Oh the weather in western Massachusetts

[The following piece is a class assignment for multimedia journalism with Steve Fox.]

By Keith Shannon and Rosie Walunas

Picture and audio slideshow

George Carlin once noted, “The weather will continue to change, on and off, for a long, long time.” Those were the final words of his character, “The Hippy Dippy Weatherman.” In New England, changes happen rapidly and often – and when least expected.   

The blizzard of 1997 dropped almost two feet of snow across the region, staggering numbers for a two-day storm. Residents did not prepare for the snowfall the way they normally would for a storm of this magnitude, many thought it was an elaborate hoax. It became known as the April Fool’s Storm. All of the snow fell between March 31 and April 1, 1997, over a week into spring. Easter fell the day before, with temperatures hitting 63 degrees.

January 6, 2007, the height of winter. Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Tamara Llosa-Sandor spotted 18-year-old Hannah McQuillan outside of Thornes Marketplace in Northampton, dressed in a tank-top and eating an ice cream sundae. She was no glutton for punishment, nor was she practicing to join the Polar Bear Club for their annual swims in frigid water. It was 63 degrees that day, typical late spring to early summer weather for the region. The normal average temperature on that day would be closer to 23 degrees.

More traditional winter weather did not hit the region until February that year, severely hindering the maple syrup production. Sugarers rely on cold temperatures in December and January for trees to produce enough sap to be boiled down into syrup. 

The erratic weather of 2007 had one last surprise. The warmest winter in history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, ended with a storm that dropped 9.5 inches of snow on Amherst overnight between March 16 and 17, just as University of Massachusetts students were preparing to leave for Spring Break.

Snow is not the only winter weather event that New Englanders have to worry about. This past winter began with a massive ice storm in early December, leading to Gov. Deval Patrick declaring a state of emergency across the state. The storm hit hardest in western and central Mass., where over 20,000 homes were without power for days. The storm shattered trees and downed power lines as ice sheeted around them. Goshen residents reported that the ice coating reached over one-inch thick in many cases.

The final storm of the winter fell on March 2, dropping close to a foot of snow in the Pioneer Valley and forcing schools to cancel classes. Some schools in Northern Worcester County had already experienced between eight and ten weather related school cancellations by the second week of January. Because of the state’s strict 180-day requirement for public schools, students must make up for the days that were lost, meaning students will have to attend school at a time when baseball is in full swing and cold days are but a memory.

It did not take long for the storm to be but a memory, either. Warm temperatures in the days following melted most of the winter remnants rapidly. The next weekend, streets of Northampton were crowded with people dressed as Hannah McQuillan was on that January day two years prior.    

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