The second winter of the new century was a very interesting one. It was the mildest overall over western and central New York in 70 years...but also featured three very extreme unusual events...the incredible lake effect storm over the holiday week, the massive synoptic ice and windstorm at the turn of January-February, and the vicious windstorm on 9-10 March. (See monthly summaries below for more details on these events).
Aside from that holiday period though, snowfall was remarkably absent across the region for most of the winter. The winter was amazingly slow to start, with virtually no snow in November and most of December. The lake effect storm during holiday week focused on the Buffalo and Watertown areas as flow was mostly southwest...but January turned mild and melted about all of the snowpack by later in the month. February was also mild and relatively snow free. March turned colder, especially during the second half, and the lake effect machine was unusually active. Much of Oswego county actually had their heaviest winter snow sin late March.
Overall...season snowfall showed the typical maximum over the higher elevations from southern Erie and Wyoming counties southwest across the ridges on northwest Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties with well over 100" Maximum was about 160-180" at the typical spots such as Perrysburg and Sherman. These totals are close to normal. Amounts dropped off northward to 80-90" over Buffalo’s south Towns, but then showed a dramatic increase north across the Buffalo area...all because of that December storm. The bullseye was right at the official station at the Buffalo airport with 130", but this was not representative of most of the Buffalo area. Most of the city of Buffalo received 80-90" with more over the southeast corner. Northern suburbs averaged 70-90". Half of all of this fell in five days in December. Amounts dropped off drastically to the north...with less than 50" falling north of Niagara Falls and only around 30" near the Lake Ontario shore of Niagara and Orleans counties. These are among the lowest amounts we’ve ever seen there. In fact, Toronto had their least snow in nearly 50 years with only 23".
Further east, the Genesee Valley, Finger Lakes, and especially Rochester area had their lowest snow totals in nearly 50 years. Generally 35-45" fell across metro Rochester, less than half the usual. Areas in eastern Wayne county probably had the least snow in history with 40-inch season totals vs norms of 120"! Amounts did pick up across Oswego county, but were well below normal there too. Syracuse had their least snow in 67 winters. The Tug Hill did receive copious lake snows during the holiday storm and again in March, bringing season totals up to near 300" at N. Osceola and Highmarket...near normal. Amounts dropped off as usual northward...but most of Jefferson County...like the Buffalo area...was nailed by the holiday storm so snowfall totals were near to slightly above normal...but half fell in the one week. The near total absence of synoptic snows accounted for the lack of snow. Nearly all of it fell as lake effect on west to southwest flows. Even in areas that caught relatively high totals (Buffalo, Watertown), the mild weather melted it quickly and most areas were bare much of the winter. .
Brief monthly recaps follow...
November was a remarkably mild and dry month across all of western and central New York. There was no snow in Buffalo for the first time ever...and only a few spots across the southern tier received an inch or so around the 20th. There was a lake-effect storm in late October (25-26) which did drop a mix of rain, hail, sleet and wet snow to higher elevations just south of Buffalo and several inches of slushy snow to the Tug Hill east of Lake Ontario. Otherwise...no wintry weather at all as we enjoyed plenty of sunshine and well above normal temperatures through the Thanksgiving Day holiday.
December continued the trend from October and November with plenty of mild dry weather right on through the 23rd. A minor lake effect "event" did drop local 6-10" amounts over the southern tier and east of Lake Ontario on 20-21st, but this quickly melted away the next couple of days. But...in the most drastic turnaround ever...portions of area were besieged with the most persistent southwest flow lake effect event ever seen in these parts beginning in Christmas Eve...just in time for the white Christmas!
