Those impacted by the wild and wacky winter included the Native American Winter Games, which again saw no snow, and area beekeepers worried about a drop in honey production.
The astronomical winter may be over, but the chaotic weather continues.
The region saw a colder and snowier December than last year, according to the National Weather Service, but January’s average temperature was the highest in more than 10 years, and February’s average was a record high.
Mid-March saw a windstorm that left a combined 170,000 customers of Rochester Gas & Electric and and New York State Electric & Gas without power, followed by a snowstorm that dumped 26.5 inches on Rochester in two days.
Over the course of the season, the region surrounding Rochester saw about 100 inches of snow, and although that amount might sound high, more than half of it fell in December and the March snowstorm. For most of the season, snow was scarce.
And with the up-and-down cycle of the season, a number of area businesses and residents made out, while others were left high and dry.
The Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor, for instance, plays host to the Native American Winter Games, which typically involve snow. Held in late February, there was little to no snow on the ground, which made it impossible to participate in such activities as snowshoeing, dog sled team demonstrations and playing snow snake, a traditional Haudenosaunee sport. Although people who attended the games might have been disappointed in the absence of the popular winter activities, Ganondagan interpretive programs assistant Michael Galban said he believed it was a learning experience about Native culture.
“For us as Native people, the way we think about the world is in a very natural way, so things can only happen when it’s time,” Galban said. “So for the public, it’s kind of a learning process that our lives are governed by the seasons.”
The games are held every year, snow or not. Galban said the historic site was still able to host a successful winter games with traditional dances and musicians, maple sugaring demonstrations, storytelling and much more.
“I think it was a great lesson, and people still had a good time,” Galban said, “It is an intersection between traditional Seneca thinking and our modern reality.”
Local farmers market vendors have a different perspective.
Scattered temperatures could have harmful effects on regional honey and maple products. Canandaigua beekeeper and honey producer Rich Riedman, of Reidman’s Happy Hives, said it all depends on when the queen lays eggs.
The queen bee of the hive begins her brood cycle — egg laying — in late winter or early spring as temperatures rise above 60 degrees. Eggs must be maintained at high temperatures to stay alive. If temperatures drop below 50 degrees, eggs could die.
Riedman said he does not know yet if the weather impacted his bees because he has not been in the hive to see them; checking their hive would expose them to cold temperatures, which could harm them.
He said his worry is that the queen might have laid eggs in February when temperatures were between 50 and 60 degrees before returning to the 30s. This would cause worker bees to stop collecting pollen and start cleaning out the hive, which could cause a decrease in honey production, given that enough bees are out of work.
"My hope is that [the weather] doesn’t have an impact, but my feeling is that it will," Riedman said. "It’s anyone’s guess."
For Gary Wohlschlegel, owner of Wohlschelgel’s Naples Maple Farm, a mild winter means he has to stay on top of weather forecasts. Maple season lasts about two months, beginning in mid-February or mid-March, he said, and typically ends in April before the trees start budding. This year, he started working on his first batch on Jan. 19.
“You can't just decide when your maple season will start; you really have to pay attention to the weather,” Wohlschlegel said. “If you wait ... you’re going to miss out. You have to be ready to draw sap when the weather presents itself.”
Wohlschlegel explained that he relies on a “freezing/thawing effect” to extract maple sap. At night, the sap freezes below 32 degrees, and during the day, the sap thaws and runs out of the tap. If temperatures are consistently warm, there can be no freezing/thawing effect, which he said leads to a weaker sugar content in the sap.
If he had waited any longer to tap, he either wouldn’t have been able to draw out the sap or he he would have extracted a lower quality sap.
“If we hadn’t started early, we’d be in deep trouble,” Wohlschlegel said. “But I’m optimistic we’ll make our crop this year. We’ll be fine.”