National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Winter 2003 - 2004 


Winter Season 2003-2004 Snowfall

WINTER 2003 - 04  

The overall winter was long but not particularly fact January was the only truly severe month and included the bulk of the snowfall. There were few synoptic storms but a preponderance of northwest flow events...especially during January which featured near constant snows during the middle and latter portion of the month. This resulted in near record snowfalls in Oswego County and well above normal amounts along the lakeshore west to the Rochester area.

The winter began slowly with a mild November and December, and ended with a quiet February and March. There was a single major synoptic event in March but otherwise little. Overall, snowfall totals were very close to normal across western areas...with maximum along the ridges back from Lake Erie and on across the higher elevations of southern Erie and Wyoming counties where 150-200 inches fell. Amounts dropped off fairly rapidly in all directions from this is usually the case...but still averaged 80 inches near Olean and 110 inches around Jamestown. Much less fell along the Lake Erie shore with about 70 inches from all three spotters in the Dunkirk-Fredonia area. This highlights once again the incredible variation in Chautauqua county from lakeshore to inland areas. Snowfall was close to average in the Buffalo area with around 100 inches inland but 70-80 inches in the city and north towns. Niagara county received near to slightly above normal snowfall in the 60-70 inch range...again mainly due to the frequency of light to moderate snows in January.  

Further east...the Rochester area experienced an unusually sharp gradient in snowfall from 90 inches or so near the Thruway to about 150 inches along the lakeshore...again due to the preponderance of northwest flow lake effect in January. The mid Genesee valley and Finger lakes had somewhat less...but the 70-90 inches was still a bit above normal there. Oswego county was the champion though...and this all due to an incredible January (see monthly writeup below). Sections of central Oswego county even edged out to Tug Hill for most snow for the season...just under 300 inches...first time this has happened in the ten years of our network. The Tug Hill actually had less than usual because of the northwest flow rather than "only" 200-250 inches fell over most of it...about 70 inches less than usual! Amounts dropped off drastically to the north with less than 70 inches at Watertown and only 40-50" in the St. Lawrence Valley. 

Again, the pattern was typical of a northwest flow regime with few synoptic events. This also explains the dearth of snowfall for our Canadian friends as well...with most of the Niagara peninsula and up across the Golden Horseshoe to Toronto catching only 40-50 inches for the season.  

Monthly details follow....


November was a fairly mild and wet month across the region. Snowfall was near to somewhat below normal. Totals ranged over a foot only at higher elevations of the southern tier and across the Tug Hill with a maximum of 24" at N. Osceola. Buffalo and Rochester had less snow than usual.

There were three snow events, two of them upslope and only one real lake effect. Storms on the 15th and 28th featured wraparound snows from departing lows. and were highly elevation oriented with several inches, while lower elevations had little or none. Up to a foot fell near Ellicottville on the 29th.  A brief but intense southwest lake effect (Anthracite) dropped locally 5-10 inches of snow along a narrow path southeast of Buffalo on 24-25th. And...3 to 6 inches fell locally around Rochester on the 29th as well in some wraparound lake enhanced snow.

Overall though, a fairly tame start to the 03-04 winter season.  


December was a month of two faces across the region. The first half was cold and snowy...but this led to an unusually mild and dry second half. Snowfall amounts were impressive, but a bit deceiving as they melted off quickly. The month end with bare ground across western areas and just a thin cover on the Tug Hill east of Lake Ontario.  

The month began with the region escaping a huge nor'easter which roared up the coast and set records in many cities on 5-6th. Our first lake effect event dropped up to a foot along the south shore of Lake Ontario on 11-12th...this having a good connection from the upper lakes. A second nor'easter passed further inland on 14th and was close enough to dump over a foot across areas east of the Genesee river with 20 inch totals common across Lewis and Oswego counties. Lesser amounts fell further west with just 4 inches in the Buffalo area.

Another synoptic storm moved north east of our area on 17th with several inches east of the Genesee and a bit of lake effect in the Buffalo area, followed by more lake snows on a northwest flow on 19-20th. The pattern then turned mild..with one exception...a brief but intense southwest lake effect event on Christmas Day in the immediate Buffalo area.  

