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Mountain Home Magazine

'Tis the Season for Snow

Jan 01, 2024 09:00AM ● By Kirk House

But sometimes Twin Tiers weather is flakey.

January can be a cold, hard month. It’s the depth of winter here in our parts, with the harshest season usually being New Year’s Day through Valentine’s Day. January (and February) of 1940 saw huge snowstorms, repeatedly dumping a foot or two. The girls (above) at Davenport Asylum for Female Orphans in Bath went to school by sleigh for a week.

But back in 1816, “the year without a summer,” snow fell every month. All the crops died in the fields and on the trees, while the streams froze until April and started again in September. People thought the sun had lost its power.

We now know that airborne particulates from a volcano were blocking the sun’s rays. Then, in 1817, folks in the Mountain Home region (and around the world) sighed with relief as things went back to normal. Snow and ice stayed where they belonged in the months around the turning of the year—mostly. Because snow can fall anytime, and when it does—at least since the invention of the camera—someone’s on hand to record it.

Snow fell in Coudersport on May 8, 1906. Hope no one was planning a concert in that bandshell! The unseasonal weather was widespread, too. A correspondent in Ingleside (near Naples) reported that it was “pretty cold for crops to grow.” But in Coudersport, at least the sidewalk was clear. “Dutch” mailed this post card up to Gibson’s Landing, on Keuka Lake.

Ice wine, anyone? Ice wine is made from grapes deliberately left on the vine to be frosted in place. But these Hammondsport pickers, probably wearing fully soaked wool, are just having a miserable day on October 11, 1906, just trying to salvage what they can. “Last week’s heavy frost did considerable damage to the grapes of the upper Lake Keuka region,” reported a newspaper in Bath. “All through Pleasant Valley the freeze was general and many vineyards will suffer a heavy loss.”

In that same issue, the paper reported on a visit with Uncle Zeb Atkins, about a mile up the creek from Canisteo. “The husk on the corn was unusually thick this fall,” Uncle Zeb assured readers, even as he watched snowflakes fall from gray skies. “That means a cold winter. The foxes’ fur is heavier, and all the birds have scooted south long ago. Yes, it’s going to be a hard winter and an early one too.” It was also a long winter. Avoca got several inches of late snow on May 11, 1907. The scene was lovely, but “Farmers are regretting the backward season as very little planting has yet been done.”

After that unusually snowy winter in 1939 to ’40, upstate New York was not done with snow. Even in April, when one of the girls from the Davenport orphanage took one of the horses out for some exercise, measurable snow still covered the ground. We weren’t in it yet, but it was the first winter of World War II. Germany was invading Norway, Japan was invading China, Russia was seizing part of Finland, and U-boats were stalking the seas. Good brisk air and a ride down snowy lanes would have been a great way to leave the news behind—for an hour or so, at least.

Love it, hate it, or tolerate it—living where we do means living with snow. Might as well be like those smiling Davenport girls and find the joy in the season. Be glad when snow comes at expected times and not during your backyard cookout.

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