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Corrie Miller, right, director of the AuSable River Association, speaks  during a state Adirondack Park Agency discussion on climate change. Stephanie Ratcliffe, left, director of The Wild Center, and Paul Smith's College professor Curt Stager also made presentations to the agency's commissioners.
Corrie Miller, right, director of the AuSable River Association, speaks during a state Adirondack Park Agency discussion on climate change. Stephanie Ratcliffe, left, director of The Wild Center, and Paul Smith's College professor Curt Stager also made presentations to the agency's commissioners.

Experts: Adirondacks should prepare for climate change

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The climate of the Adirondacks is getting warmer and wetter, and the Park and its communities will likely experience more extreme weather events in the years to come. That's what Paul Smith's College professor and paleoclimatologist Curt Stager told state Adirondack Park Agency commissioners last week during a panel discussion on climate change. The session was hosted by the agency's Public Awareness and Communications Committee.

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Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent

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Stager said he and Saranac Lake journalist Mary Thill studied weather data from the Lake Champlain basin as part of a 2010 report for The Nature Conservancy. They found that from 1976 to 2005, mean average temperatures in the basin rose by 2 degrees, slightly faster than the global average.

“So, the warming is also happening here,” Stager said. “We know now because of our local weather records that yes, indeed it is happening here, pretty much like on the planet as a whole.”

It’s more difficult to forecast precipitation trends, Stager said. He said most global climate models focused on the Adirondack-Champlain region predict it’s going to get wetter, although a few say the opposite, that the region could get more droughts.

Nevertheless, Stager said historic records point to increasing amounts of precipitation in the region.

“When you look at rainfall records like river runoff and the level of Lake Champlain, there was a jump in how much precipitation we’re getting through the year around 1970, about 3 inches higher on average for average annual rainfall. We do know there is a trend favoring the models suggesting a wetter future.”

Stager said a warmer climate with more moisture makes the atmosphere more turbulent, leading to more extreme weather and rainfall events.

In the North Country, there’s evidence of that happening, he said. Stager studied daily rainfall records from weather stations over the past century and found “extreme rainfall events” of 2 inches of rain or more are becoming more common.

So what does all this mean? Stager said there are pros and cons to climate change in the North Country.

“What does a warmer world mean to us here?,” he asked. “Sometimes we joke, ‘It’s going to mean my heating bills are going to go down.’ That could well be. At the same time you (could) save money on road salt. On the other hand, if you like winter sports, it’s kind of hard to run a bobsled without any snow on the tracks.”

People should also expect lakes in the Adirondacks to freeze over less frequently, impacting winter recreation like ice fishing. 

If winter is going to be warmer, Stager said to expect more rain rather than snow. One positive is there would be less snow to melt in the spring and potentially cause flooding, like the region saw in the spring of 2011.

Some things that could be done to prepare for these trends, Stager said, include building bridges, roads, barriers and culverts to accommodate a higher volume of water.

To that end, Corrie Miller, director of the AuSable River Association, outlined her group’s effort to promote construction of culverts that don’t create barriers for fish and are large enough to survive big flood events, like when Tropical Storm Irene hit the region in late August 2011.

“If you are able to install a larger culvert, then you will have an economic benefit over time, you’ll have a public safety benefit, you’ll have the trout and the aquatic organism environmental benefit, and everybody’s happy,” Miller said. “And it makes the community more resilient in the face of climate change.  It’s a win, win, win, win all-around scenario.”

Last week’s APA session also included a talk from Wild Center Director Stephanie Ratcliffe about the Adirondack Climate and Energy Action Plan, the museum’s climate change education effort.

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