According to the Mohonk Lake Cooperative Weather Station’s report, this March was eight degrees Fahrenheit above the 124-year average, at 43 degrees, making it the sixth-hottest March on record. (The hottest March recorded in the region was in 2012, with 47.9 degrees.)
Not only was the month unusually warm, but it was also noticeably dry, with only 2.34 inches of precipitation recorded: 2.45 inches less than the 124-year average. This included snow, which amounted to two inches, nine less than the average March.
“What’s crazy to me is that we were eight degrees above average this March, and it’s not a record-breaking month! When you’re eight degrees above the 124-year average and you’re the sixth warmest on record, that’s wild,” said Dr. Elizabeth Long, director of conservation science at the Daniel Smiley Research Center.
As for precipitation, Dr. Long said, “When we were seeing how little precipitation we were having, it had me a little scared, because it could have meant a bad fire season for us, which we always have to watch out for if we have a really dry spring. But with all of the rain we’ve had so far in April, I’m less concerned right now.”
Although the April numbers are not yet in, Dr. Long said, “It certainly feels cold and wet, but maybe that’s because of the situation we’re in,” She’s referring to the global pandemic. To stay socially distanced, she has been working alone at the research center. “I know that I look at the weather and pay attention to it in greater detail right now. If it’s sunny out, I can see it reflected in my mood.”
While hand-collected readings have been the traditional way the research center has gathered daily weather and natural observations since the mid-1880s. For the past three years its staff has used a combination of automated weather-station reports and the daily recordings of citizen-science volunteers. “We wanted a digital backup, and now we have two ways of collecting the data and then comparing them to make sure there are no major discrepancies,” she said.
One weather station is located at Spring Farm, part of the New York State and Department of Homeland Security’s early-warning weather detection system.
“We host one of the weather stations, which is part of the New York State Mesonet,” a network of a 126 environmental monitoring systems across the state, she explained, “and we have another one that we installed in 2017 that is smaller, has less of a special footprint, and doesn’t collect as much data as the one at Spring Farm — but still provides us with everything we need to know.” Mohonkt has been supplying data to the National Weather Service since 1896.
For the past month-and-a-half, with both Mohonk Mountain House and the Mohonk Preserve closed due to the pandemic, the research center has relied solely on the automated weather stations for its data. “We do not have the citizen-science volunteers hand-collecting the data right now, and they do such amazing work,” said Dr. Long. “And when the hotel closed, we stopped taking the temperature of the lake” [Lake Mohonk]. Typically, someone from the research center takes the lake’s temperature at three different depths every day and records it. “The temperature can tell us a lot about the lake,” she said.
In the meantime, Dr. Long has been observing nature taking “stutter steps” towards spring. “We’ll get a warm day or two and everything starts to blossom and come alive, and then we’ll hit a string of colder, wetter days. I call that stutter steps,” she said. The research center notes observations on approximately 300 different species, including flora, fauna, birds and animals.
This phenological study began with Dan and Keith Smiley taking notes on what they bore witness to in the natural world that encompassed Lake Mohonk and the Shawangunk Ridge. Plants about to flower or are already in bloom include bloodroot, red trillium, Jack-in-the-pulpit, wood anemone, rue anemone, Solomon’s seal, rose azaleas and pink ladies’ slippers — to name a few.
Migratory birds have announced their arrival in the region include pine warblers, prairie warblers, “all kinds of warblers,” said Long. “Bobolinks are fantastic birds to look out for in our foothills or along River-2-Ridge, as they love grasslands. They are white, black and gold.”
Red foxes have given birth to their kits. Canada geese are being trailed in area water bodies by their schools of little goslings. “There are a lot of birds setting up their nests, and I even saw a red-tailed hawk who was preparing its nest go after two bald eagles that were harassing it. That was a sight to see!”
Although alone on the mountain for now in terms of human company, Dr. Long is surrounded by a plethora of natural wonders. She is adding to the impressive body of weather collection that spans more than 40,000 consecutive days of observation, including temperature, precipitation, snow, ice, the pH of precipitation, lakes and natural streams, wind, lake ice thickness and more. The numbers for April will be stacked up alongside its 123 cousins from years past.
Natalie Feldsine, the Citizen Science Coordinator for the Research Center, reported that the early data has this April being 45.9 degrees, 1.1 below the historic average of 47.0 degrees. The precipitation totaled 3.18 inches, which, despite people “feeling” that it was a wet and rainy April, is almost one inch below the 124-year average. Feldsine said that April has been fairly “normal” weather-wise and is not showing any record-breaking figures. The official tally of data will be out by the end of this week and can be found at www.mohonkpreserve.org.