The Lingering Lake-Effect Snow Questions

Even while the snow was still falling in Buffalo during November's snowpocalypse, speculation was rampant that climate change was at fault and that it was leading to more lake effect snow.  Except when we looked critically at the data here at AT, and the climate change narrative started unravelling.

Now there is a new study reporting that "less lake effect snow, more rain near Great Lakes as climate changes."  According to the article describing this most recent research:

The study by University of Wisconsin researchers says a warmer planet will mean up to a 50 percent drop in lake effect snow in areas downwind of the Great Lakes, which includes Buffalo and Syracuse. As the lakes and air get several degrees warmer, and ice nearly disappears from the lakes, the air blowing from the west will bring more rain, the study says.

'The total amount of precipitation will go up, but will be more lake effect rain than lake effect snow,' said the lead author, climate scientist Michael Notaro. 'The models are suggesting that by the mid- and late 21st century there would also be a shorter snow season, primarily because of the duration of time in which it's cold enough to support the lake effect snow.'

The biggest change from snow to rain would be in November, the study shows, making the massive lake effect storm near Buffalo last month less likely by 2100. That storm dumped 90 inches of snow in some areas in five days. Thirteen people died and more than 100 miles of the New York State Thruway was shut down for days.

For now, we can focus on November, since the latest lake and air temperature data is now well at hand.

Neither the Buffalo nor the Syracuse climate regions have seen significant warming trends in November over the last three decades, nor since 1970, nor since records began.

Immediate skepticism sets in regarding the predictions.

As noted in my previous article, there hasn't been a significant trend in Lake Erie's average or maximum November temperatures near Buffalo since records began in 1927, and "if we look at the maximum daily temperature during November for Lake Erie [near Buffalo] each year, we find a negative (i.e., cooling) correlation – not warming – since records began almost a century ago."

It is also critical to mention the limited spatial extent of the Buffalo snowstorm, as the National Weather Service (NWS) noted:

The epic November 17-19th 2014 lake effect event will be remembered as one of the most significant winter events in Buffalo's snowy history. Over 5 feet of snow fell over areas just east of Buffalo, with mere inches a few miles away to the north.

The NWS was also clear that this was not as historically anomalous as some climate alarmists had suggested:

On a side note, this has happened before. During December 14-18, 1945. The airport measured nearly 37 inches with in excess of 70 inches just 4-6 miles south (Lancaster).

Claims of increasing precipitation during the lake-effect snow season due to climate change also seem at odds with history.  For both the Buffalo and Syracuse regions, the trends since 1970 and 1985 are toward less November precipitation – not more.

Since records began in 1893, there is a correlation toward an earlier date of first snowfall in the Buffalo area – not a later date.  No significant trend is present for the first snowfall date in the Syracuse region since its records began in 1903.  Neither region has any significant trends since 1970, or during the last three decades.

There certainly is room for an interesting scientific discussion regarding November's snowstorm in the Buffalo region, but the reporting on its relationship – and/or other storms like it – with climate change is leaving out some core discrepancies between historical climate trends in the area and what the climate models are projecting.

Even while the snow was still falling in Buffalo during November's snowpocalypse, speculation was rampant that climate change was at fault and that it was leading to more lake effect snow.  Except when we looked critically at the data here at AT, and the climate change narrative started unravelling.

Now there is a new study reporting that "less lake effect snow, more rain near Great Lakes as climate changes."  According to the article describing this most recent research:

The study by University of Wisconsin researchers says a warmer planet will mean up to a 50 percent drop in lake effect snow in areas downwind of the Great Lakes, which includes Buffalo and Syracuse. As the lakes and air get several degrees warmer, and ice nearly disappears from the lakes, the air blowing from the west will bring more rain, the study says.

'The total amount of precipitation will go up, but will be more lake effect rain than lake effect snow,' said the lead author, climate scientist Michael Notaro. 'The models are suggesting that by the mid- and late 21st century there would also be a shorter snow season, primarily because of the duration of time in which it's cold enough to support the lake effect snow.'

The biggest change from snow to rain would be in November, the study shows, making the massive lake effect storm near Buffalo last month less likely by 2100. That storm dumped 90 inches of snow in some areas in five days. Thirteen people died and more than 100 miles of the New York State Thruway was shut down for days.

For now, we can focus on November, since the latest lake and air temperature data is now well at hand.

Neither the Buffalo nor the Syracuse climate regions have seen significant warming trends in November over the last three decades, nor since 1970, nor since records began.

Immediate skepticism sets in regarding the predictions.

As noted in my previous article, there hasn't been a significant trend in Lake Erie's average or maximum November temperatures near Buffalo since records began in 1927, and "if we look at the maximum daily temperature during November for Lake Erie [near Buffalo] each year, we find a negative (i.e., cooling) correlation – not warming – since records began almost a century ago."

It is also critical to mention the limited spatial extent of the Buffalo snowstorm, as the National Weather Service (NWS) noted:

The epic November 17-19th 2014 lake effect event will be remembered as one of the most significant winter events in Buffalo's snowy history. Over 5 feet of snow fell over areas just east of Buffalo, with mere inches a few miles away to the north.

The NWS was also clear that this was not as historically anomalous as some climate alarmists had suggested:

On a side note, this has happened before. During December 14-18, 1945. The airport measured nearly 37 inches with in excess of 70 inches just 4-6 miles south (Lancaster).

Claims of increasing precipitation during the lake-effect snow season due to climate change also seem at odds with history.  For both the Buffalo and Syracuse regions, the trends since 1970 and 1985 are toward less November precipitation – not more.

Since records began in 1893, there is a correlation toward an earlier date of first snowfall in the Buffalo area – not a later date.  No significant trend is present for the first snowfall date in the Syracuse region since its records began in 1903.  Neither region has any significant trends since 1970, or during the last three decades.

There certainly is room for an interesting scientific discussion regarding November's snowstorm in the Buffalo region, but the reporting on its relationship – and/or other storms like it – with climate change is leaving out some core discrepancies between historical climate trends in the area and what the climate models are projecting.