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If winter seems extra frigid so far, there's reason: It's Buffalo's coldest since '96

For meteorologists, the winter season starts Dec. 1 and ends at the end of February.

That means Monday begans the second half of the winter season.

After relatively mild back-to-back winters in Buffalo, this one already seems to be eliciting some groans from the masses. But how cold, and how snowy, has it really been compared with the last, say, 20 or 30 years?

Here's a look:

The cold

Only two winters in Buffalo over the last 30 have been colder to this point in the year. They were 1989-90 and 1995-96. (xmACIS2)

If it's seemed more bitter than usual this year, you're not imagining it. With an average temperature of 23.2 degrees, this is the coldest start to winter since 1996, according to National Weather Service data.

It's also the 10th coldest since World War II. December finished nearly 5 degrees colder than average.

The first half of January, last week's brief thaw notwithstanding, is nearly 7 degrees colder than average. There already have been four subzero daily lows this month. Buffalo's yearly average is three.

The snow

Although superlatives reign for the cold this winter, it's not the same story for snowfall. The 49 inches of snowfall logged so far this winter through Sunday is right about average. The normal for winter's first half is 48.5 inches.

Not surprisingly, it is the snowiest winter to date in three years.

Last year, Buffalo logged 33.9 inches for the first half of winter. There was just 18.6 inches of snow recorded two years ago, weather service data shows.

There's a big asterisk, of course, for the winter of 2014-15. Technically, the double lake-effect snowstorms of November 2014 fell during the meteorological fall. And most of the snowfall from that storm didn't fall at Buffalo's official recording station at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

That year, there was 51.3 inches of snow through Jan. 14. An early January blizzard the winter before helped boost the first half of winter 2013-14 to 63.6 inches.

Lake Erie ice  

The frigid weather made some unusual ice and snow formations on Lake Erie along the shoreline, like this "ice volcano" near Crystal Beach, Ont. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Ice rapidly accumulated on Lake Erie into the New Year. Sustained cold from about Christmas into the first week of January built an ice sheet that, at one point, nearly coated 90 percent of Lake Erie, according to data from the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

Last week's thaw melted some of that, but a couple more frigid weekend days returned the lake to nearly three-quarters iced over by late Sunday.

It's varied wildly over the past five years.

Here's a look at the ice cover on Lake Erie by Jan. 15 for the last five winters:

  • 2016-17: 5.5 percent
  • 2015-16: 8.4 percent
  • 2014-15: 87.47 percent
  • 2013-14: 65.68 percent
  • 2012-13: 1.85 percent

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