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Hot, cold or wet – our weather is often record setting

Another day, another record. Or so it seems these days.

Rewriting the weather record book has become somewhat routine in the Buffalo Niagara region.

Four daily records were set in February. Four others came during December and January.

Since 2000, 167 daily records have been set, and the month of March led the way with 21 of them.

Daily records for temperature. For rain. For snowfall.

February 2015 set records for cold. This past February set records for warmth.

While the 16-plus years since the turn of the century account for roughly 11 percent of all of the years of weather-keeping records, 19 percent of the current daily high temperature records have been set since 2000.

A survey of the area’s weather records – since the National Weather Service began keeping them 145 years ago – shows 69 of them since 2000 are for high temperatures. The month of March accounts for most of these high temperature records – nine – but six came in 2012 alone.

“That’s just the way it is. March can be very variable,” said Jim Mitchell, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service. “We had 80s a few years ago – in 2012 – but last year was the total opposite. It just depends on what pattern you’re in.”

In contrast, there have been only 18 record low temperatures set since Jan. 1, 2000.

Could it be a warmer climate? Sure. But here’s the disclaimer: The weather service changed the location from where it kept official temperature records for the area in May 1938, moving it from Buffalo Harbor to Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

“Definitely, that could make the difference, especially in the spring,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell pointed to the temperature peaks just over the last week as an example. Last Wednesday, around the same time the temperature hit a record-tying 69 degrees at the Buffalo airport, it was just 51 degrees at the harbor location downtown. Even farther away from Lake Erie, in Rochester, it hit a record-breaking 75 degrees within the hour.

“The lakes really make a difference,” Mitchell said. “Temperatures are warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer.”

That helps explain why only 73 daily high temperature records set before 1938 at Buffalo Harbor remain in place. But Mitchell said he didn’t have an immediate explanation for why 126 daily low records set at the harbor still remain on the books.

Although 10 of the 18 record lows set in the 2000s have occurred during January, February and March, 19 still remain in place from the old harbor location during each of the months of February and April. Residual lake ice and corresponding water temperatures could account for that.

As for rain and snowfall?

Fifty-three daily precipitation records have fallen in Buffalo since Jan. 1, 2000, and 27 dates since that time when snowfall set a record mark.

The most recent record came Feb. 16 when a storm brought 8.9 inches of snow to Buffalo.

Since the start of 2015, weather service record-keepers have been busy updating the record books.

Besides myriad daily records, several others have an even wider scope.

For example:

• The month of December 2015, at an average of 42.1 degrees, obliterated a 93-year-old all-time record for warmth. The month featured the latest 70-degree day ever and first in December since 1982, along with three daily high records that included a 66-degree Christmas Eve.

• Only one inch of snow fell in Buffalo last December, breaking a record of 1.1 inches dating back to the 19th century, in 1891 and 1889.

• Another 19th-century record was bested in December for latest measurable snowfall in Buffalo. The new record, Dec. 18, beat the former one set Dec. 3, 1899, by more than two full weeks.

• February 2015 took its place as the coldest calendar month recorded in Buffalo at 10.9 degrees, shattering the February 1934 record when temperatures were computed at the Buffalo Harbor.

• Fueled by a strong El Niño, September, November and December in 2015 each finished in Buffalo’s “top 10” records for warmth.

“This year, being such a strong El Niño year, it’s not a surprise,” Mitchell said. “El Niño is the major driver, for sure.”