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The National Weather Service's weather station, at the Adirondack Regional Airport, in Lake Clear, NY. Photo: Photo via <a href="">Adirondack Daily Enterprise</a>
The National Weather Service's weather station, at the Adirondack Regional Airport, in Lake Clear, NY. Photo: Photo via Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Why Lake Clear is so very cold

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The village of Saranac Lake has a reputation for cold. During the winter, it's frequently the coldest spot on the North Country weather map, sometimes the coldest in the lower 48 states. Overnight or early morning temperatures in January can hit 20 and sometimes 30 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

That kind of cold is has brought the community a fair share of publicity over the years, but technically, that publicity should go to another community located about five miles outside of Saranac Lake: the hamlet of Lake Clear.

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Reported by

Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent

Watch the nightly forecast from WPTZ weatherman Tom Messner and you'll find Saranac Lake is often the coldest spot on the map. But that's actually not Saranac Lake's temperature.

The reading Messner and other forecasters are giving is recorded at the National Weather Service automated weather station at the Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear. It's typically much colder there than it is in a short distance away in the village of Saranac Lake - sometimes as much as 10 to 15 degrees colder.

The Adirondack Regional Airport terminal building in Lake Clear, NY. Photo via <a href="">Adirondack Daily Enterprise</a>
The Adirondack Regional Airport terminal building in Lake Clear, NY. Photo via Adirondack Daily Enterprise
Sometimes the airport temperature is significantly colder than it is just a mile-and-a-half down the road in the hamlet of Lake Clear, where Bob Callaghan lives.

The same morning in mid-January that the airport weather station hit 31 below, Callaghan said he had minus 21 at his house. "The thermometer in the car definitely registers colder when we get in the area of the airport," Callaghan said. "Sometimes it's 10 degrees difference."

Why is it so much colder near the airport? What strange weather phenomenon is at work here?

Dave Werner started asking that question a few years ago. Werner lives in Malone and is a cooperative observer for the National Weather Service.

"Every day I'd compare my readings with all of upstate New York and Vermont," he said. "And it was so interesting to me that Saranac Lake [Lake Clear] was so much colder than every other place."

In 2008, Werner contacted the weather service's Burlington office and got an explanation.

"It's called cold air drainage," Werner said. "The bowl-shaped terrain around the Lake Clear airport is such that cold air settles or drains into the airport area, giving it significantly colder readings than are found in the village of Saranac Lake."

John Goff is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Burlington. He says Lake Clear is higher up, "and it's an open area, an open kind of clear area at the top of a hill where the cool air can kind of just pool."

For people who live and work in Lake Clear, the bitter cold winter temperatures brought on by this microclimate are just a fact of life.

Deb Gauthier is the Lake Clear postmaster: "It was minus 31 yesterday. When I went out at lunch time it was minus 21. You don't go out with wet hair, and you bundle up. We live with it."

Surprisingly, the arctic temperatures cause few headaches at the airport, according to its manager Corey Hurwitch.

"Just our equipment sometimes starting up is a little more difficult in the morning," he said.

What do the airport's passengers think of the cold?

"They're a little bit surprised when they step off their plane sometimes, but they usually have a smile on their face and a good attitude about it," Hurwitch said. "I think it gives us something to pride ourselves on, at least we've got something we're mentioned in the news."

The greater Saranac Lake community has embraced it reputation for cold, and there's no better example of that than the annual Saranac Lake Winter Carnival, which wrapped up this weekend.

Saturday's parade drew big crowds despite the single digit temperatures.

Even though some of Saranac Lake's weather-related notoriety should technically be Lake Clear's, Lake Clear residents like Bob Callaghan don't seem to mind.

"This is something they're pretty proud of. I always wondered why they would advertise it so much because who really wants to go to the coldest spot in the nation. But it gets the name of Saranac Lake out on the national news, and people that aren't familiar, they might event look it up, find out where it is, and they'll find out there's things here they might be interested in."

The lowest temperature recorded this winter at the Lake Clear weather station was minus 32. That's just 5 degrees shy of the record low at the site, minus 37, which has been recorded there several times in its nearly 20-year history, most recently on Jan. 24, 2011.



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