Tuesday marks the beginning of winter solstice, but Schenectady County and the Capital Region have yet to see any significant snowfall.
Saturday’s storm system was expected to leave around an inch to three inches in Schenectady County, according to the National Weather Service station in Albany.
While there was some light snowfall overnight, the county was expected to experience a wintry mix of snow, rain and sleet, said weather service meteorologist Brian Frugis.
He said, typically, the area would have seen about nine inches by now. It’s had about three inches so far. On Dec. 17, 2020, the region was hit with a heavy winter storm, according to the weather service. Weather service maps show the region received anywhere from 24 to 30 inches of snow.
Frugis said this coming week is expected to have more seasonal temperatures in the 30s, compared to the unseasonably warm temperature the region felt on Thursday and Friday. Schenectady hit 61 degrees on Thursday, and 58 on Friday. Albany set a new record high for Dec. 16 on Thursday at 56 degrees, besting the previous record of 55 in 1971.
Today is expected to be dry and mostly sunny with temperatures above freezing, according to the weather service.
So, Nick Bassill, UAlbany’s Center of Excellence director of research and development, won’t be a surprise if there’s no snow left to be found.
“The ground is really warm,” he said, as to why the snow isn’t sticking around.
That doesn’t mean the region won’t see snowfall this year, it just means it may look different, Bassill said.
“I think it’s plausible we kind of end up in a climate — for a place like New York — where our average temperature over the winter is above freezing, so snow doesn’t stick around but we still get those occasional heavy snow storms,” he said.
Anecdotally speaking, he said, this could be a function of climate change, but scientists like to look at data over longer periods of time to speak with certainty.
However, he pointed to measures like lakes in the Adirondacks not freezing over by now as a significant sign the climate is changing.
Currently, the lakes have less than 1% of ice cover.
“We’re more than half-way through December and many Adirondack lakes remain ice free. Is this a glimpse at our climate future? ADK lakes are freezing up several weeks later than they did a century ago,” Brendan Wiltse, an Adirondack Watershed Institute senior research scientist at Paul Smith’s College tweeted Friday.
Nevertheless, Bassill said current data and what people are seeing or experiencing are trending the same way.
“One anecdote doesn’t mean it’s a scientific factor or anything like that but everyone is king rowing oars in the same direction here when it comes to talking about what they’re experiencing,” he said.
One upside for some may be less of a need to turn the heat up in their homes after it was forecasted home-heating costs would go up this year.
Natural gas-burning systems are the most common sources of heat in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metropolitan area, found in nearly three out of five homes, according to a Nov. 21 Daily Gazette story.
National Grid has already contacted customers about the increased cost of heating homes this winter.
The current projected $651 natural gas bill for November 2021 through March 2022 is based on use of 713 therms of gas in those five months. National Grid spokesman Patrick Stella told The Daily Gazette in November 713 therms is a good typical number for a single-family housing unit but customers’ actual use will vary hugely, depending how big their home is, how energy-efficient it is, how warm they keep it and how cold the temperature is outside.
Heating degree days is the meteorological term for how much you’re likely to want to heat your home. It’s derived by calculating the mean temperature between the high and low on a given day and then subtracting the mean from 65 degrees.
So if the low was 20 and the high was 40, the mean temperature would be 30 degrees, subtract 30 from 65, and that day would be rated at 35 heating degree days. Ten such days would yield 350 heating degree days.
At Albany International Airport, the mean so far this century has been 6,351 heating degree days per year. Seven of the last 10 years were on the warmer side of normal. 2020-2021 was a bit colder than normal.
In its broad-stroke winter forecast in October, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration predicted a 40-50% likelihood that this part of New York state will be warmer than normal from December 2021 through February 2022.
So far in December, through Friday evening, the National Weather Service in Albany had recorded 442 heating degree days. The National Weather Service indicated that 554 heating degree days is the normal amount. It says the average temperature is 6.4 degrees above normal for the first 17 days of December.
Reporter John Cropley contributed to this story.