After an unusually dry year that led to extremely low snowfall last winter and drought conditions in spring and summer, it may be back to normal conditions this year, with colder temperatures, more snow and a summer – at least right now – that’s hard to predict.
That’s the word from the National Weather Service in Buffalo, where projections call for the rest of the winter “to be fairly close to average as far as temperature and snowfall,” meteorologist Jon Hitchcock said Tuesday.
That’s in stark contrast to the warm conditions of last winter, when Lake Erie never even froze. “We started off the same way as last winter through the first half of December, but then the pattern changed, and we got a fair amount of snow,” Hitchcock said.
That snow came from large storm systems that affected much of the country, not the usual narrow bands of lake-effect snow that traditionally terrorize Western New York – especially the Southtowns and Southern Tier – this time of year. In fact, Hitchcock noted, “There really hasn’t been very much lake effect at all this year.”
That could change, given cold air and “a better lake-effect setup,” including the right wind direction and more moisture in the air itself, he said. The lake typically freezes by mid-January, putting a stop to the lake-effect snow, but it’s “still nowhere near freezing over” at this point, Hitchcock said.
“Even if we have normal cold,” he said, “it’ll be February before it freezes over.”
Still, “the lake can’t do it all itself,” he said. On New Year’s Day, for example, he said, “It’s plenty cold enough, but the wind direction is wrong and the air is dry, so we’re only getting light flakes.”
As for seasonal snowfall this winter, even if conditions are right for more snow, Hitchcock said, “we’re so far behind because of that warm start that snowfall for the entire season is going to be below average.”
In a typical winter, Buffalo gets 94.7 inches of snow for the season, but last year the total was only 36.7 inches – or 61 percent below normal.
So far this year, the region has received 22.3 inches, but that’s below the normal of 37.1 inches by this time because November and the first half of December had little or no snow.
Last year was also the warmest year on record for the Buffalo area. The average temperature of 52.1 degrees for the entire year, factoring in the highs and lows throughout, “pretty much shattered the previous record” of 50.9 degrees, set in 1998. The record low was 43 degrees in 1875, but the normal average is 48.2 degrees.
The difference “doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you look at the entire year as a whole, that is way above normal,” Hitchcock said.
It also was a dry year in Western New York in 2012, with 32.8 inches of liquid precipitation all year, about 7.68 inches below the average.
As for the rest of this new year, Hitchcock said it’s hard to predict because there’s no overall El Nino or La Nina trend affecting the jet stream over the Pacific Ocean this year that would influence weather in Western New York one way or another. And even if there were, summer weather is “very unpredictable anyway,” he added.