On the infrequent occasions when we think Buffalo is HOT, people in many parts of the country would have to stifle a laugh. We average about three 90-degree days a year, have gone through stretches of more than two years in which we’ve had no 90 degree days, and we have never reached 100 degrees … we hit 99, just once.
The marine layer from Lake Erie usually protects us from extreme heat. (The same marine layer has kept even Tampa and Miami from ever hitting 100, either, although they suffer from high dewpoints beyond our worst nightmares).
May and June have been running somewhat warmer than average this year, and we’ve already had two 90-degree days. This has set a few minds to thinking this will be a hot summer by Western New York standards. In fact, most long-range computer guidance is suggesting warmer-than-average temperatures will prevail much of the time.
However, we’d have a long way to go to approach one of our hotter summers on record: 1988. During that summer, we experienced 16 days over 90, with a record seven-consecutive-days stretch of 90-plus temperatures from July 4 through July 10, including 96 on the sixth and 95 on the eighth. We hit 95 again Aug. 2. By comparison, in that same summer in the Northeast, Philadelphia had 49 90-plus days, New York City had 33, and D.C. had 57.
Fortunately, most of Buffalo’s hottest days occur with a southerly or SE breeze. That’s a downslope breeze, which is a warming and drying wind as air descends and compresses coming down the slopes of the hills to our south.
Humidity on those days tends to be lower. It is hard to get a 90-degree day in Buffalo with a Lake Erie breeze, since Lake Erie’s highest average temperature reaches 73, and its warmest temperature on record is 80. That breeze generally raises dewpoints, but it caps off the actual heat in the metro area.
There is also the matter of acclimatization. A couple of weeks ago I was in southern Louisiana, where temperatures reached 92 to 95 degrees but dewpoints approached and reached 80. That combination would be truly oppressive to Western New Yorkers, but in New Orleans it’s only a frequent, modest annoyance.
I have to wonder if people EVER acclimate in Phoenix, Tuscon, Las Vegas, Del Rio, Brownsville and San Antonio, which average 169, 146, 135, 134, 124 and 116, respectively. Not to mention 100-plus days in Phoenix: 110. Yes, it’s a “dry” heat. But try touching your steering wheel in that dry heat.
As for me, I grew up in an apartment across the river from Manhattan that faced an alley, had no AC, no cross-ventilation, one window fan (cue strings here) and a bathroom window that was painted shut. Let’s just say I sometimes feel like worshiping at the altar of Western New York summers.
Meteorologist Don Paul retired from Channel 4 earlier this year after more than 30 years on Buffalo TV. His articles on weather, climate and related sciences appear at buffalonews.com.