Drought monitor shows slight relief for some despite continued below average precipitation since December

Weather Blog

It’s no doubt our winter season so far has been lacking in the precipitation department. Not only for Rochester but for others across the region as well, and it’s not just the lack of snow.

Looking back at December, Rochester fell a half inch below normal for precipitation during the entire month running a total of 2.13″ of total precip, and 10.5″ of frozen precip (including snow). Keep in mind temperatures for the month ran 2.9° above average, which allowed a lot of the snow that did fall to melt right away.

Since around this time nearly one month ago portions of eastern Wayne county, the Finger Lakes, and the southern tips of Livingston, Ontario and Yates counties were under a moderate drought in spots.

Now at the mid January mark, we’ve managed to make slow improvements, which is surprising considering how little precipitation we’ve had since December. Our total precipitation for Rochester as of the 21st falls at 1.27″, falling -0.34″ below normal for the month with only 5.2″ of snow/frozen precip.

Since December, the moderate drought has lifted for everyone who was previously in it, but much of the region still lies under abnormally dry conditions.

Image courtesy: droughtmonitor.unl.edu

Our greatest depth of snow we’ve held yet in Rochester for January so far is 1 inch on the ground over the past couple days, and our temperatures being recently sent well into the upper 30s has left us with just a few patchy white spots.

Note: This is NOT a snow forecast, but the latest amount of snow on the ground.

How has our lack of snow hurt or helped us?

Our lack of snow so far hasn’t helped tremendously, but the bits and pieces we’ve had plus the snow that melted due to our above average temperature stretch has surely helped some.

Snowpack acts like a natural reservoir, but changes in snowpack or snowmelt throughout the course of a season can and does alter the moisture of the soil as it acts to preserve key moisture during the winter, and an abundance of water come springtime. Did you know that the term snow drought is a period of abnormally little snowpack for the time of year? This term is actually primarily used across the Western United States as this region is known for drastic shifts in snowpack throughout the year. The Western U.S. has emerged as a global snow drought “hotspot” according to drought.gov as warming temps and decreased precipitation spells often have major effects on the regional climate’s water cycle and snowpack.

Did you know there are two types of snow drought? A dry snow drought describes “a period of below normal cold-season precipitation”, and a warm snow drought describes “a lack of snow accumulation, despite near-normal precipitation, caused by warm temperatures and precipitation falling as rain rather than snow or unusually early snowmelt.”

Will more snow help relieve the abnormally dry conditions?

It’s hard to answer that with a defiitive yes, but it sure seems like what little snow we’ve been getting has been helping, and we’ll take what we can get.


As the overall pattern trends colder with more lake effect snow in the mix, we’re likely to get more registered precipitation especially in the frozen department. So even though the overall improvement has not been significant, it’s surely a step in the right direction.

~Meteorologist Christine Gregory

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