ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) – Forecasting out five days has its challenges. The further out forecasts go, the more difficult the forecasting gets. A certain level of ‘chaos’ is created when forecasting out a certain range that cannot be accounted for and therefore results in significant inaccuracy. Regardless, it is important to try.  

Forecasting out decades is becoming more common as climate change continues to evolve what our atmosphere is capable of producing, from extreme heat to torrential rains and rising sea levels. Projections on future climate can be made with the knowledge of how our climate has changed in the past. Luckily, the climate has not seen much change over the past thousand years.  

The biggest change has come in the past hundred years and most recently in the past few decades as fossil fuel pollution starts to have a worldwide impact. Rising levels of greenhouse gases have changed the makeup of the atmosphere and those changes can be projected out decade-by-decade. The only real variable left is how much, or how little, pollution will enter the system. 

The fastest warming season is winter, as cold simply warms quicker than warm since the difference in temperature is larger. The meteorological winter runs December, January, and February. When it comes to snow, the general trend across much of the United States is downward, although this comes with a major caveat. Measuring snow is very difficult and measurements can vary drastically from station-to-station and storm to storm. Regardless, Rochester has seen a slow downward trend according to data from the National Weather Service, about four inches from 1970-2020 when using a trend line. 

Sean Sublette is a meteorologist at Climate Central, an organization that focuses on the impact of climate change on weather. “As we go into the longer term, let’s say 20,30 years and beyond,” said Sublette,  “A more pronounced decline in snowfall is likely.” 

The waters do get muddy when it comes to the Great Lakes and Lake-Effect snow. Water temperatures are already warmer because of climate change and warmer waters mean more instability for lake-effect snow. Ice is also less likely to form, which keeps open water available for lake-effect. In the short term (10-30 years) there may be a rise in snowfall numbers across the snow belts of New York State. In the long term, 30+ years, it is likely that a downward trend in snowfall will begin. 

When it comes to temperature, Rochester winters have trended up over the last 50 years. From 1970 to 2020, Rochester’s average winter temperature went from 25° to 29° Fahrenheit. That is a warming faster than any season. Projecting ahead 50 years, we go from 29° to 33°. That put’s Rochester’s average above freezing. 

“t will still be cold. You will still have cold outbreaks, no question, but the intensity of those cold outbreaks, the duration of those cold outbreaks, will not be as sustainable as they have been in the past,” said Sublette. 


You can find the full document here, the National Climate Assessment (NCA) is a document put out by the federal government every two years that discusses the state of the climate. Here are several points about how climate change will impact the Northeast.

  1. Earlier bud-break in late winter and early spring that can make plants more vulnerable to a late frost. >Study
  1. Poor surface and road conditions or washout have the potential to limit future logging operations, which need frozen or snow-covered soils to meet environmental requirements for winter operations. >Study<
  1. Maple syrup production is linked to climate through potential shifts in sugar maple habitat, tapping season timing and duration, and the quality of both the trees and sap. >Study<
  1. Even under the lower scenario (RCP4.5), the average length of the winter recreation season and the number of recreational visits are projected to decrease by mid-century. >Study<
  1. Activities that rely on natural snow and ice cover are projected to remain economically viable in only far northern parts of the region by end of century under the higher scenario (RCP8.5). >Study<
  1. Markets farther north may benefit from a greater share of regional participation depending on recreationist preferences like travel time and perceived snow cover conditions informed by local weather, referred to as the backyard effect. >Study<