Whether March comes in like a lion or a lamb won’t be known until Wednesday.
But February will go out like spring, summer, fall and winter as a panoply of the seasons will be on display over the next four days, forecasts show.
Wild swings in Buffalo weather aren’t uncommon during transition months as warm and cold air masses fight for control of the atmosphere above but those struggles usually don’t come until late March or April.
“It is a little bit early,” said Steve Welch, National Weather Service meteorologist.
Thunderstorms and near-record warmth – even a 70-degree reading or two across the region – are expected Friday, a day after springlike temperatures and moist air continued its flow over cooler lake waters, turning the fog machine on across parts of the Buffalo Niagara region.
Friday’s record high temperature – 67 degrees – is more than 30 degrees above the average high for the date. It has survived for 111 years but will be challenged during the afternoon by a passing warm front and deep southerly air sourced from the Gulf of Mexico.
“Thirty degrees above normal isn’t that common,” Welch said.
The warm airmass is being pulled northward ahead of a strong storm system but will be cut off by a sharp cold front Saturday.
That’s when gusty winds, rapidly plunging temperatures and lake-effect snow will make the day start like May and end like November.
“A line of heavy showers and a few thunderstorms along the cold front will produce gusty winds, with a marginal risk of a few damaging wind gusts,” weather service forecasters said. “Strong winds are also expected behind the cold from Saturday, with gusts of over 50 mph possible for areas northeast of Lake Erie. These winds may produce some additional minor wind damage.”
Forecasts call for near-record readings in the low 60s at breakfast, dipping into the 40s by noon and the 30s by dinnertime, forecasts show.
With the wind, the temperature will feel like it’s in the 20s by dinnertime and teens by midnight, forecasts show.
On Sunday, a return to winter comes for a day as temperatures return closer to normal – in the low 30s.
Partly sunny conditions are expected in Buffalo, but northwest winds may help to rev up the lake-effect snow machine again in the western Southern Tier.
At this time, forecasters expect snow intensity to be limited.
“It might just depend on the conditions,” Welch said.
Thursday’s high temperature of 61 degrees just before 10:30 a.m. fell a single degree short of the daily record set in 1984 at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. It was the sixth straight day when the daily temperature averaged 10 degrees or more above normal.
Forecasters project the roller-coaster ride will continue into mid-March.
Temperatures head back into the 40s on Monday and Tuesday and the mid-50s by Wednesday.
The early part of March appears above-normal but don’t sound the death knell for winter just yet.
After the return to above-normal temperatures next week, forecast models show another pattern with cold air coming down from Canada across the Great Lakes by the end of the first week in March.
And, the Climate Prediction Center’s outlook suggests a return of colder weather about three weeks out.
“They’re forecasting a pretty decent chance of below-normal for that frame,” Welch said.
Climatology data also shows a warm February doesn’t necessarily guarantee a warm March.
Dating back to 1870, there have been 10 years where the average temperature in March was colder than its preceding month. It most recently happened in 1984.
Here's what's coming and when, according to the National Weather Service:
Today: ☁️ ☔️ ♨️ High 65° Low 57° (Record high 67° set in 1906)
A deepening storm system moving through the central United States that will put down heavy snow throughout the upper Plains will also help create inclement weather in the Buffalo Niagara region. Here, however, the region will be on the warm side as moist southerly air is pulled northward from the Gulf of Mexico. A warm front passing through the Buffalo Niagara region will boost temperatures toward the 67-degree record for the date set in 1906. The unsettled weather could generate "a few elevated, weak thunderstorms along the warm front," weather service forecasters said. Those are forecast mainly before noon with a slight chance for showers in the afternoon. Temperatures stay warm overnight, dropping only to about 57 degrees with a south wind forecast.
Saturday: ♨️⚡️☔️🌀❄️ High 61° Low 26° (Record high 63° set in 1957)
The big change comes. Forecasts show the possibility that the day moves from thunderstorms and 61 degrees at breakfast time to snow and freezing temperatures by dinner. The change will be spurred by a strong area of low pressure moving through the Great Lakes with a cold front crossing during the day, the weather service reported in its hazardous weather outlook. Temperatures will quickly plunge from about 60 degrees at 6 a.m. to the upper 40s by noon, upper 30s by 4 p.m. and to freezing by midnight.
"A line of heavy showers and a few thunderstorms along the cold front will produce gusty winds, with a marginal risk of a few damaging wind gusts," weather service forecasters said.
They added: "Strong winds are also expected behind the cold from Saturday, with gusts of over 50 mph possible for areas northeast of Lake Erie. These winds may produce some additional minor wind damage."
With the wind, the temperature will feel like it's in the 20s by dinnertime and teens by midnight, forecasts show.
Sunday: ⛅️❄️ High 34° Low 28°
Back to reality. For a day. The normal high temperature for Sunday is 36 degrees with a low of 21. Forecasts show Sunday will be right about normal for late February. There will be partly sunny conditions in Buffalo, but the western Southern Tier will be the target again from the lake-effect snow machine. Bolstered by a warmer Lake Erie, lake-effect snow will fire up again as winds come in from the west-northwest. Because the air will be "relatively dry," the intensity of the snow should be limited, forecasters said. "Light to marginally moderate accumulations" are possible.
Weather service forecasts show temperatures going back up above normal again early next week:
Monday: ⛅️❄️ ☔️ High 42° Low 32°
Tuesday: ☔️❄️ High 48° Low 42°
Wednesday: ☔️ High 55°
Normal daily high temperatures are in the mid to upper 30s with lows in the 20s.