BUFFALO, N.Y. — When it comes to winter in Western New York, the region and season is known far and wide for snow. And usually, a lot of it.
But history has shown that the amount of snow Western New York gets each winter, and how much of it stays on the ground, can greatly vary from year to year. Knowing this, Storm Team 2 Meteorologist Elyse Smith set out to find out how this impacts different winter activities and their local communities that rely on the snow each winter.
Turns out, it depends on who you ask.
First, we spoke to Jane Eshbaugh and Steve Crowley of Holiday Valley Resort in Ellicottville. They're both optimistic about the future of their winters in the Southern Tier, but for one big reason: Man-made snow.
Holiday Valley doesn't rely on what falls from the sky for their livelihood. They’re constantly making investments and improvements to their infrastructure so they can be self-sustaining. The resort has over 600 snow guns in its arsenal to keep its snowy landscape in peak condition for weeks at a time.
But Crowley agrees, stating that he too has noticed a shift in the winter season in Western New York. He’s who you can thank for your winter weekend ski trip. He’s been making snow at Holiday Valley since the 80s and knows first hand the benefit of having man-made snow, though still relying on conditions to help create it.
Crowley explained how snow is made at Holiday Valley.
"Anytime when we got temperatures well below freezing. We would start the system then and start to make snow. And to operate you need an average base depth of 36 to 40 inches of manmade snow."
And when Storm Team 2 Meteorologist Elyse Smith asked of him if "Mother Nature" cooperates, his response was, "Absolutely not."
For example, when asked about this season Crowley said, “This season got off to a very slow and very rocky start. We had no windows of opportunity. We usually get two or three good nights of snowmaking. We didn’t get rolling making snow until early December.”
And when asked what Holiday's Valley season would look like if they could not make manmade snow: “It would be a very short ski season," said Crowley.
Another winter pastime knows this to be true, just ask any snowmobiler or groomer here in Western New York. They can only rely on natural snow, so depending on how much snow falls and, more importantly, sticks during the winter is the exact thing that impacts their season.
To gain perspective on this, 2 On Your Side spoke to Rich Lemieux, a past president of the Western New York Snowmobiling Club of Boston. He's also one of the groomers that take care of the trails in southern Erie County each year. He too acknowledges that the inconsistent snow depth from year to year is a challenge for this sport and has a direct impact on the local community.
Lemieux told us, "Unless you’re traveling, and you’re not buying a snowmobile for just here, it probably makes a lot of people think if they want to buy one or not. But a lot of people travel. I’ve traveled to Quebec, to upper Ontario, to Michigan.” And if Western New York doesn't have an adequate amount of snow on the ground, snowmobilers will travel north and take business there with them.
Snowmobilers need at least 6 to 8 inches of snow on the ground to safely operate. And while that’s much less than what Holiday Valley needs, there’s one major difference. That, of course, is the ability to rely on manmade snow.
So there are two sides to every story. That couldn’t be more true for winter in Western New York. And it's no secret that Western New York could face implications from global climate change. And while that's likely going to be small in comparison to other regions of the country and world, Buffalo is not immune.
So climate change may not have a direct impact on how much snow sticks and stays on the ground here in western New York. But it is going to unequally impact different wintertime activities based on if they can rely on man-made snow...or not.
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