THE STORY BEHIND THE PHOTOS
I woke up one morning in late February and something inside said I needed to go to Niagara Falls. The Falls had been in the news recently: a group from National Geographic climbed the face of the American Falls which had frozen solid due to the extended cold weather in the Northeast. Maybe that planted the seed. In any event, three hours later I was on my way to Niagara Falls.
To say it was cold when these photos were taken is an understatement. It was freezing. The night shots were done when the air temp was around 0 and the windchill was minus 20. The two layers of gloves I was wearing were no match for the weather and soon I lost feeling the last three fingers of both hands. My cheeks and feet were also victims of the cold. Thankfully there was a Welcome Station close by that allowed myself and a handful of other brave souls the opportunity to come in from the elements. Still, it would be five days before the feeling returned to my fingers fully. I realize there are people (including photographers) who brave much harsher conditions and my hats off to them. But this was a stretch for me. Within two hours I had enough and was heading back to the motel.
The next day saw a beautiful sunrise and clear blue skies, but no let up in the cold. I packed my gear to return to the Falls and the car thermometer read 5 degrees. Oh well. Minutes later I arrived on the American side of the Falls.
The white you see in the daytime shots is not snow. Rather, the Falls generate a tremendous amount of mist which in turn creates its own microclimate. Due to the extreme temps, the mist froze instantly into ice pellets which rained down on us like - like, I don't know what. (I shot some video and you can actually hear the ice pellets relentlessly pinging off everything.) The ice pellets also cling to cold surfaces and soon the trees, lampposts, handrails and everything else you can imagine are caked in white. Extraordinarily beautiful but also quite slippery and at times downright treacherous.
Technically, the waters of the Niagara River don't actually freeze - there's just too much water moving too fast for that. Rather the frozen mist and spray builds up around the Falls until they are nearly encased in a cocoon of ice.
The waters of the Niagara River ran a deep cyan green the day I was there. I don't know if it was the reflection of the sky or just the upwelling frigid waters from the depths of Lake Erie, but it was truly a sight to behold. The mist also created an ever-present rainbow arching over the chasm that separates the American and Canadian sides of the Falls.
Due to work obligations (and perhaps common sense), I was there for less than 24 hours, and soon I was back in the car making the return seven hour drive to New Jersey. All in all, a short but amazing trip to witness first-hand, the power and beauty of Niagara Falls.
© 2010-2021 Peter Alessandria