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What a difference a year makes!

Sidewalks were crusty with snow. A film of road salt resided on your daily parka. The Lake Erie ice could support an ATV.

That was last March, when a winter season that unleashed record cold refused to let go.

You know the deal this year. From Cleveland to Buffalo, no ice. The snowblower’s tank is full. Hopes are high.

“We have told all our customers that we are willing to open up earlier because of how nice it is,” said Jeff Bognar, manager of Mid River Marina, which hugs the Niagara River in the Town of Tonawanda.

When spring officially arrived at 12:30 a.m. Sunday, Buffalo closed one of its gentlest winters in years and bounced back nicely from the torture of 2014-15.

The polar vortex was a nonfactor this winter. El Niño was our friend.

“It has been a warm winter, which is pretty common for the most part with a strong El Niño,” said meteorologist Steve Welch of the National Weather Service office in Buffalo. He explained that warm water moving into the eastern Pacific Ocean influences a warmer weather pattern across the continent.

“As a result, you get a little less snow overall,” he said.

As of Sunday, just 48 inches had fallen for the winter at Buffalo Niagara International Airport in Cheektowaga. Nearly 113 inches of snow fell there last winter, a foot and a half more than normal.

Because of El Niño, September, November and December of 2015 each landed on Buffalo’s Top 10 list for warmth. The warming trend continued into the new year. January’s average temperature of 26.9 degrees was 2 degrees above normal. February’s average of 29.7 was 3 degrees warmer than normal and nearly 20 degrees warmer than February 2015, the coldest February on record.

While spring has officially arrived, Monday’s temperatures are to dip into the mid- to upper 30s before recovering into the mid-40s for Tuesday and Wednesday. Normal temperatures are forecast for the rest of March, and they are expected to dip slightly in the first half of April before tilting upward again.

The mild winter and the current weather have offered up a taste of spring. Yet Buffalonians know the cold slap of weather reality. At Mid River Marina, Bognar says no customer has taken him up on his willingness to now put boats in the water, probably because they don’t see themselves basking in shirtsleeve warmth for several weeks or months.

Eager gardeners, meanwhile, should tamp down their enthusiasm, said Patty Jablonski-Dopkin, general manager of the Urban Roots Community Garden Center in Buffalo.

“We are in Buffalo. And it’s just mid-March,” she said, pointing out that the last date to expect a frost is May 10. “So anything can happen until then.”

Jablonski-Dopkin added, “Until we can get consistent, warmer night temperatures, you really don’t want to do anything in the garden right now. Everybody gets itchy when the sun comes out, and it feels warm to us. But you really want to hold back.”

She agreed that “it’s going to be an earlier spring” than last year, “but I remember my first year here, it snowed on Mother’s Day. And it was an early spring.”

email: mspina@buffnews.com