Rochester nearing a record setting quiet January for snowfall

Weather Blog

Rochester and WNY continue to remain in what has been quite the “snow drought” not only for the month of January, but for the ’20-’21 winter season too. The current snow depth situation can be seen in the tweet below, and yeah, it’s very underwhelming for our standards by a long shot.

Here’s where we stand:

For the entire ’20-’21 winter season we currently fall at a total of 12.9 inches of snow as of January 13th. At least by the end of this week it looks possible we could get to 13 full inches, but it’s an underwhelming chance at best.

Here are the snowfall totals across the state regarding our Golden Snowball challenge:

It’s important to note that most of the snow we have received so far this season fell during the 2020 winter months of November and December; 11.7 inches to be exact, with barely 2 inches of snow for the new year recorded in Rochester. We even managed to squeeze in a trace of snow on the second to last day of October. With that said, our month to date snowfall as of January 1st, 2021 remains at a measly 1.2 inches as of Wednesday, January 13th. Almost hard to believe isn’t it?

For perspective, the past 2 winters up to this point surpass our current season with flying colors. Our 2018-2019 winter season up to January 13th in Rochester had 36.9 inches of snow. Our 2019-2020 season up to January 13th had 48.8 inches of snow. Now the real question lingering remains:

WHERE’S THE SNOW?

After a relatively quiet week in weather overall, we’ve managed to squeeze in a few instances of passing flurries and even some freezing drizzle here and there. We’ve even had a few minor instances of lake effect, but nothing to provide Rochester with a solid amount of snow that sticks for more than a few days. Even with these short bursts of snowflakes to fly, not much has managed to stick, so what gives? A couple things have been happening here that’s been causing our lack of significant snow to stay:

1. We simply have not been getting enough cold air blasts or active passing systems to be solid snow makers especially for Rochester. Any cold air that has managed to move in has been underwhelming with temperatures aloft not quite cold enough to support solid snowflakes to fall for a decent duration.

2. Both the air and ground (soil) temperatures have been too warm to keep anything frozen from sticking for long periods of time.

Image courtesy: newa.cornell.edu/index.php?page=soil-temperature-map

With soil temperatures above freezing (seen in orange) for many across northern WNY, it makes sense that any snow we’ve been getting just melts as soon as it falls. That would explain our underwhelming snow depth totals. Plus, even just a couple hours of fleeting sunlight, which we’ve been able to sneak in throughout the past week can make all the difference in melting what little snow we had too. The sun can easily heat up the layer of air directly above the ground up to temperatures that are too warm for snow to stay frozen for long.

Getting decent accumulations of lake effect snow in Rochester specifically also require proper and precise atmospheric conditions that have been hard to come by lately. You need cold enough temperatures aloft up to a certain height, and a proper wind direction and speed off the lake to really seal the deal. Without these conditions, it’s tough to get a solid band to set up shop to really dump out the big totals we’ve been lacking

There have been a few local areas surrounding Rochester including portions of Buffalo to get some nice lake effect snow totals, but nothing major in our neck of the woods.

LOOKING AHEAD

Signs do seem to be pointing to some decently cold air to move into the northeast U.S. in the coming weeks due to a chunk of the polar vortex making a pit stop our way. You can read more about this incoming polar vortex and what it means for us in the article below.

MORE Polar vortex 2021: Arctic blast to send much of US into deep freeze, what we can expect in Rochester

All in all, portions of the midwest U.S. may be getting in on some unusually cold air this week, but the signal for us here in WNY remains more on the underwhelming side. This means we may be waiting one more week for the real cold air to move through.

So yes, signs do point to even colder signals for us next week, but will it be enough to support some much needed snow?

In the meantime, the short term pattern continues to hold us in seeing likely odds of above average temperatures heading into the start of this weekend. This means any storm system to move into the area may give Rochester more rain than snow, despite the slight intrusion of colder air from the north.

You can get the latest updates with the forecast here.

To sum things up, the waiting game continues for big snows here in WNY, and if you’re a snow lover like Eric Snitil, it’s the most excruciating wait of them all. 

~Meteorologist Christine Gregory

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