It’s only the third day of meteorological winter, but Buffalo has already set a record. Actually, it’s a record that shows just how very un-winterlike things are right now.

In a city renown for epic lake effect snow and cold conditions, Buffalo has been in the grips of a mild wave that’s left the city snowless for all of November. With no snow in the forecast on Thursday (or the for the foreseeable future), it also means Buffalo will break a 116-year-old record for the latest start to the snowy season.

There were a few days in November with a trace of snow, but none had snow stick on the ground. The previous record holder for latest first measurable snowfall was Dec. 3, 1899.

Northeast temperature and snowfall departures

November snow and temperature departures from normal in the Northeast.


The main reason Buffalo hasn’t had any snow is simple: it’s just been too warm. Only seven days last month had lows below freezing. Daytime highs didn’t get even close with only three days dipping below 40°F and none making it to the freezing mark.

The average temperature for the month was 5.5°F above normal, making this Buffalo’s seventh warmest November on record. Almost the entire lake-effect snowbelt from Michigan to upstate New York saw temperatures 4-8°F above normal for November, making snowflakes few and far between even outside of Buffalo. The trend has continued in December with a warm blob parked over much of the U.S. and Canada.

With no snow in the forecast in the next week, it’s likely that Buffalo’s normally snowy neighbor the the east, Rochester, will set its record for latest snowy season start as well. The record has stood since 1948.


Observations (black) and forecast (red) of the North Atlantic Oscillation.


One reason for the streak of mild temperatures has been the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), which has been on a positive tear this fall. A positive NAO generally means winds high in the atmosphere blow west to east in more of a straight line than if the NAO is negative. That keeps colder Arctic air sealed to the north and more mild air over the U.S., which is exactly how November played out.

It’s hard to believe that a little over a year ago, Buffalo area residents were digging out from a historic lake-effect storm that dropped up to 88 inches of snow. The storm was so severe that the Buffalo Bills postponed their game that weekend. And the impacts lingered through August 2015, when hospitals saw a spike in births, dubbed the “Snowvember Baby Boom.”

This year’s lack of snow highlights some of the complications when it comes to climate change’s influence on lake effect snow.

There’s been an uptick in the amount of lake effect snow since the 1930s. Some research has tied that to declining ice on the Great Lakes, a factor of rising air and water temperatures. More open water provides moisture needed for eye-popping snow totals in the lake-effect snowbelt.

Freezing air is the other key ingredient and while winters are warming across the Great Lakes region, temperatures are still more than cold enough for snow to fall. That’s why most signs point to more lake-effect snow for the region, at least in the next few decades.

This year could offer a preview of the norm by the end of the century, though. Mild temperatures are projected to cut into the lake-effect snow season, making late fall and late spring snow rarer. According to recent research, winter snowfall could decline by more than 50 inches in upstate New York and parts Ohio, Pennsylvania and Ontario.

Sean Sublette contributed reporting to this article.