Snowfall is Welcomed

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Today marks the end of one full year of recording weather data here on our mountainside. I wish I’d started doing it years ago. From this point forward, though, we’ll be relying less on anecdotal comparisons or data from the Lebanon, NH airport in the Connecticut River valley. (As George Carlin once noted, who even lives at the airport anyhow?) We’ll have our own set of objectively measured statistics, gathered right here in the meadow.

Among the eye-opening notes in our 2012 numbers is the fact that we reached 80 degrees during 7 of the 12 months in 2012.

80 degrees! In March! High on a mountainside in central Vermont! Then again in April, May, June, July, August and September.

The freak late-winter and early spring reduced our sugaring season to little more than a week, during which we yielded barely 25% of a typical crop. Next, the early season warmth triggered a premature attempt at blossoming among the apple trees in the orchard. Very few flowers emerged and the apple crop was a total loss.

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Long term research at the University of Vermont has shown that sugaring season has been starting, on average, eight days earlier than it did back in the ’60’s. The old timers used to look to Town Meeting Day (the first Tuesday in March) as the beginning of the season, but those who waited last year would have missed the sap flow entirely. (We hit 80 degrees on March 21st and 22nd.)

During the past week we’ve started looking closely at the forecasts with an eye toward hanging buckets on the maples. Temperatures have been up and down, but we’ve been feeling like it’s getting close.

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Last night we received about six inches of new “sugar snow.” (Maple trees and syrup production are adversely impacted during winters with light snow cover.) Now, if we could only avoid the higher mean temperatures and the wild swings. (During March of 2012, we saw an 81 degree difference between our low of minus one on March 6th and our high of 80 on March 21st.)

Unfortunately, the current trends are not in our favor. Vermont maple syrup production is in decline. (Despite the introduction of new technologies over the years, Vermont’s annual production is about one third of what it had been in the early 1900’s and that downward trend is continuing.) Scientists warn that a changing climate poses a very real and immediate threat to the sugar production that is an important component of northern New England’s character and way of life.

It’s hard to imagine these meadows without the grand old maples towering above the borders. We’ll continue to watch the data closely from year to year, but I’m afraid that we’re not long from a day when our signature tree, the sugar maple, has been extirpated from the landscape.

As for the apple orchard, maybe it’s time to start looking into peaches and pears.