Daffodils in February, the new normal?

A winter like the one we have been experiencing has certainly brought a number of recurring questions into the weather department with one of the most frequent being; “is winter over?”  While a couple of the more reliable long range models are currently hinting at colder temperatures by the first full week of March, they have been trying to tell the story of a prolonged period of cold run after run for weeks now that has struggled to materialize for any meaningful stretch so far this year. Pic below was taken today 2/23.


While seeing these so early may be the product of just one exceptionally mild season, the lack of prolonged winter cold has shown up in greater frequency for WNY over the past 20 years.  One way to look at this change that still exhibits considerable variability year to year is the lake ice data, which would signal periods of prolonged cold for years that achieved more substantial coverage.  Below is the annual maximum ice extent data from GLERL (Great Lakes Environmental Research Labratory.)  It is simply a snapshot of each winter season showing how much of Lake Erie’s total surface was covered with ice on the day with the greatest extent.
 As recently as 2014-2015 we did have one such winter with nearly 100% of the lake covered at one point. The piece that shows up as more of a climate signal is that from 1973-1996 every year had at least 40% ice coverage while at least 4 seasons since then we have struggled to even reach 20% coverage. This year, which is not in this particular graph we have maxed out at 35.5% coverage and most likely have passed our window to achieve higher numbers.  While the ice coverage example really jumped out as a glaring example because it graphs extremes, the averages influenced by milder winters with shorter stretches of prolonged cold is visible for Buffalo below. New York as a whole ranks 10th of the 50 states in seeing the 10th fastest rate of warming winters at a rate of 0.912°F per decade since 1912.
As a snow lover I am still encouraged by the fact that the WNY snowfall numbers do not reflect any such trend and are nearly flat, though this is mainly due to the fact that years of lower ice extent tend to make up for deficits with lake effect potential.  There currently is no good metric by which to separate synoptic (system) snow and pure lake effect in the data going back to 1943 or before.  I still have some hope for ski hills to be able to scratch along until the next window for cold and will wait until at least mid-March before I give in and remove my snow tires.
Another question that has surfaced numerous times this season is whether or not we have dropped back into El Niño conditions since those tend to favor warmer and drier winters in WNY.  The answer here is a definitive no, since current sea surface temperatures in the S. Pacific put us in ENSO neutral territory or the grey area in between El Niño and La Niña. The general consensus here seems to favor a continued neutral pattern through spring with NOAA’s early oddsmakers giving us about a 60% chance of going back into El Niño conditions as we enter fall of this year. This may not be what any of my fellow snow lovers want to hear, but considering the recent lack of skill in the long range forecasts, I’m still holding on to hope that next year may bring a throwback WNY winter our way.

WIVB.com provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Note: Comments containing links are not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s