Weather rambling — Skating on 5-inch thick ice

Q: Why did the Adirondacker skate across Lake Champlain?

A: Not just to get to the other side, but also to measure the thickness of the ice.

A man who skated across Lake Champlain from Willsboro to Burlington on Jan. 19, 1875 found the ice to be at least five inches thick across the entire surface, The Glen’s Falls Republican reported on Jan. 25.

In Glen’s Falls, spelled with an apostrophe in that era, the sleighing was “never better since the discovery of America,” making the editor pleased to live in a frosty climate.

“And what must the poor creatures down in Florida be doing without a bit of snowing or sledding,” an editorial asked on Jan. 19. “Those are the beings entitled to genuine sympathy, dawdling their time away on grassy slopes and beneath the shade of orange trees.”

A year later the weather was seasonably warm and unpleasant.

Ice that had started to form on Lake George was gone, The Glen’s Falls Republican reported on Jan. 4, 1876.

“The weather clerk must have gone away to spend the holidays, as the weather goes along just as it happens. No sleighing, no business, everybody and everything dull and foggy.”

The Granville Sentinel, on Jan. 14, 1876, suggested that winter weather might simply be getting a late start, as occurred in the winter of 1842–43.

“If the similarity continues, liverymen will have no cause for complaint on account of snow. The total snow fall in that winter was twelve feet, all of which fell after the 17th of January.”

It was back to good sleighing in 1877.

“Everyone who was fortunate enough to secure a sleigh ride on New Year’s Day took advantage of the pleasant weather and good going,” The Granville Sentinel reported on Jan. 5.

By mid-January, the weather was brutal, with high winds and the heaviest snowfall in the woods in 40 years.

“Last Sunday was an excellent day for those who felt like it to stay at home. The wind blew a perfect tornado — blocking the walls and thoroughfares with huge drifts of snow,” The Granville Sentinel reported on Jan. 19, 1877. “The snow fall at Lake George during December was two-and-a-half feet. There has been an additional fall of sixteen inches this month.”

In 1884, it was 32 below zero at Thurman on Jan. 6, but within a few days brave-hearted Adirondackers were enjoying outdoor recreation.

“Ice boating is now the principal amusement on Lake Champlain,” The Morning Star of Glens Falls reported on Jan. 10. “The exhilarating sport in enjoyed by the inhabitants, young and old, in the various towns along the lake.”

The lake froze early that winter.

“Lake Champlain is frozen solid along its entire length and is traversed by teams at all points,” The Morning Star reported on Jan. 24. “The broad lake closed on the 7th last, the earliest for many years, the average time of closing being Jan. 30.

On Jan. 26, the temperature was 35 below zero at Port Henry, and by the end of the month snow was reportedly three feet deep in the woods at Indian Lake.

January 1885 started out with generally cold temperatures, but little or no snow.

“The lumbermen are looking very blue these days, there being no snow to draw their logs,” the Wevertown correspondent reported in The Morning Star on Jan. 15.

A week later the scenario had changed.

“Lumbermen are jubilant over a little more snow and a spell of cold weather,” the Olmstedville correspondent reported on Jan.22.

“Our sleighing is excellent at present and could not be improved,” the Chestertown correspondent reported the next day.

“The lumberman’s prayer for ‘more snow’ has been answered,” The Morning Star reported on Jan. 29.

And at Wevertown: “We have plenty of snow now and the lumbermen have smiling countenances.”

Click here to read the most recent previous Weather Rambling post.

Freelance history writer and documentary film producer from Ticonderoga, NY