Syracuse experiences unusually warm winter

Snowfall levels this year are nearly half of what they typically are.

Steve Bukolt walked to his business class on Thursday clad in a sweatshirt and jeans – unusual attire for the heart of January. 

The outside temperature was hovering around 41 degrees, and that was, surprisingly, a tad cooler than earlier in the week.

Bukolt, a senior accounting major and Buffalo native, said his walk to class has been pleasant so far this year.

"We’ve had plenty of mild winters, but to have one that is so persistently mild is pretty amazing."
- Dave Eichorn

“I live on Ackerman, so the commute has been better than in the past,” he said.

Students across the Syracuse University campus have not been sporting their usual winter attire, bundled up in long winter jackets, snow boots and gloves. So far this season, the weather that students and city residents normally have to bear during the long winter months has been mild. And the snowfall has been down compared to past years.

As of Jan. 23, there was 27.6 inches of snow recorded, National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Nicosia said. The average is 40.2 inches. The official snowfall tracker is located at the Syracuse Hancock International Airport. The weather service starts keeping track July 1 and lasts one calendar year.

The lack of snow is due in part to the unseasonably warm temperatures, Nicosia said. December 2011 was the fourth warmest December since 1902, when the National Weather Service started keeping consistent records. The average temperature last month was 35.9 degrees — 6.5 degrees warmer than normal.

The warmer temperatures are due to something called the “arctic oscillation patterns,” Nicosia said. “Basically, it means that the cold air stays north so the arctic experiences extreme cold, and it doesn't make its way down to us,” he said. “It averages out where you get some warm phases and some cold phases. Nobody really knows why it does this.”

Last year’s winter was one of the worst the Syracuse area has seen in recent years. This time last year, Syracuse had accumulated 111 inches of snow, Nicosia said. That is 70.8 inches above the average and nearly seven feet more than what the area has had so far this season.

Dave Eichorn was chief meteorologist at News Channel 9 for nearly 20 years and is currently working on his doctorate at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. He thinks the temperatures will get colder through the end of the month and into the first part of February the temperatures, he said. But he’s “not convinced” it's going to be a lasting cold.

“I can think a long ways back and don’t remember anything like this,” he said. “We’ve had plenty of mild winters, but to have one that is so persistently mild is pretty amazing. Here’s January, and it’s nearly six degrees above normal.”

On Friday, Samira Tazari, a sophomore television, radio and film student, was wearing a light rain jacket with the temperature at 41 degrees.

Tazari, who is from Staten Island, has been enjoying the mild temperatures and minimal snowfall, she said. She has not been wearing as many layers to class as she normally does, she added.

“I like to dress warm, sometimes overly warm dressed, but I haven’t so far this winter,” Tazari said.

Tazari also said she hopes the weather stays mild, as she is not keen on super-cold temperatures.

“I hope it doesn't get too crazy with the snow,” she said. “I like snow here and there, but not like last year when it was ongoing and every day.”

Ecological concenquences

While the warm temps are nice, they can really mess up the local ecosystem. When it does get below freezing, the plants and their roots do not have the protective snowcover to insulate them from frost damage. Additionally, without a snowpack and spring melt, many seeds will not have the water required for germination.

A lot of trees not have buds which havent hardened off or are swelling leaving them vaulnerable to frost and can really cause a decline in their spring growth. 

While the temps may be nice for us, the plants adapted to the cold may suffer!

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