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Groundhogs and computers agree: February will be warm

Whether you put your stock in the groundhog or a supercomputer for weather forecasting, one thing seems clear.

Spring is near.

Punxsutawney Phil – and most of the other popular North American groundhogs – save for Dunkirk Dave and Ontario’s Wiarton Willie – emerged from their stumps at dawn Tuesday and didn’t see their shadows. Ancient German tradition suggests that’s a sign of early spring.

Their prognostications align with what federal forecasting models started projecting months ago in what’s largely been an El Niño-fueled streak of milder than usual weather during autumn and winter.

The federal Climate Prediction Center’s 3½-month outlook reports chances are the northern tier of the continental United States, including the Great Lakes and Northeast, will see warmer than average months through the first half of the year.

March looks to be as much as eight degrees warmer than normal for those areas, according to forecast models.

All of that continues a trend of months-long above-average temperatures across the Buffalo Niagara region dating back to last summer.

Since August, every month in Buffalo has run warmer than normal.

The biggest deviation?

December 2015. It was a month that included a 71-degree day, a 66-degree Christmas Eve and obliterated a 78-year mark by rewriting the record book as Buffalo’s warmest December.

The warm streak also includes September 2015, which went down as the fifth-warmest September on record in Buffalo, and November 2015, which is now listed as the city’s seventh-warmest November on record.

Only two full days of February are in the books with one record for warmth already set and another almost certain to fall Wednesday.

“It’s going to be very warm,” said Aaron Reynolds, meteorologist at the National Weather Service. “There’s a potential to climb up into the upper 50s, almost to near 60 degrees.”

Fifty degrees is the mark to beat. It was set Feb. 3, 1952.

Forecasters in Buffalo noted the temperature will be “relatively easy to beat.” Wednesday’s daily high is projected in the mid-to-upper 50s.

The thermometer hit 58 degrees shortly after midnight on Monday, breaking the former daily record set Feb. 1, 1989, by two degrees.

The warm start to February is in stark contrast to last February, which was the coldest month ever recorded in Buffalo.

It never got above freezing all of last February, and single-digit temperatures were logged on four of the month’s first six days.

It’s been the opposite this year.

The mercury dipped just below the freezing point for a couple hours around dawn Tuesday and will remain well above freezing through Thursday morning, thanks to a “warm frontal boundary” that will be pulled across the region by the Midwestern blizzard that’s missing Buffalo to the west.

That will set up a southerly flow of air into the region, and with it some strong winds along the Lake Erie shoreline.

“When we get under a fairly strong southerly flow, you get what’s called ‘downsloping winds’ that can accelerate off the Chautauqua Ridge,” Reynolds said.

Wind gusts over 50 mph were expected Wednesday across southern Erie and Chautauqua counties, prompting a wind advisory though the morning hours.

Breezy conditions with rainshowers were expected across the whole of the region most of the day before an approaching cold front goes through.

Cold air will rush in behind that front late in the day, returning the region to more seasonable conditions and setting the stage for possible lake-effect snows later in the week.

Chances for snowshowers in the Buffalo area are forecast Thursday through Monday. Daytime highs will be in the 30s with overnight lows in the 20s.

But, according to those computer models and the groundhogs, winter shouldn’t persist too much longer.

News Staff Reporter Aaron Besecker contributed to this report. email: tpignataro@buffnews.com