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Less snow than expected

No thaw since Christmas and plenty of snow mean great skiing, but also spring flood concern

Bryon Connolly tosses a shovel full of snow onto a towering pile beside the driveway of the Saranac Lake Adult Center Tuesday morning, preparing for a food bank delivery. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

SARANAC LAKE — The air in the clouds stayed a bit warmer than National Weather Service meteorologists had expected, and the North Country got about half as much snow as had been forecast Tuesday morning, with some sleet and freezing rain in the mix as well.

The National Weather Service office in Burlington, Vermont, received snow reports of 4 to 5 inches in New York’s Franklin County and the Tri-Lakes area, 4 to 6 inches in Clinton County and 5 to 6 inches in St. Lawrence County, according to NWS meteorologist Rebecca Duell.

What happened, she said, was that as the storm came northeast from the Gulf of Mexico, a layer of warm air stayed a degree or two warmer than the NWS had predicted, melting some snow as it fell. Some of those water droplets refroze as they passed through the sub-freezing air below, becoming sleet, and some refroze on the ground as freezing rain. Snowflakes that didn’t melt were generally wetter and heavier than the NWS has anticipated, and didn’t accumulate as much as fluffy, powdery snow does.

“Short answer: More warm air came farther north than we expected,” Duell said. “With sleet and freezing rain, it’s a matter of 1 or 2 degrees that makes the difference.”

Another snowstorm is forecast for Thursday night into Friday morning, and Duell said forecasters aren’t yet sure what to expect from it. At this point they are forecasting 5 inches of snow, “but that’s very preliminary,” she said. “We will be close to the rain-snow line, so that’s going to be another tricky one.”

On Tuesday morning, people were busy plowing, shoveling and snowblowing. Some said they were perfectly happy to get less snow than expected. Still, they needed to find room to put the new snow, because it isn’t melting. As Bryon Connolly tossed shovel loads from the driveway of the Saranac Lake Adult Center onto a towering pile, some of the snow slid right back down.

There has been no real thaw since Christmas, and none in the forecast for the next week, Duell confirmed. Temperatures have edged above freezing only a handful of times so far in 2021.

That is starting to worry some people. If things warm up gradually, fine, but a quick thaw could lead to flooding.

“It does set the stage where we’re a little more vulnerable to some spring flooding,” Duell said Tuesday morning. “We hope it’s a gradual warm-up. We hope there’s no rainstorm on top of this.”

In the meantime, the regular snowfall and lack of thaws has made for excellent skiing conditions. At the Paul Smith’s College VIC Tuesday morning, Facilities and Trails Coordinator Tyler DeZago said he had another 5 inches of snow to groom.

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