Overall...monthly snow totals topped 40 inches over Oswego and Lewis counties and gradually trended down to less than 20 inches near Lake Erie and less than 10 inches north of Buffalo. Ski areas of western New York received healthy totals...but mild weather over the holidays limited activity.


After a mild first few days, January abruptly turned into a harsh bitterly cold month across the entire region. A persistent west to northwest flow prevailed...right out of the arctic. It was the coldest month in ten years and the fourth coldest January in the last 50. is usually the case with a cold month in western and central New York, the lake effect machine was in high Lake Erie during the first half of the month (until it froze), and Lake Ontario all month.  

Snow fell virtually every day of the month from the 4th on. There were few synoptic storms of interest...the vast majority of the snow resulted from lake effect and although most daily amounts were trivial, they added up to well above normal levels everywhere. 

The most significant synoptic event of the month was the "Alberta Clipper" which dropped southeast across the Lower Lakes and intensified over western New York late on 11th...dropping 8-10 inches in the Buffalo area and 4-6 inches east to the Genesee Valley. There were four major lake effect events...the first on 6-9th was a long lasting intense one which dropped over a foot over a large area south of Buffalo and from Oswego county all the way back to the Rochester area. The second was a moderate event which dropped 1 to 2 feet on the western southern tier and again from the Monroe county lakeshore to Oswego county on 18-21st. Then...two intense events focused on Oswego and Cayuga counties...the one on 22-24th which dropped 3 feet on Fulton...and the final one on 28-31st which dropped an astounding 86 inches over Parish and well over 4 feet over a large portion of the county!  

Monthly totals ranged from 120 to 160 inches over Oswego County, among the highest ever recorded for a month, and touched 100 inches over a few spots along the ridges of the western southern tier from Sherman to Perrysburg. Amounts approached 100 inches along the Monroe county lakeshore (Hamlin, Charlotte-Greece) as well...the heaviest ever recorded there! There was an unusually sharp gradient across the Rochester area with amounts ranging from 40 inches near the thruway to 60 inches in the city to 80-100 inches near the lake. Further west, the Buffalo area received a healthy 30-50 inches...but just about all in small daily doses (aside from 11-12th). Niagara and Orleans counties were unusually snowy as well...with usually snowfree Youngstown catching their snowiest month ever at 37 inches.

Conversely, Jefferson County, which avoided lake effect, received only 10 to 20 inches for the month. Aside from there though, the month ended with a relatively deep and dense snowpack everywhere.


In a drastic turnaround from January, February was a very quiet and dry month across the entire region. Some snows fell the first week, especially east of Lake Ontario and a bit more on 10-11th...but overall snowfall was well below normal and gave the region a break from the previous month. There were no major events at all, synoptic or lake effect. Total monthly snow topped two feet only on the Tug Hill...with one to two feet in the snowbelts of the southern tier and southern Erie and Wyoming counties. Less than 6 inches fell along the Lake Erie shore and in the Buffalo-Niagara region. Snow cover was dense and substantial to start the month, but sublimated and settled in an orderly fashion through the month and was below normal by month's end.  

MARCH 2004  

March began with the tranquility of February with a mild and snowless first week, but it did turn quite wintry at mid month before ending on a springlike note once again. The month averaged 3 to 6 degrees warmer than usual but snowfall was near to slightly above normal. This was almost entirely the result of a major synoptic storm which dumped a general 8 to 14 inches across all of western New York, from north to south, on the 16th and early 17th. Less fell east of Lake Ontario. For most areas, this was actually the heaviest fall of the winter. It caused few problems however as it was well forecasted and fell mainly during a Tuesday evening. It melted away quickly the next few days. There was little snow aside from this event during the month over most areas...but there were exceptions...notably the higher elevations of the western southern tier and the Tug Hill. Both these areas received significant snows on the 12-13th and again 21-22nd, much due to orographic effects along with some lake effect in the first event. Monthly snowfall totals averaged 12 to 20 inches most areas, a bit more in the aforementioned snowbelts and less north of Watertown...which really had a snow drought this winter.

APRIL 2004  

April's first week was wintry and did include snow...notably on the 4th when 2 to 5 inches fell across most areas. A bit more fell over higher elevations of the southern tier and Wyoming county.  An estimated total will be added to each station to account for this and for a more accurate season total. Real Spring weather arrived at mid month.