Christmas Eve of 2020 brought a storm to the Hudson Valley that one might describe as tropical. Temperatures reached upwards of 60° Fahrenheit, wind speeds hit 60 miles per hour, and parts of the region received over two inches of rain. This followed, by about eight days, a winter storm that in a matter of hours deposited up to two feet of snow. By Christmas morning, nearly all of it was gone.
A couple decades ago, a December weather sequence like this would have been anomalous. But such is winter now in the Hudson Valley. In some respects, this bizarre weather was an appropriate capstone to a strange and dismal year.
Though we might like to turn the page on 2020, left unsaid in our desire to return to normal is that COVID is one of many interlocking crises currently afflicting the globe; just because the coronavirus has dominated the headlines for the last year does not mean the others have abated. The climate crisis is certainly the biggest of these emergencies. Indeed, COVID itself is an expression of ecological disturbance on an increasingly disharmonious planet, and two-thirds of emerging diseases today are pathogens that jump from nonhuman animals to humans.
The effects of climate change in the Hudson Valley are easy to list: rising temperatures; more frequent and more intense precipitation; increases in infectious disease vectors like mosquitoes and ticks; increasing spread of plant diseases; flooding along the Hudson River due to sea level rise; prolonged periods of drought. All of these phenomena presently occur in striking ways, even as many of us get used to them.
But how does climate change feel? What is the experience of the food growers of the Hudson Valley—an absolutely vital component of the viability, even survival, of this region? With these questions in mind, I spoke to several local farmers about their views on this broad subject.
Rising Temperatures & Shifting Seasons
Dramatic temperature swings are increasingly common in a warming Hudson Valley. This variability, particularly in the context of irregular seasonal transitions, is especially burdensome for fruit growers. “The biggest thing we’ve noticed [are] the fluctuations in the weather between falls and springs,” says Brad Clarke, owner of Clarke’s Family Farm in Modena, which grows apples, pears, peaches, and other crops using a mix of organic and Integrated Pest Management techniques.