Locals Talk About Central New York Winters

By Mary Beth Roach

Winter weather in CNY can be harsh and stormy at times. However, for many hardy residents, winters also hold an almost mystical charm. From the area’s historic snowstorms to the serene snowfall on a crisp evening, winter, they say, is a season to be embraced and enjoyed.

Matt Mulcahy loves winters in Central New York, especially, he said, after a fresh snowfall.

“There is something magical about the peace that comes when I step outside late at night and there’s six inches of snow falling,” he said.

With that fresh snow and temperatures crisp, he enjoys running at Green Lakes State Park, but he also enjoys a winter hike at Lake Delta State Park in Rome with his wife, Jamie.

“We often will follow the trails carved out by the ice fishermen and walk right across the frozen lake,” he added.

With his years covering stories in Central New York, Mulcahy has covered his share of winter blizzards, but two come to mind.

Number one, he said, is the Blizzard of ’93, when the area got 43 inches of snow over the weekend of March 13 and 14.

As he recalled, “I anchored our coverage along with a dedicated group of journalists and television production people at Channel 3. Many of the people that worked that weekend are still good friends. The bond from covering a once in a lifetime weather event seems eternal.”

Another memory, he said, is from about 15 years ago. He said he “field anchored” the broadcast from the village of Mexico after a heavy lake-effect storm. He remembered walking through sidewalks that had been dug out, but the walls were as tall as him.

He added that at the television station, the newest reporters and photographers get an indoctrination in Central New York’s winters.

“We send them out to report right in the middle of the latest winter storm. They quickly learn the right combination of long underwear, hats and gloves that make it bearable and fun,” he explained.

A Georgia native, Spectrum News anchor Lacey Leonardi admits that she is “a Southern girl through and through” and prefers warm days on the Oneida River to the Central New York winters.

She said she pays close attention to the meteorologist on Spectrum News 1 to plan the week and weekend for her family.

But despite her Southern roots, she finds pleasure in the winter weather, going sledding with her daughter and her friends.

“It energizes me when I take my daughter and all her friends snow sledding because they’re giggling the entire time and having so much fun,” she said, adding that they’re sometimes laughing at her as she sleds down the hills screaming.

“It’s a sight to see,” she said.

She warms up winter nights with good friends, family and food.

“Our family also fills our cold nights with themed dinner parties with close friends and their kids to warm us through the season,” she said.

For Jason Smoral, general manager of the Syracuse Mets baseball team, there is no “off season.”

He and his staff are busy selling partnerships, groups, suites, season tickets and flex plans, planning and activating promotions, preparing budgets and buying for the 2024 season, Smoral said.

“It takes a lot of work to plan and prepare for a 150-game season. In addition to the 75 home games, we have to make sure the team is set for the 75 road games. We have to put the stadium to bed and wake it up in time for opening day. Being in CNY this is a challenge as we have to turn the water off in October and hope we can turn it on in time for our season start in late March!” he explained.

But he pointed out that he loves to watch the change of scenery and that the winter can actually help with the field at the NBT Bank Stadium.

“I love to look out and see a field covered in snow!  We actually count on a good layer of snow to put the grass to bed for the winter,” he said, adding that they’d like to see all the snow gone by St. Patrick’s Day.

But he makes time to enjoy the winter and some of CNY’s attractions.

“I like to ski, so we go to Song and Labrador mountains. If I can, I sneak out for a little ice fishing up at the St. Lawrence River,” he said.

For NewsChannel 9 Storm Team Meteorologist Kate Thornton, winter means more than tracking snow bands and gauging snowfalls.

It provides her an opportunity for more activities that she can share with her husband, Erik Columbia, and their daughters, Elsie, 7; Kendell, 3; and Hannah, 1  — whether it’s spending time on a sledding hill near their home in the northern suburbs, ice skating or making snowmen and snow angels, followed by some hot cocoa.

Columbia, a producer on Channel 9’s Bridge Street show, also plays ice hockey and Elsie is starting to really enjoy the sport as well. Thornton said she’s looking forward to bringing the family to the Clinton Square Ice Rink for the first time this year.

And it’s during this season that the family celebrates Kendell’s birthday. Doesn’t it seem quite appropriate that the meteorologist and her husband welcomed Kendell on the First Day of Winter — Winter Solstice — on Dec. 21, 2020?!

From its parks to downtown to making sure streets and sidewalks are clear of snow, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh loves winter in the city.

