This summer was one of those Buffalo summers we boast about.
The sun shone. Days got hot, but not too hot. We had the lake-effect air conditioner.
But be honest. Even on those balmy summer nights, did you ever startle yourself awake with a bad dream about last winter?
Snowfall reaching 7 feet. Drift-packed roads and driveways.
Snowpack that lasted into – well, until March 23.
It all seems pretty vivid, even now.
That’s why, as Labor Day fades away, we look back on what happened last winter and then gaze ahead wondering what lies in front of us.
Last February, the region notched its coldest month in history – a frigid average of just 10.9 degrees, according to data from the National Weather Service.
On one day – Feb. 20 – the daytime high temperature was only 1 degree above zero.
The coming winter, though, could be milder, according to some experts.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center is calling for above-normal temperatures for November, December and January.
And at the National Weather Service, meteorologist Steve Welch said the potential is there for an El Niño that could play a role in our weather this winter.
The last two winters in Buffalo did not have an El Niño effect, but in 2011-12, the winter was warmer, he said.
This year, we can even look back – with crossed fingers, perhaps – to significant previous El Niños, including the winter of 1997-98, when a striking El Niño took place.
Welch said the 1997-98 season was the strongest El Niño since the 1980s.
Temperatures ran well above normal that winter between December and April, including about 6 and 8 degrees warmer than average in January and February 1998, according to weather service data.
There was also only 75.6 inches of snowfall that winter – about 20 inches less than an average winter, data showed.
“That’s the year that El Niño’s compared to all the time, because that was a really strong El Niño,” Welch said of the 1997-98 season.
Overall, this winter is shaping up as “better than last year, as far as lake temperatures and having less snow,” he said.
At the Weather Channel, experts on storms were also pointing to El Niño potential.
“The El Niño is on pace to be one of the strongest we’ve ever had,” said Carl Parker, a meteorologist and expert on hurricanes at the Atlanta-based network.
Parker also noted the effects of something else: the Triple R.
That is a phenomenon that could compete with El Niño.
The Triple R effect – or the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge,” a term coined by a California weather blogger – refers to the persistent area of high pressure in the northeasternmost area of the Pacific Ocean, stretching from about Washington State to Alaska. That’s the weather system being blamed for all the heat and drought on the West Coast.
When strong ridges form out west, it typically results in a trough of cold air being pulled from the polar region into the eastern half of North America. That’s what has happened in the last couple of years.
So the science might offer a glimmer of hope.
But there is no doubt that last winter left a deep impression on the Western New York psyche – one that has some still reeling, as they continue to do repairs related to last year’s storms and to prepare for this winter.
Gregory Alexandrowicz, of West Seneca, fixed his snowblower, which broke last winter during the same season that snow damaged an awning on the patio of his house.
“The law of the land is, you owe us a good winter,” said his wife, Arlene, perhaps summing up a collective mood and emotion.
But why do people feel that way, exactly?
Such a wild and unpredictable winter – which put us on the national news when 7 feet of snow fell in some parts of the region – can be difficult for people to cope with, because they feel the situation is out of their control, said Michael J. Poulin, associate professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo.
“Lack of control is what makes things stressful,” Poulin said. “But also, lack of predictability.”
In other words, if you know exactly what kind of winter you have ahead, you can prepare for that. But uncertainty means you are stressed because you don’t know what will happen or how you can respond.
One situation that Buffalonians do well with, Poulin said, is getting ready for a snowstorm they are anticipating.
“They have a script, or a plan in their head, for how to cope with that event,” he said of the usual unflappability of Western New Yorkers in dealing with snowstorms.
Still, one real estate professional said that some people did mention last winter’s storms when selling property in the region this year.
“We had a couple people throughout the year that said they had been thinking about it for years, but this winter, and the winter before, pushed them over the edge,” said Dan Kieffer, an owner of Coldwell Banker, a real estate company.
“This was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Kieffer said the effect was not overly drastic, however.
“There’s not a mass exodus,” he said.
Then there are those that got ready for this winter not by repairing homes or property battered by last year’s storms – but by enjoying the summer we just had to the fullest.
“We actually bought an in-ground pool,” Nicole Cooke, a stay-at-home mom of three children who lives in West Seneca, said of the aftermath of last winter. “The winters are so rough that we really need to enjoy the summers.”
A lot of people are thinking ahead.
At Ed’s Small Engine Repair in West Seneca, owner Ed Agnello said that there were already four snowblowers in his shop on his official first day of snowblower repair, Sept. 1. That’s ahead of pace for the season, he said.
“They’d rather be safe than sorry,” Agnello said of his customers.
“As of today, four of them came in, and I have one more to pick up tomorrow,” he said. “You’ll hear ‘snow,’ and I’ll get 30 in a day.”
Yet Agnello is hoping that this winter is mild.
Last November, during the storm, he said the snow piled around his Seneca Street business was chest-high.
“Nobody could move,” Agnello said. “For me, I had snowblowers here, so I made a path out the first day. Could I go anywhere? No.”
To clear his driveway, he said, “probably took a week.”
“The snowbanks were probably as high as me, or higher, just from me shoveling and trying to blow it,” Agnello said.
That’s the thing about last winter: Everybody has a story, and they are usually ready to tell you.
That can be a good thing, said Poulin, the UB professor.
“People really do like to vent. They like to share their stories with other people,” he said.
Such collective complaining can be a positive.
“It serves the purpose of building up social ties,” Poulin said.
“Last winter was pretty rough,” said Welch, at the National Weather Service. “It’s going to be hard to beat that, I think.”
As for Cooke, the West Seneca mother of three, while she is bracing for cold weather and snow, at least she will have pool memories of summer to look back on.
“It was,” she said, “worth every penny.”
News Staff Reporter T.J. Pignataro contributed to this report. email: email@example.com