Op-Ed: 2023 the Tipping Point Winter for NH

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Eric Orff

By ERIC ORFF, wildlife biologist

Will this NH Winter of 2023 Mark the Climate Change Turning Point? I think it will.

I have been a watcher of Nature all my life. Mostly right here in New Hampshire, and for the last half century I have been employed as a wildlife biologist. I have lived in the Merrimack River Valley most of the time except my five-year stint when at UNH on campus or in Exeter. As a result, I have been making observations of Great Bay on the coast and the Merrimack and then the Suncook Rivers where I also have lived for fifty years near the Suncook River. 

The winter of 2023 will be known as the Turning Point for Climate Change here for New Hampshire. And NOT in a good way.

Here’s what has driven me to this conclusion based on my own observations of the last sixty plus years living here. It really started a couple weeks ago when I stopped along the southern shore of Great Bay to do a short Facebook video of Nature for my weekly posts for the NH Wildlife Federation. Frankly I was shocked. There lay before me an unfrozen Great Bay. In my sixty or so years of observing Great Bay this is the First winter it has not frozen over. As a wildlife biologist for the NH Fish and Game Department one of the duties assigned to me starting in the late 1980’s was to help conduct the mid-winter waterfowl survey of Great Bay the first week of January by a low-level flight with a light aircraft. A study began annually in the early 1950’s. And there was an ice cover to Great Bay. Scattered around the ice were villages of bobhouses for smelt fishing. If you would have suggested a year ago that I would witness a winter of NO ice forming on Great Bay, I would have declared you crazy. Yet, before my very eyes lay an unfrozen Bay. It sure gave me an unsettling feel. It’s just not right.

And here along the Suncook River, for the first time in 44 years I have lived here overlooking the Suncook River, it too remains unfrozen. As does the Merrimack River in my frequent trips to Concord. How can this be? For the first time in my life, in my life, I will witness a winter that our rivers didn’t ice over. This indeed is a tipping point for me. When I first moved to Epsom in 1979 the Suncook River below my house was an active snowmobile trail through the winter. I just can’t believe how I have witnessed the fewer and fewer days of ice on the Suncook over the years, and now to have virtually no ice all winter long. How can this be?

On last night’s news Mike Hadad declared that this January likely will mark the warmest ever. No doubt December probably shared a similar distinction. I guess there is a tad of hope that this big cool down Friday and Saturday nights, with lows not seen in four or five years. But here’s my bet. I bet Sunday morning Great Bay, the Merrimack and Suncook Rivers will NOT be ice covered. This winter IS the turning point. Mark my words.

My observations have been documented for twenty years on my web site: wwwnhfishandwildlife.com.

Eric Orff

wildlife biologist 

Epsom, NH

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