Anchorage, Alaska, native Laura Tuttle roller-skied Wednesday afternoon around the puddles that days ago were mounds of snow along sidewalks of Grand Island.
Who could blame this former competitive Nordic skier? The mercury these last few weeks has proved more volatile than the stock market and as topsy-turvy as the Buffalo Sabres.
“For me, I just kind of have to roll with it and be creative,” said Tuttle, 24, who is spending her first winter in Western New York as a graduate student at D’Youville College and admitted the weather so far this season hasn’t really lived up to an outsider’s perception of a “Buffalo winter.”
“I’m a little bit surprised because I’ve heard that there can be some pretty large snow storms,” added Tuttle, who has yet to don her snow skis here. “It’s strange to wear a T-shirt in January.”
But there were T-shirts and shorts aplenty in Buffalo Niagara on Wednesday, a day in which the nearly century-old record high temperature of 56 degrees, set in 1916, was shattered by a full 10 degrees before breakfast. The high of 66 degrees was set at 7:38 a.m. Temperatures the rest of the day remained mainly in the upper 50s to low 60s before dropping off after dusk.
Wishful thinkers who reveled in that record warmth Wednesday will be disappointed this morning when they arise to below-freezing temperatures and the prospect of snow by day’s end.
Worse, it’s going to feel downright arctic as gusty winds send the mercury hurtling down to the 20s today and into the teens Friday. That will mark a nearly 50-degree drop from Wednesday morning’s record high.
“This is very unusual for this time of year,” said Jim Mitchell, a meteorologist at the Buffalo offices of the National Weather Service about Wednesday’s warmth. “We did break the record – and we broke it by 10 degrees.”
It didn’t get sunny and no one was about to sit out on the porch with a strawberry daiquiri. But dog walkers shed their coats, joggers wore shorts, kids rode bicycles, and a few beachcombers were seen at Hamburg Town Park – if only for a day.
The brief warm spell provided many with a needed break from last week’s single-digit weather, which had ice-wine grape harvesters jumping for joy but the rest of us quivering in our parkas and snowboots. At one point last Friday in some parts of the area, temperatures hovered around one meager degree.
The warm-up started the next day, when the highs starting rising into the 20s. By Monday, Western New Yorkers were gleefully peeling off layers, as the high for the day was up in the 40s.
The warming trend continued through Wednesday morning, when the record-breaking high of 66 was recorded, and along with it, rare January thunderstorms.
One such thunderstorm, in northern Chautauqua County just after 10 a.m., brought 51-mph winds to the Dunkirk Lighthouse and 47-mph winds to Barcelona Harbor near Westfield. In most areas of the region, between a half-inch and one inch of rain fell over the 24-hour period from Tuesday morning to Wednesday, the weather service reported.
As tends to be the case with spring-like temperatures in the dead of winter when you live in Buffalo, it wasn’t destined to last, Mitchell said.
“We will see a very abrupt change,” he said of today’s weather.
What’s to blame for all the roller-coaster weather?
According to weather service meteorologist Tom Paone, the warm-up was a result of southerly winds bringing heated air from the Gulf Coast. But that was moved out by a “fairly strong cold front” pushing in from the Midwest.
Temperatures began their downward spiral by Wednesday afternoon, dropping about a degree an hour until they tumbled below the freezing mark. The highs today weren’t expected to get above the upper 20s.
And just in case that’s not cold enough for you, strong winds powerful enough to warrant a high-wind warning will blast the area through this afternoon, making it feel like we’re back down into single-digit territory.
The sudden return of the cold is sure to cause problems for drivers as wet roadways get iced over.
“Look for slick spots on the roadways,” Mitchell said. “The roads could be pretty treacherous out there.”
The wind gusts could get up 60 mph during the warning period, which began Wednesday evening until and will remain in effect through 4 p.m. today, potentially bringing down branches and utility lines.
With the cold and wind will come – what else? – lake-enhanced snow.
Heavy accumulations were expected south of the city and into the Southern Tier, where a lake-effect snow advisory will be in effect from 10 a.m. today until 6 p.m. Friday.
Mitchell said the Buffalo area won’t see any dramatic accumulations – no more than a couple of inches starting tonight and possibly into Friday.