Copenhagen, Denmark, has nothing on Copenhagen, N.Y., where a flier in the post office trumpets upcoming snowmobile drag races and the sound of an occasional "splat!" signals the plummet of an icy chunk from a weary roof onto Main Street.
Unlike its European counterpart, which has seen a relatively snow-free winter, the hamlet in central New York has earned the dubious honor of being the snowiest spot in the United States this winter, with upward of 20 feet of snow since Nov. 15.
That makes tiny Copenhagen, population about 800, snowier than Boston, whose suburbs have measured at least 88 inches since mid-November; snowier than Steamboat Springs, Colo., which lays claim to 135.8 inches; and far snowier than California's snowiest spot, Soda Springs, high in the Sierra near the infamous Donner Pass. It has seen 115.5 inches, according to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, which collects snow reports from thousands of volunteers in every state.
Granted, the group's posted totals are not perfect, because not every volunteer submits a report after each storm. Copenhagen's extraordinary amount of snow, however, is not in dispute, and it may be substantially more than what the network, which goes by the tropical-sounding acronym CoCoRaHS, lists on its website. It gives Copenhagen 238.9 inches, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grants it 256.2 inches.
Either way, it is an immense amount of snow, which might have gone unnoticed except for a story that appeared Saturday on Syracuse.com, which put together its own list of the country's most snowed-under communities based on NOAA statistics. Copenhagen was firmly on top, giving the town the weather heroism that locals say is long overdue.
"We've had snow as late as Mother's Day," Molly Williams said proudly as she put highlights into the hair of a customer at the Dragonfly Salon. "We love that we made the news. There have been years Buffalo got so much attention and nobody paid any notice of us, but we're just sitting here right in the bull's-eye."
The bull's-eye is Copenhagen's location, on a plateau between Lake Ontario and the Adirondack Mountains, which makes it susceptible to the heavy, wet snow that barrels in off the lake. The Tug Hill region, as the area is known, boasts some of the state's highest snowfalls. According to the Watertown Daily Times, the town of Montague, about 15 miles south of Copenhagen, received nearly 39 feet of snow in the winter of 1976-77.
Even if they're used to a lot of snow, Copenhagen residents say this year has been different. The snow began earlier, and it did not let up. Day after day, the temperature stayed below freezing, and fat, wet lake-driven snowflakes fell on the town and its environs, a tangle of two-lane roads whose homes and businesses appeared to sink daily beneath ever-rising layers of white. The temperature rarely rose enough for anything to melt.
Locals got used to shoveling paths to their doors, leaving walls of snow on each side of the makeshift walkways. On Tuesday, a man taking advantage of the first sunny and relatively warm day in a long time stood on top of a house, digging a shovel into the snow and dumping it onto a pile rising from the sidewalk.
"Last year we got one storm, and then it had time to melt before another came," said Kimberly Strife, the postmaster in Copenhagen's white, wooden post office on Main Street. "This year, we just had more and more, and it seems like we've had storms back to back."
Strife mentioned the barn roof that caved in on a nearby highway beneath the weight of the snow, and the pipes that have burst from the pressure of expanding, frozen water. She looked outside at two banks of snow rising above window-level, the result of plowing that clears the roads but leaves curbsides lined with icy walls. Drivers exiting parking lots creep forward, straining to see around the snow piled up at the roadsides and blocking views of oncoming traffic.
"You can't see anything over the snow banks," said Dave Devine, a Federal Express delivery driver who gives himself an extra hour or two to make his rounds when the snow is this high. He calls this winter an "old-fashioned winter," comparable to the worst ones of the 1970s and far harsher than those in the last few years. "Usually you have a real snowy winter, or a real cold winter," he said. "This year, we got both."
According to AccuWeather.com, Copenhagen's first snow this season came Nov. 13. From Jan. 30 until March 3, the temperature never got above freezing, and its lows often were well below zero, AccuWeather records show. Tuesday's high was an abnormally warm 45. "Oh my god, it's a heat wave," Strife said, only half-jokingly.
Outside, drops fell like rain from roofs where snow had begun to melt. Parking lots in this rural area turned muddy. Williams estimated that about 6 inches of snow had melted away since the weekend.
The effects of winter were far from gone, though. Front porches of homes remained buried beneath thick swirls of sugar-white snow. In forested areas sheltered from the sun's melting rays, boulder-size chunks of snow sat like huge marshmallows on tree limbs. Roofs that had not been raked looked as if they had been topped with layers of icing. Unlike in New York City, 300 miles to the south, where the snow quickly turns sooty and dark, Copenhagen's snow looked like smooth frosting. Ideal for snowmobiling and snowshoeing, Strife said when asked what people do to pass the time during a winter like this.
She worried about the melting, which could cause flooding if it happened too quickly. That did not appear likely. The forecast called for more snow next week.