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WNY ENDS YEAR ON WET, WARM NOTE; SNOWFALL TOTALS LESS THAN NORMAL

Look out! Western New York may be losing its reputation as the snow capital of the western world, where dog sleds roam across frozen tundras in howling snowstorms for six months of the year.

The facts -- at least for 1990 -- just don't back that up.

While "Miami of the North" may be a bit of an exaggeration, the National Weather Service's preliminary 1990 figures for Western New York parallel those for New York City or Boston, two cities seldom lampooned for their cold and snow.

In fact, 1990 was substantially warmer, wetter and more snow-free here than normal.

"When you put them together, it's downright tropical," said Steve McLaughlin, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

Here are the facts, as of Monday afternoon, barring a late-day typhoon or blizzard:

1990 was the fourth-warmest year on record here and the warmest since 1953, with an average temperature of 50.3 degrees, compared with a normal -- 30-year average -- of 47.6.

"Three degrees may not seem like much, but when you're talking about a whole year, it's substantial," McLaughlin said.

Boston, for example, normally is about three degrees warmer than Buffalo, and New York City is five or six degrees warmer.

Only 67.2 inches of snow fell here last year, compared with a normal of 96.6 inches.

While December 1990 already has been documented as the wettest December ever in these parts, the year became the fourth wettest in history and the second wettest in the last 100 years. The year's total was 50.89 inches of precipitation, compared with a normal of 37.52 inches.

Except for 1989, which was more typical in terms of cold and snow, the last few years and the 1980s as a whole were warmer and wetter than normal, McLaughlin said. The 1960s and 1970s, on the other hand, were relatively cold and dry.

Is it time to trade in parkas and winter boots for raincoats and umbrellas?

Not quite.

"It's cyclical," McLaughlin said. "The '50s were also a string of wet and warm years. To make a trend out of five years, when you're talking about hundreds of years, is foolhardy."

Snow-watchers may think that recent Novembers and Decembers have been relatively snow-free, and they would be right. The normal November snowfall total, for example, is about 12 inches. But in three of the last four years, not even an inch has fallen in November, McLaughlin said.

"It's just a trend we're in," he said.

While Buffalonians bask in the relative snow-free warmth of the past year, football writers and columnists coming here for Bills playoff games later this month probably would be disappointed to learn about the current trend.

McLaughlin has another fact for them that might disrupt their cliches about Buffalo's weather.

"The average afternoon temperature in January is 30 degrees," McLaughlin said. "Six to eight cities in the (National Football League) have pretty much the same climate we have in January."

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