The weather the last few weeks has been a roller coaster - temperatures ranging from well above normal to below normal, light snow, hard deep freezes, then warm winds from the south and rain. Yesterday it was in the low 20s and today the dusting of snow on the ground is melting off, though the ground remains frozen. After a couple more warm days, the temperatures are forecast to plunge below zero next week.
The temperature may not be consistent, but one thing has been consistent this year in Vermont. It has been WET. This year has seen the most precipitation Vermont has experienced in a very long time, and in many parts of Vermont this has been the wettest year on record.
(above: rain melts holes in snow; a wet end to a very wet year.)
2011 started with snow, and lots of it. Deep cold in January led to many icicles to color, marking the start of my icicle coloring project. February brought heavy wet snow, dry powdery snow, even a bout of thunder-snow. By spring, the snow switched to rain, and a mix of heavy rain and melting snow brought flooding to many areas of the state, especially along Lake Champlain which reached its highest level on record. Summer brought several bouts of severe thunderstorms with damaging wind, heavy downpours, stunning nighttime lightning displays, and even large hail in some places.
The big weather story of the year, of course, was the massive flooding in much of Vermont from Tropical Storm Irene. In Addison County, the worst flooding was in or near the mountains - Hancock and Granville were devastated, Lincoln and Ripton sustained significant damage, and here in East Middlebury we experienced a very frightening afternoon when we evacuated town shortly before the river started running down East Main Street (our home was not damaged). This flooding was the worst in memory in many areas, and repairs are still ongoing, especially in central parts of the state.
After Irene, the weather in Vermont calmed down a bit, but wet conditions continued. By Halloween, occasional snow started mixing in, though it never accumulated very deeply. November was relatively dry, but December has brought successive waves of rain and snow. It seemed like every time snow started to accumulate, a warm rainstorm would come along and melt it away. By late December, storms with rain were still making it into the area, but icy conditions at the start of storms, and flash-freezes as they ended have caused roads to often become dangerously slick.
While this year was the wettest in history, other recent years have also tended wetter than average. According to long-term weather data, Addison County as well as much of the rest of New England have tended significantly wetter in the last 100 years. While storms like Irene have been moving into New England since the last Ice Age (and probably in many other warm periods before it), one of the reasons Irene caused so many problems was because it moved into a state that was already very soggy due to a very wet spring and early summer. If the trend towards wetter weather continues, we unfortunately may be facing more situations like Irene in the future. Surviving and thriving in a wetter Vermont will mean changing how we interact with rivers and our landscape.
At least we won't be desperately short on water like much of the Southwest may be... as there are indications that the other side of the country may be heading towards a long-term cyclical drought.