Autumn weather has been beautiful in WNY– Will we pay for it?

bee on aster
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Until this week, it felt more like summer than autumn in Western New York.

Last week I was wearing shorts, then yesterday I snuggled into a winter jacket. There was scattered frost overnight last night in Western New York.

But as they say,  if you don’t like the weather in Buffalo, wait 10 minutes. Tomorrow, Wednesday, it should be back into the 70s.

All of this is normal for Western New York, said Judy Levan, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Buffalo.

While many of us may have been marveling at the warm– even hot– weather we had through the beginning of October, those temperatures weren’t record-breaking or even all that unusual, she said.

The frost is right on time, too, Levan said. The Southern Tier usually gets a frost at the beginning of October, and parts of Cattaraugus and Alleghany counties already had experienced some frost before last night. The rest of the region usually gets frost by about Oct. 15, so the rest of us are on schedule, too. Areas closer to Lake Erie can get their first frost even later.

If you haven’t had a killing frost yet, you can protect tender plants such as tomatoes by covering them. See here how to cover plants to protect them from frost. You can also use a milk jug painted black to add warmth under that blanket.

You can also use a grow tunnel to extend the season, or cover herbs with a thick layer of leaves to keep them growing longer. (The leaves haven’t dropped yet, but if you have the space, you might keep a barrel of leaves around all year. You can use leaves in so many ways.)

Will we somehow pay for this lovely weather?

People I’ve talked to have expressed the feeling that we Western New Yorkers will have to pay somehow for the lovely weather we’ve been experiencing, but Levan said that’s not necessarily the case.

Lake Erie is warm; in fact, it’s been setting records for warmth, she said. But don’t panic; the warm lake doesn’t necessarily mean we will get a massive lake-effect storm with lots of snow.

First of all, Lake Erie is relatively shallow.

“It’s a little pond in the greater scheme of things,” Levan said. While the water temperature has been around 68 degrees Fahrenheit, “One good cold outbreak and it should cool down to where it should be, in the lower 60s.”

Second, it takes more than a warm lake to produce a storm like the October Storm of 2006 or the Snowvember Storm of 2014, she said. Winds are a factor, but there are many other factors, too, such as the stability of the atmosphere and even the currents and temperature of the Atlantic Ocean.

“It’s very complicated,” Levan said. “All the pieces have to fit just right to get a big storm.”

Sometimes people feel that if we’ve had a very hot summer like this one, we will have a cold winter to make up for it. But Levan said Mother Nature doesn’t work that way. In fact, the three-month outlook projects that temperatures will be slightly above normal. Looking that far out, weather forecasters are looking at climate data and general trends. Since it’s been warm, forecasters project that it will continue to be on the warm side.

Rains are helping to ease our drought

This summer the Niagara Frontier had extreme drought conditions. The Southern Tier got a few thunderstorms that passed by the rest of Western New York, so it was a little better off and was listed as having just severe drought conditions.

To see the start of our drought,  you might look back to last winter, when we had an El Nino. We got less snowfall than normal. That means there was less water from snow melt.

Then precipitation was below normal in the spring: 1 inch below normal in April, 2 inches below normal in May and 2 inches below normal in June. The deficit started to build.

The Buffalo area is an accumulated 7 inches below normal in rainfall, and at the peak of the drought, we were 8 inches below normal, Levan said.

In addition to being dry, our weather was hot. Hot, dry weather breeds more hot, dry weather, she explained.

As the temperatures get warmer, more water evaporates from the soil. Dry soil heats up faster than wet soil would.

That warm soil in turn heats the surrounding air, which in turn dries out the soil even more. That starts a cycle that keeps going.

We’ve all had some rain now in the past few weeks, though that doesn’t end our drought. Our grass is green, but we haven’t replenished the ground water yet.

It took a long time to get into the drought, and it takes awhile to get out of it, too, Levan explained. The good news is that as long as the ground remains unfrozen, the precipitation we get will help to improve our drought conditions. Your plants aren’t taking in as much water, and deciduous trees will be dropping leaves soon and won’t need as much water, so now is a good time to get rain to replenish the ground water, she said.

So far, it looks like precipitation will be about average. That means for October we should get around 3.5 inches of rain with .9 inch of snow; November, 4.1 inches of rain with 7.9 inches of snow, and December, 3.9 inches of rain with 27.4 inches of snow.

“If you remember last December, we had only one inch of snow the whole month,” Levan said. That was an El Nino year, so expect that we will get a more normal amount of snow this year.






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