By nearly every metric, Buffalo is in the midst of a historic winter season, amplified by what has been a series of historic winter storms. And yet, only 50 miles down the road, Rochester’s season feels like it hasn’t even started yet. How is this possible?

Two words: Lake. Effect. Snow in WNY comes in three flavors. There’s synoptic snow, lake effect snow & a hybrid of the two. Synoptic snow is the stuff that falls everywhere and affects everyone. Whether you live near the lake or far removed inland, synoptic events feature snow that is universal. Lake effect confines the coverage of snow to a much smaller area of real estate, affecting the same usual suspects downwind of the lakes. It is also common for a synoptic snowstorm to blend with or end as lake effect as cold air pours in, giving some places a double dose of the white stuff.

To a large extent, we have yet to experience a solid synoptic snow this season. For Rochester, that eliminates a chunk of snow that one would expect up to this point in the season. That’s not a problem as Rochester is more than capable of adding to totals with lake effect, provided the wind is just right. And that’s where the problem has been. We’ve had several significant lake effect events this season. None of them have featured the proper wind flow to fling Lake Ontario moisture toward Rochester. Make no mistake, Lake Ontario has been plenty busy. Watertown has been absolutely pummeled. That’s what happens during a west to west-southwest regime. That’s also how the Buffalo region has exploded in terms of snowfall.

Remember the storm that dumped over 80″ on Orchard Park before the Bills game? West to west-southwest flow. Christmas weekend blizzard in Buffalo? West to west-southwest flow. These setups tend to focus primary lake snow bands straight into the Buffalo area and pepper counties west of Rochester. This flow results in a long lake axis-parallel (LLAP) band that maximizes snow potential when the wind flows over the longest part of a lake. Both Erie and Ontario are longer west to east than they are north to south. A west wind maximizes the fetch over that longer extent of lake, dumping intense snow downwind. It is nearly impossible for this flow to produce significant snow in Rochester as we remain sandwiched between Lake Erie & Ontario’s contributions.

Lake effect events thus far have also been persistent and long-lasting, adding to increased totals in the Buffalo area. Often, when several significant lake effect storms pile up, the inherent cold air starts to freeze at least Lake Erie, helping minimize future events with the exposed relatively warm water limited. We’re expecting a significant warmup later this week that will likely keep Lake Erie open for business for the next surge of arctic air, whenever that’s set to arrive. La Nina winters & the associated westward storm track also tend to promote more west to west-southwest flow setups. That’s all bad news for the Buffalo area if you’re looking for a break from the snow this winter. While it certainly doesn’t preclude Rochester from getting hammered, let’s just say there is a reason we forecasted another “quiet” winter in Rochester.