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As U.S. swelters, some turn to Buffalo for the weather: 'You can actually go outdoors'

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Outer Harbor

A pair of cyclists ride on the path past the Sun Life Marina in Outer Harbor State Park.

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LaRoy Mack leaned back in his lawn chair, surveying a shaded, grassy area in Niagara Falls State Park where the Chicago resident was visiting with family. 

Mack was there to show off the natural wonder he had experienced once before, but in the moment, he was basking in the area's gorgeous weather that Saturday: 80 degrees and a slight breeze.

"We actually turned the air conditioner off and opened the windows to enjoy the breeze," Mack said of his drive to the park. He said he's tried to stay out of Chicago's uncomfortable heat and humidity of the last two months, as heat index values have approached 110 some days.

Mack is by no means an outlier during a Western New York summer that – compared to weather conditions in the rest of the world – very much is. From devastating flooding to runaway wildfires and record-breaking heat, much of the world is dealing with the ramifications of weather that is at least partly the product of climate change.

But in this corner of the world, the two main weather words have been the ones that make outdoors the place to be: sunny and warm.

To be sure, it has not been perfect. A tornado tracked a 10-mile path in Wyoming County last month.

But compared to most other places? It's close. And you don't have to look far to find people doing what at other times of the year sounds unthinkable: coming to Buffalo because of the weather.

In July, Buffalo never recorded a temperature over 90 degrees, and only four days were 85 degrees or higher. The high temperature was between 75 and 80 degrees on 15 July days, according to National Weather Service data.

A lack of rainfall has produced some drought conditions, but drought.gov pins just 8.4% of the state in moderate drought status, while 46% is abnormally dry. Chances that oppressive heat could touch Buffalo in August have lessened, according to News contributor Don Paul.

At one point in mid-June, 130 million Americans were under a heat warning or advisory, according to media site Axios. The oppressive heat is even worse overseas. Europe, especially France, the United Kingdom, Portugal and Spain, has seen more than 1,000 deaths this summer due to high temperatures and a lack of resources to combat them.

Arthur Stickney moved with his wife and daughter from Williamsville to Nashville, Tenn., in March. His first summer in Nashville has been the city's second-hottest summer on record, with the heat wave beginning in the Southwest but spreading over the central and southern U.S. The weather phenomenon, a high-pressure heat dome that data suggests stems from arctic warming, also brought record-high temperatures to the Pacific Northwest last summer.

"I do miss the summer nights in Buffalo. It felt cooler at night compared to here," Stickney said. "It's not the greatest when it's 2 a.m. and still humid and 90 degrees out." 

Historically, the Buffalo-area has not always dodged temperature extremes – July 2020 set a record for most 90-degree days in a row, while winter temperatures have still plunged below minus-10 degrees in the last decade – but Buffalo has still never experienced a 100-degree day and has been dubbed a climate refuge city thanks in part to the moderating effects on temperatures of nearby Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

"It's relatively calm in the summertime, when the rest of the country seems to be burning," said Nick Rajkovich, a University at Buffalo associate professor who studies the impacts of climate change on cities and buildings.

Thanks in part to its moderate temperatures, Buffalo already has begun to serve as a refuge city where people can recover from the impacts of weather-related catastrophe. A family from Texas found refuge in Buffalo after Hurricane Harvey forced them to move in 2017, while a sizable contingent of Puerto Ricans moved to Buffalo due to the effects of Hurricane Maria, The News reported in 2018.

MLK Splash Pad on the hottest day of the year (copy) (copy)

Buffalo's moderate July temperatures have been a significant departure from what the rest of the country has experienced. Here, Aina, 11, runs between water streams on the splash pad at Martin Luther King Jr. Park.

Rajkovich cautioned against connecting the recent deadly floods and record rainfall in Kentucky and St. Louis, Mo., exclusively to climate change, as there can be more factors at play in these weather hazards. But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a scientific and regulatory government agency, has traced the increase in the earth's surface temperature over the last 140 years and also detailed how the span of 2013-2021 includes nine of the 10 warmest years on record. 

Bob Madden, a Buffalo expat who has lived in Austin, Texas, since 1994, said temperatures have been unrelenting, exceeding 100 degrees every day in July and on pace to break the most days in a year over 100. The St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute graduate said the heat causes  fatigue and irritability, a different kind of seasonal affective disorder.

"It really wears you down. Nobody likes the summer down here," said Madden, who talked wistfully about Buffalo's summers, springs and falls, and looks forward to his homecoming in mid-August. "I don't even want to sit on the porch when it's 105 degrees."

Texas has been hot for the 28 years he has lived there, but the expected record number of 100-plus days this year has taken its toll.

"It's far and above what we'd normally experience," Madden said.

A tweet from Meredith Haggerty, the culture editor for entertainment website Vox, sums up the mentality.

"I know SAD is for winter, but based on everyone I'm talking to, this summer is very much like, 'from the makers of Seasonal Depression, now comes Flamin' Seasonal Depression.' "

Tim McDaniel, a visitor from Arizona, stood close to the mist and water that sprays from the American Falls.

"Here, Mother Nature provides the air conditioning," said McDaniel, who was visiting Niagara Falls to celebrate a friend's birthday. "You can actually go outdoors."

Ben Tsujimoto can be reached at btsujimoto@buffnews.com, at (716) 849-6927 or on Twitter at @Tsuj10.

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