Area Is Low On Snow

1 March 2002

By Stentor Danielson
Managing Editor

The northeastern United States is experiencing near-record warmth and extremely low precipitation, according to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Nationwide, the period from November 2001 to January 2002 was the warmest since record keeping began in 1895, breaking the previous record set in the winter of 1999-2000, according to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).

Areas along the eastern seaboard are experiencing drought conditions. Central New York is not yet in a drought, though a dry spell stretching back to 1998 has not yet ended.

"Weíre definitely on pace to be down near the lowest of the low," Associate Professor of Geography Adam Burnett, who studies weather and climate, said.

From December 1 to February 26, 5.65 inches of precipitation were recorded at Hancock International Airport in Syracuse, nearly two inches less than normal for this period.

According to WIXT Syracuse, Januaryís average temperature of 33 degrees Fahrenheit was 10 degrees above normal, making it the third straight month with temperatures averaging five degrees warmer than normal.

The low precipitation levels are likely to continue, according to Burnett. This could lead to a shortage of water in soils, aquifers and lakes, as these features gain most of their water from winter precipitation.

"This for me would translate into drier soils, well water problems for people who have shallower wells and I think this may also have an impact on water levels in lakes," Burnett said.

Burnett explained that storm systems from the Ohio valley have been tracking north of central New York this year. The movement of these storms allowed only a small window when wind directions were right for bringing lake effect snow to Hamilton.

"If the storm track were moved 100 miles south," Burnett said, far more snow would be falling on New York.

A ridge of warm air has been in place over the eastern United States, raising temperatures, Burnett said. Storm systems pull a warm air mass up from the south, compounding this effect. Cold air masses have only been hitting New York on the tail end of storms.

Some environmental groups have pointed to the unusually warm winter as evidence of global warming. Burnett cautioned that one year's weather should not be taken as an indication of climate change, as there are often big differences from year to year.

"Variability, like last year versus this year, is not uncommon," Burnett said. "Iím not adopting any kind of radical climate change scenario."

"Everyone wants to put a label on things and itís kind of hard to put a label on Mother Nature, especially when it comes to something as complex as the atmosphere," Scott Stephens, a climatologist at the NCDC, told the Associated Press.

Burnett said that the overall trend is toward increasing snowfall in upstate New York. He attributed this trend to warmer temperatures in the Great Lakes.

Worldwide, the NCDC said that Januaryís temperature was 2.43 degrees Fahrenheit above the long-term average.

Students were divided in opinion on the winterís weather. Some enjoy the change from snowier past years.

"Iím a cold weather person, but after six or seven months of it you get tired," sophomore Ashley Powers said. "I think the warm weather makes everyone happier."

"Iíd rather be warm than cold," first-year Caitlin Thistle agreed.

"It makes me think weíre getting out of school soon," sophomore Aaron Baughman said. "Itís kind of a tease."

Other students were concerned about the unusual temperatures.

"I think itís a travesty for New York State," senior Ezra Benjamin said. "Iím a little bit freaked out by the warm weather."

Despite the overall warmth of the season, the day-to day weather remains unpredictable as always.

"I wish it would make up its mind," junior Jen OíBrien said.

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