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A chilly December with snow for some

Posted on Dec 19, 2013

December has been a chilly month thus far after a brief very warm start. Last month I discussed the cold and snowy end to November and thought we would be around normal in terms of precipitation and a bit cooler than average. The middle part of the month alone meant that the average temperature departure across the region has plummeted to several degrees below average for the typical December in most locations in the Western New York area. Here’s a look at where a few of the National Weather Service’s long-term climate stations stand on December 19 compared to an average December in terms of temperature and precipitation:

Buffalo: -5.1 °F and -1.04 inches
Rochester: -4.6 °F and -0.34 inches
Watertown: -5.1 °F and -1.39 inches

Being extra cold and somewhat dry is a common occurrence in some parts of the county like my native Connecticut. The phrase “too cold to snow” is tossed around as a rule when it reality it essentially means it is or has been very cold because of an arctic high that is therefore also blocking any storm systems from impacting the area. This is far different in areas like the Great Lakes where the lake effect machine can run at its peak in such situations with a flow from the west or northwest and frigid air to further enhance snowfall ratios (the liquid equivalent of snow or how much snow would fall for every inch of rain – the typical ratio is 10 or 12:1, 10-12 inches of snow for every inch of water, but lately we had ratios up to 30:1!).

So where has the snow been? Locally along Lake Erie it has been concentrated between us in Jamestown and those folks in Buffalo. Whoa!

Snow depth map regional 12-20-13

There are some areas with well over three feet of snow on the ground in that swath that has been put down by a lot of westerly flow lately. We have been happy to have snowmobile trails open on day one for our winter trails cell phone tour. However, the pack is going to take a hit this weekend. Flood watches have already been hoisted for locations like Chautauqua County as inches of rain should fall while temperatures push far into the 50s and flirt with 60 in some spots. A warm front that stalls across the center of the country will be the culprit as waves of low pressure move along it and drench areas like ours that have a lot of water on the ground already. The December averages will certainly be pushed closer to average with this one. As the warm front clears out we will be quickly back to chilly and snowy with some sizable storm signals on the horizon for 2014.


Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator