equipment store in the Village of New Paltz. “Rain and rock climbing don’t mix, and hiking is much more enjoyable when you’re not fighting the rain. But you can’t vote the weather out of office, and living with it is the goal of business and in life,” he mused, noting that he’s always impressed by those people (many of whom work in or shop at his store) who still venture outdoors for all types of activities, even when the mountains are shrouded in mist and thick with rain.
Rick Rauch, owner of the Gilded Otter, the restaurant/brewpub at the corner of Huguenot and Main Streets, right at the gateway to the Flats and Shawangunks and the newly constructed River-to-Ridge (R2R) Trail, said that he felt like he could “not complain. Could business have been better if we didn’t have all of this rain? Absolutely! But we’ve been in business 20 years and the people still come, even when it’s raining.”
Rauch was quick to say that the R2R trail has been a godsend for his businesses, which is located directly across from the trail entrance. “People are always using that trail. We’ll come into town from our house early in the morning, and that parking lot they built [by the boat launch off Springtown Road] is almost always half-full. [County executive] Mike Hein gets things done. I’ve never seen anything like it. He was here all the time when it was under construction, checking out the progress, and I see him come now, get out of his car by himself and walk around and just make sure everything is good on the trail. It’s been a great thing for my business and for New Paltz.”
His wife, Deb Rauch, who owns In Good Taste, the wine store just up the hill from the restaurant, also considers herself lucky. “Fortunately, a liquor store is always going to work, regardless of the weather. But that does not mean that I don’t see or feel the impact for my clients and fellow business-owners. It’s been awful. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a farmer, with all of this rain and mud. They depend on the day visitors, who aren’t coming if it’s raining or forecast to be rainy,” she said, noting along with others, that the dramatization of weather forecasts is not helping matters: “Rain and cold kills foot traffic, and that’s what our downtown businesses thrive on. I walk every day from my store to Tops ([Market], and I feel their stress. People who own retail shops or those in the service industry are suffering. It hasn’t let up. I was in Ireland a few weeks ago, and I haven’t been so dry in months!”
Oddly enough, Minnewaska State Park, the 22,000-acre preserve that is also a huge magnet for outdoor enthusiasts locally and from the metropolitan/tri-state area, saw an increase of visitation in September, despite nearly half the days experiencing rainfall of some degree or another. “Believe it or not, our attendance is actually up slightly for September and down for October as compared to last year,” said Eric Humphries, director of Minnewaska State Park. In September 2017 it received approximately 41,500 visitors, while in September 2018, the Park recorded upwards of a 2,000-visit increase. “This seems to be largely in part from attendance from our Empire Season Pass holders, which has brought higher pass holders out throughout the month,” Humphries noted.
That said, numbers appear to be down for October, with one week left to go (at least two days of which saw rain). “Last October, 2017, we received approximately 56,000 visitors, while this October, 2018, through October 25, we have received 39,800. The weather has impacted the leaf color this year, providing more muted colors that have not held on very long this season.” Similar to their Preserve neighbors, Humphries noted that parks are largely weather-dependent, and that “we definitely experience higher visitation on fair-weather days.”
Both Humphries and Reed reported that, because of their park’s various ongoing carriage-road restoration projects and trail maintenance, the heavy rains did not result in any severe damage or erosion. “I think that’s a tribute to our commitment to our restoration of the historic carriage roads,” said Reed.
Although it was too early to get the final numbers on October, according to the data collected at the High Falls station of the New York State Mesonet, which provides real-time weather data at www.nysmesonet.org, rain totaled upwards of 6.4 inches by October 28, which was well over the monthly 122-year average.
And what if it just keeps on raining? Humphries noted that, in his estimation, inclement weather can provide heady souls with “a bit more solitude” along the trail networks. “The landscape throughout the Park Preserve can change in different weather conditions, especially when the fog floats through the mountain,” he said, noting that the number of waterfalls throughout Minnewaska are dramatic and exhilarating during the rain, when the power of the water off the cliffs into pools below makes them always worth a visit.
The same argument could be made for going to a local shop, restaurant or farm market: fewer crowds, less of a wait, more fresh cider donuts to indulge in or Honeycrisps to savor. Winter will come, ready or not; so get out there and enjoy those lasts taste and views and vistas of fall.
For weather geeks: here are two great local links:
1) Visit the Mohonk Preserve at www.mohonkpreserve.org, go to Conservation Science and click on “Weather Data” to review a vast data collection of both recent and historic weather conditions, including temperature, precipitation, snowfall, hottest and coldest days and more.
2) Visit New York State Mesonet at www.nysmesonet.org, created in 2014 by the Department of Homeland Security to ensure a New York State Early Warning Weather Detection System. There is now a weather station in every county of the state that measures temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, pressure, solar radiation, snow depth and soil information.