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High temps, little snow: Winter 2020 is Buffalo's ninth-warmest on record

This winter was the ninth-warmest on record in Buffalo, according to the National Weather Service.

Temperatures in December, January and February, which typically average about 27 degrees, rarely fell below 20 degrees, even at night, weather service data shows. On several occasions, daytime temps spiked into the 50s and 60s, even setting an all-time daily record of 67 degrees on Jan. 11.

This seasonal record applies to the meteorological winter, which runs from December to February. The astronomical winter – the type on calendars – ends on March 19.

“To boil it down: We had above-normal temperatures and below-normal snowfalls,” said Kirk Apffel, a meteorologist at the NWS' Buffalo office.

In a region accustomed to cold, the mild weather has been alternately welcome and disruptive. Film crews working on Guillermo del Toro’s "Nightmare Alley," for instance, had to cart fake snow and ice to Niagara Square to shoot outdoor scenes two weeks ago. Earlier in the season, the downtown development group Buffalo Place struggled to get its Rotary Rink to freeze consistently for ice skating – jeopardizing some seasonal jobs.

Mild temperatures messed with snow patterns, too, delaying usual lake-effect storms until later in the season. As a result, both December and January totaled roughly a foot below their usual snowfall averages, while February dumped more than 20 inches at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

Seasonal totals ended well below average for most of Western New York, the weather service said, except for the Genesee Valley and the Finger Lakes regions, where snowfalls have been at or slightly above average. As of March 7, less than 65 inches of snow had fallen at the Buffalo airport, compared to 114 on this date last year.

“The biggest thing with lake-effect – and there’s a lot to it – is being cold,” Apffel said. “Being cold is a huge ingredient, and for a good part of the winter that ingredient just wasn’t there.”

Conditions were similarly mild throughout the continental United States: February, in particular, was the country’s third-warmest and third-wettest in the 126 years the federal government has kept records, according to a report released Friday. "Much-above-average temperatures were observed across parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast as well as portions of California and Florida," the report states.

While it’s tempting to read into these observations, Apffel cautioned against making assumptions or arguments about climate change based on a single season. Because "climate" refers to weather conditions over a long period, a single warm or cold winter doesn’t, on its own, communicate much about it. Last winter was colder than average, for instance.

As for what’s coming next, the weather service forecasts that March, April and May will also skew warmer than usual. That doesn’t rule out the possibility of further snow, though, Apffel said. In fact, there’s a fair chance late next week, “depending on how systems track.”

In general, however, forecasts for the rest of March do not suggest much snow.

As one poster on Reddit summed it up: “When did we have winter this year? So far we have had fall and late fall.”

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