The 2012-2013 winter season is officially over and its results showed a clear difference compared to last year in Central New York.
On a national scale, as of April 1, snow still covers 16.6 percent of the continental United States, according to the National Weather Service.
Statewide, Syracuse received New York State’s Golden Snowball Award at the end of February, a contest in which the state’s major cities compete for the highest snow totals for the season. Syracuse received 103.4 inches, Albany reported 50.2; Binghamton, 68.2; Rochester, 75.8; and Buffalo, 58.5. Last winter was the first season since 2002-2003 that Syracuse lost the contest, to Rochester, according to WSYR Weather.
“We are still below average by about 16 inches at the Syracuse Hancock
Airport for snowfall for this time of the year,” said Matthew Stevens, an Oswego State alumnus and a meteorologist at CNY Central. “We currently have 103.4 inches, while on average, we would typically have 119.4.”
The local snowfall has seen similar results. As of March 25, the city of Oswego received a total of 148 inches of snow for the season, much closer to its yearly average of 150. Far closer than last year’s total of 58.6, according to WSYR.
Businesses around the area are seeing the effects.
“Our payroll and our fuel usage bill are much higher than last year and expenses are up. In comparison, that’s a definite,” said Allison Grasso, sales and marketing director of Chase Enterprises, a snow removal company in Oswego.
Ski slopes around the area have also been enjoying this year’s return to an average winter, an industry that suffered in many parts of the country last year.
“It’s certainly a lot snowier so that helps us in several aspects,” said Emily Stanton, marketing manager of Gore Mountain Ski Resort in the Adirondacks. “It reduces energy costs toward snow making, it increases the enthusiasm of various skiers so they’re more likely to attend, it lengthens the season so we have more days that we’re making money, and it makes people more enthusiastic about the following season as well.”
There are multiple reasons for the huge difference in snowfall and colder temperatures as seasons can see extreme variations year to year. The meteorology department at Oswego State said that the North Atlantic Oscillation Index (NAO), the surface sea-level pressure difference between the Subtropical Azores High and the Subpolar Low, can be blamed. A Positive NAO index phase shows a stronger than usual subtropical high pressure center, causing mild and wet winters in the eastern United States.
“For much of last year, we were in the positive phase of the NAO,” said Dr. Robert Ballentine, a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at Oswego State. “This year NAO has been in the negative phase, high-latitude blocking high in the North Atlantic region, more often. The negative phase favors a colder snowier pattern in the northeast U.S.”
The 2012-2013 season also saw an abundance of winter storms and nor’easters that brought feet of snow to a majority of the Northeast, something that was seen little of last year.
“The storms that did occur last year took a track that was typically farther west than this year,” Stevens said. “As a result, we were in the warmer sector of those storms, producing more mixed precipitation and rain versus snow, which would of course be found on the colder side of those systems.”
The month of March was no exception to this year’s difference, as it saw more snow and colder temperatures than normal. Last year, New York State saw close to a zero percent snow cover by March 21, and record-breaking temperatures exceeding 80 degrees Fahrenheit affected many parts of the country, according to the National Weather Service. This year, Syracuse received 20.2 inches of snow in March, which is 2.7 inches above normal, Stevens said. The average temperature for the month was 33.1 degrees, slightly below the average of 33.8.
The winter snow has also dragged into the first week of April. Snow has been seen in Oswego and the Syracuse area, causing Oneida and Rome city schools, among others, to have a one hour delay on March 26.
The historic heat wave in March 2012 helped spawn a summer drought felt all over the country, especially the Midwestern states. As of March 26, moderate to exceptional drought covers 51.6 percent of the contiguous U.S., according to the National Climatic Data Center.
Brian West is a meteorology student who, for his senior capstone project, is comparing the 2012-2013 winter with the summer of 2012. He hopes determine if a seasonal outlook can be used with confidence to get an idea of whether there will be a widespread drought or a climatologically average temperature and amount of precipitation.
“Taking a quick look at the Climate Prediction Center’s outlook for this summer, June to August, temperatures look to be above normal in much of the U.S. and there is a good chance for below normal precipitation in the south-central U.S.,” West said. “Things can change as we get closer to the summer season, but as of now, it doesn’t look promising for a break of the hot and dry summer much of the country received last year.”
Many still hope that the closer to average snowfall will help soothe the problems brought on by last year’s drought.
“We’ll have to wait and see what the spring brings,” Stevens said.