A major block developed over Greenland and the North Atlantic, forcing a ridge west to Labrador and Hudson Bay, and allowing a deep cutoff low to form over Lake Superior which remained in place for five days before weakening and being replaced by the more normal upper low over Hudson Bay. This allowed a southwest flow of colder air to develop on the 24th which continued until the flow finally turned west on 29th. The air wasn't super cold...but just cold enough as the lakes were near record warmth. The lake snows focused unusually far north for much of the event...starting over Niagara County and the peninsula on Christmas eve, sagging south across metro Buffalo overnight and lifting back north again Christmas Day and into early Wednesday. One to two feet fell across the Buffalo metro...mostly city and north during this first part. Similar snows developed north of Watertown on Xmas day too. The flow veered again by later Wednesday and very intense bands swept south then north then south then north then south again through Friday afternoon. Incredible amounts fell! Snowfall totals exceeded 60 inches over east and south Buffalo to Cheektowaga and West Seneca, with depths approaching four feet! The bands finally drifted south to ski country on 29-31st, with 1 to 3 feet falling. East of Lake Ontario, the Tug Hill was nailed for days with over 80 inches in spots. But the cutoff was sharp...near record low snows fell from the Rochester area east across most of Oswego County. And...the month as a whole was still one of Buffalo’s warmest ever...as all of the winter was compressed in one week!
The month began with the cleanup from the huge holiday week storm in the areas east of both lakes...but soon reverted to the unusually mild and dry pattern so prevalent in November and most of December. Light snows fell on 6-7th and a weak lake effect storm on 17-18th southeast of the lakes dropped up to 8"...but it turned very mild for the last week of the month. Most areas had near record warmth and lack of snow for the month overall. Buffalo’s huge snowpack which had reached a record 44 inches on Dec 28th settled and melted consistently and was completely gone by the 27th! And all this without flooding. The event of the month was a synoptic one...a major storm on the 31st and Feb 1st which dropped 3-6" snow, then sleet, then freezing rain, then rain, then high winds. There was much tree damage from the ice and wind...especially north of Buffalo and west of Rochester. Even some minor river and creek flooding occurred. Overall...it was the mildest November thru January period in 70 years.
The month began with the tail end of the major synoptic ice and windstorm, and then was closely followed by a combined synoptic and lake effect system that dropped the heaviest snow of the season for much of the Rochester area and Genesee Valley and Finger Lakes region with 4 to 8 inches. The month then reverted to the all too familiar mild and dry pattern so prevalent this winter. Almost no snow fell the next three weeks until some rare lake effect snow dropped several inches across the Buffalo area during a cold shot the last few days of the month. Overall the month was 5 to 7 degrees warmer than normal...capping the warmest Nov-Feb period in 70 years. Lake Erie remained wide open all month...and stayed ice free all winter for only the fourth time since 1927. (1953, 1983, and 1998 were the other years). The month ended with near record low season snowfall for much of the area from Genesee county east across the Genesee Valley and Rochester area to Oswego County...as well as the Toronto area. Even Buffalo and Watertown, smothered in record late December lake snows...have received very little (30" or less) otherwise this winter.
March was the most active winter month across western and central New York this season, as winter and spring battled it out with some fierce winds and a variety of storms. The biggest event by far was the vicious windstorm which raked the area late on the 9th and through most of the 10th. Winds topped 60 mph everywhere and there was much tree damage. This followed the passage of a very sharp cold front which saw temperatures tumble from near record 70-degree warmth on the 9th to below freezing on the 10th. Snow was no stranger to us in March either...in fact, it was the snowiest month of the winter across a large part of our region...especially Oswego County.. The most unusual thing about the March snow was the fact that most of it was in the form of lake effect...very rare in western NY as Lake Erie is usually frozen and does not produce lake snows in March...but not so this mild winter. There were three distinct lake snow events (out of a total of only six the entire winter). The first (Dove) dropped up to 20" on the hills from Sherman to Perrysburg, a foot from Erie to Dunkirk, and even 6-10" across the Buffalo South Towns. Oswego county caught up to a foot as well. The next event followed the windstorm on 10-11th with 8-12" over Oswego County and 4-8" from Colden to Sherman. Finally, a late season lake snow dropped up to 2 feet on the Tug Hill and a foot from Fulton to Oswego (heaviest snow of winter at Oswego!)...with 7-14" across the southern tier from Perrysburg to Franklinville. The Buffalo and Rochester metro areas missed any major snows and had near normal 10-15" snowfall for the month.