The general climate of a region is influenced by a multitude of factors, not least of which are the global distribution of landmasses and patterns of weather. Putney is situated in central New England, relatively close to the eastern seaboard. In general the weather we receive in Vermont traces its way across the country from west to east as masses of spinning air, yet the moisture and temperature of the air we get varies depending on its specific origin. The weather in New England is fickle precisely because it is a combination of both dry continental and moist maritime systems that are constantly shifting on the order of every few days or weeks. This gives rise to the old, yet apt cliché, “if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute and it will change.”
Nevertheless, there are prominent weather patterns that predominate at different times of year as the earth rotates around the sun. Hence the warm summer months are spent haying or swimming, enjoying a balmy night in June or waiting out a thunderstorm in July. With the coolness of fall we harvest apples and press cider, and watch the leaves change and then fall to the ground with steady November rains. The long, frigid winter is often spent indoors, visiting with friends around a wood stove, or outside skiing in the snow. And with spring we venture outdoors once again, tapping sugar maples to make syrup, admiring wildflowers, and slogging through mud. There is variability within each season, of course, such as the January thaw when temperatures rise well above freezing. But by and large these are the trends that shape the activities of our daily lives.
Setting broad patterns of weather aside, it’s the local effects of topography and landforms that play a key role in determining the specific environmental conditions of wind direction, temperature and humidity that vary from one place to another. In Putney, the low-lying Connecticut River basin funnels southerly breezes northward into tributary valleys like that of Sacketts Brook, and accelerates gusty, cool northerlies southward across the town. North-south ridges of bedrock such as Putney Mountain, Rocky Ridge and Bear Hill cause the winds to undulate across with the topography. Elevation differences between the hills and lower valleys on the landscape also result in considerable variation in seasonal temperatures. Like the seasons, localized differences in topography and climate are defining factors in molding patterns of plant and animal distributions on the landscape. For example, the exposed ridge of Putney Mountain is a great place to observe hawk migrations, as the birds ride the thermal wind currents that flow up and over the hillside. Human endeavors, too, are influenced by microclimate, particularly with regards to agriculture. Consequently we tend to have our orchards up on the hillsides, while corn and other staple crops are cultivated in the valleys.
There is a lot of discussion these days about impending changes in climate trends, in particular the warming of global temperatures. While there is no simple formula for understanding what sparks major climate adjustments, there is no question that the earth’s climate has changed dramatically in the past, and that in recent decades the earth has been warming at unprecedented rates — a trend that correlates directly with humanity’s input of carbon dioxide into the air via the combustion of fossil fuels. The concern, then, is that through our own actions we have initiated a rapid rise in global temperatures that will soon spin out of control and negatively impact the lives of people, plants, and animals around the world. Bringing this issue home to our hearts, if warming continues at current rates, the robust weather that defines Vermonters’ characters and much of the flora and fauna that exemplifies the Green Mountain countryside will likely disappear within a few generations. With the loss of regional variety, we risk losing the very essence of what makes Vermont special: its diverse natural and cultural heritage. The resilient character of Vermonters will be seriously tested as we face the reality of global warming due in part to our own deeds.