BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) —The 2015/2016 winter season was expected to be mild with below average snow, and indeed that’s what Western New York saw. The lower than normal numbers really had to do with a slow start.
In Buffalo from October to December we only managed to get 1″ of snow and this put us in a near 35″ deficit. Even though we had slightly above average snowfall in January and February it was just too much to overcome. We ended up at the end of the season with 55.1″ of snow.
Although that may sound impressive, that’s almost 40” below normal, making it the 20th least snowiest season in buffalo
The typically snowier spots did see higher amounts. Southern Erie County and the Southern Tier totaled near 120″. North of Buffalo saw even less, only a couple of feet along the Niagara Frontier. One of the biggest problems for keeping snow around was the lack of sustained cold. The above average temperatures caused much of the snow we did get to melt rather quickly.
With any winter season in Western New York we always have one wild card. That wild card is lake effect snow.
Many of you wrote in to the station talking about the well above average lake temperatures. Both Lake Erie and Lake Ontario broke records this summer with above average warmth. But does lake warmth actually mean more snow for us for the upcoming winter season? The answer might surprise you.
It’s false. Just because we have warm lake waters doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll have a long lake season or that we’ll have a very intense lake season. What it does mean is that one event that comes in November or December could lower those lakes a great deal. Also a possibility, we could have a cold snap that could lower the lake temperatures before we even get a lot of lake snow.
In order to investigate any potential correlation between warm lake water temperatures early during the month of November, as is the case this year, and greater than average snowfall in early cold weather season, we looked at several years where that happened.
Some years we racked up 0-3″ of snowfall, not too bad. Then we get 1950/1958 we get into the 10-20” range and then of course there is November of 2000. This year we had the blizzard of 2000 in which we racked up 46″ of snowfall by the finish of that month. Keep in mind normal November snowfall is 7.9”. Surprisingly the water temperatures had dropped already significantly by that point and the lake was near normal by the end of November.
When we want to talk about a season as far as a winter pattern is concerned, we have to look at a larger pattern. Last year there was a very strong El Niño and it lead to warmer and drier than average conditions in Western New York. It also shunted the polar jet stream to the north. For this year as we back out of El Niño the season will be more neutral. It leaves us with a condition that is not out of the ordinary for Buffalo in the winter.
The polar jet stream dives to the south bringing cold air but also impulses for larger snow storms. So, if you have a system with cold enough air to produce snow instead of rain or cold enough air over the lakes to produce some lake effect we could see significant snow. This is an average set up, but sometimes saying the season is average isn’t enough.
We just went through a very simple year last year and the year before that we had a top 7 winter. So the average November through March temperatures are sub-freezing. Some days are we’ll be above average and some days are we’ll fall below. Average season snowfall is the bigger piece of this. Last year we had 50″ at the airport but there were a few areas with a little more. Be prepared to see numbers close to this.
Lake effect will remain a wild card, but through the early season we’ll track those chances. Bottom line for this year is, prep the snow removal equipment, get those snow tires ready and follow the 4Warn Weather Team to get you ready for anything winter may bring.