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Local News

December 18, 2010

Reporter's Notebook: So what exactly drives lake effect?

Like the rain in the scene from "Forest Gump," the snow seemed to come from all directions, even straight up.

That's what I encountered while driving in lake-effect snow back to Oneonta from Pathfinder Village in Edmeston, where I had attended a Christmas tree lighting festival.

The snow was falling during the first bout of lake-effect snow two weeks ago. I was driving along state Route 80 at 10 mph and couldn't tell if I was in the left lane, the right lane or a field.

The narrow bands of lake-effect snow dumped more than 20 inches of snow in some parts of the area that week.

So what exactly is lake-effect snow?

The snow machine needs two main ingredients, according to the National Weather Service in Buffalo: The first is relatively warm water in Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. The second is a source of cold air. Heat and moisture from the lakes rise into arctic air blowing out of Canada, where the moisture cools and condenses into snow clouds. The prevailing wind dictates were the snow will fall.

A second bout of lake effect did not match the first round in our region. But our prospects of having a white Christmas seem to increase each day. Neither Accuweather nor the National Weather Service have any major warm-ups in their extended forecasts.

While east on Interstate 88, I have often noticed what appears to be a road cut into the hillside above Hudson Lake in the town of Worcester. I always wondered why it was there and why it looked abandoned.

Marilyn E. Dufresne of Worcester had an answer for me on Page 96 of her new book, "Delaware and Hudson Railway."

Her book is a collection of postcards and photographs celebrating the history of the railroad.

Included is a photo of Hudson Lake, which looks much the same as it does today -- except for a treeless section of the hillside where a D&H freight train chugged past a water tower on a stretch of tracks now long gone.

There is another mystery that may never be solved in Dufresne's book.

But she is offering anyone who can crack it a free copy of "Delaware and Hudson Railway."

The puzzle is on Page 30, and it consists of handwriting on the bottom of a postcard featuring the D&H station in Schenevus. The passage in cursive writing appears to be in some sort of code and looks to contain 11 words followed by what looks like a set of three initials.

Dufresne, who is vice president of the Worcester Historical Society and Worcester town historian, said she and others have tried to figure it out without success.

On Page 42, Dufresne includes a postcard featuring a photo of the Milling Company reservoir in Oneonta, with the D&H depot in the background with an interesting caption. Dufresne explains how, in 1918, a Milling Company employee found a loaded shotgun shell in the grinding machine after a German immigrant went home early. This was apparently part of sabotage plot involving the immigrant and two officers in the German army. The spies were caught and sent to jail, according to Dufresne.

Is the secret code related to the German spies? Who knows, but it's fun to speculate.

Dufresne's book is available locally and contains more than 200 other interesting images from that bygone era.

Jake Palmateer can be reached at 432-1000 or (800) 721-1000, ext. 221, or at

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