“There is nothing quite like the beauty of a fresh coat of snow.  Whether it’s adding a coating to our historic buildings downtown or creating a magical look in our picturesque parks, winter is a beautiful time of year,” he said.

And he and his family make the most of the area’s winter attractions, whether it’s skating at Clinton Square, followed by a dinner in one of the city’s restaurants; enjoying the Square decorated for the holidays, or skiing; strolling through their neighborhood or around the Woodland Reservoir on South Geddes Street, a walk he finds invigorating on a cold day.

The mayor invites residents to visit Syracuse City Parks and enjoy the winter there.

“All of our parks are fantastic in the winter. There are so many great activities available — sledding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and more,” he said.

However, as mayor, he and the city’s DPW crews are responsible for keeping more than 400 miles of roads plowed.

“We spend a lot time getting ready for snow removal — on our roads and sidewalks. It’s definitely the most challenging part of winter. It’s been rewarding, though, to see us upgrade our fleet of plows, expand the supplement sidewalk snow removal program, and share our progress with the public with our real-time street and sidewalk snowplow maps,” he explained.

From the city’s website — www.syr.gov/Living/Winter/Plowing — residents and motorists driving through Syracuse, can track real-time street conditions before venturing out, especially if it’s to travel to one of the rinks or city parks.

Some may know Shelly Lewis-Jones as a belly-dance instructor at the Oswego YMCA, but she’s a biathloner, as well. Biathlons are races in which participants ski along a trail, with a rifle on their backs; then they make their way into a shooting range; fire at targets; and then conclude with more skiing. Missing those targets can result in extra distance.

Although she’s relatively new to the sport, Lewis-Jones decided to participate in the 2023 Empire State Games in Lake Placid.

“Why not?” she said, deciding to take on the challenge with some encouragement from her husband and her coach.

She competed in two races — the Sprint format, in which one shoots twice, and the Pursuit race, in which one shoots four times. She finished second in the Sprint and first in the Pursuit race.

“It was really fun and it was my first race, so I was pretty happy with that,” she said.

Doing biathlons combines many of Lewis-Jones’ interests. She loves a challenge, she loves winter and she loves cross-country skiing racing and target shooting.

Growing up in the Utica area, she would go target-shooting with her father. She’s been cross-country skiing for about 20 years. As for her affinity for the winter weather — she moved from Oregon, where she lived for about 20 years, to Oswego in 2021 for the snow. Why?

“To play in it, experience it,” she said.

Since moving here, Lewis-Jones has found, to her pleasant surprise, two biathlon clubs — The Syracuse Biathlon Club and the Polar Bear Club, based in Old Forge.

However, she has found that there are not many women taking part in the sport regionally and she’s hoping to change that.

But the sport is more than just a challenge for her.

She enjoys the dual nature of the sport — the intensity of cross-country skiing mixed with the concentration and stillness required to shoot.

“I love going through the woods. It’s so peaceful. It’s beautiful and it’s an amazing workout,” she said of cross-country skiing. “You’re working really hard and then you need to come in (to the shooting range) and become very mindful, almost meditative. You have to become incredibly present. You can’t think of anything else.”

Local author Jim Farfaglia loves Central New York winters so much, he’s written books about them. These include Voices in the Storm, in which area residents tell how they handled the 1966 blizzard, when more than 40 inches of snow dumped on the Syracuse in about four days and, more recently, Historic Storms of Central New York, which chronicles some of the major blizzards in the area from the 1700s to the late 1970s.

Born and raised in Oswego County, Farfaglia has always loved the winter weather. He relocated to Pennsylvania after college for a teaching job, he moved back to the area within seven years, in part, he said, because of the weather here.

“Sometimes weather gets in your bones,” he said. “I missed the snow so much.”

In the preface to the Historic Storms, Farfaglia wrote, “I love the way it can change our world…. I enjoy witnessing one of nature’s most poignant expressions of its power.”

An outdoorsman, Farfalgia takes full advantage of Mother Nature’s power, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing and playing in the snow with his grandchildren.

“It’s kind of a unique thing that we get to do in this part of the country,” he said.

Farfaglia can pursue his outdoor sports interests without having to travel too far from his Fulton home, because, as he explained, there are so many places to enjoy — for example, trails at Great Bear, between Phoenix and Fulton; the Sterling Nature Center; and Camp Hollis, on the shores of Lake Ontario, a facility that he attended as a child, worked as a counselor in his teens and then later ran when he worked at Oswego City-County Youth Bureau, which owns the camp.