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Summary of Utica's Climate

By Charles Parsons

Meteorologically speaking, the area climate is described as continental, with moderate levels of humidity. The climate is influenced most strongly from nearby Lake Ontario, and secondly by the Atlantic Ocean. Other sources that influence local weather can range from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada to the Central Plains of the U.S.

Winters are relatively cloudy and snowy. Nearby Lake Ontario contributes a significant amount of cloud cover and "Lake Effect" snow, a process by which cold air crossing the lake (generally from the west or northwest) becomes saturated, forming clouds and snow downwind from the lake.

Where the snow falls is governed by the wind direction. The winds usually take most of the lake effect snow to the north of Utica, over the higher terrain of the Tug Hill Plateau and the Adirondacks.

Snow amounts here can average from 150 to over 300 inches per winter compared with the average of 90 to 110 inches in Utica/Rome area. The hills just south of Utica, between the Thruway and U.S. Highway 20, offers a secondary maximum for Lake Effect snow accumulation with an average of 100 to 140 inches per winter.

Lake effect does occur south of Route 20 but is not as common due to the increasing distance from the lake and a reduced "fetch" or length of open lake the cold air can cross before they reach this area. Snowfall amounts per winter drop to 60-100 inches heading south of U.S. Route 20.

While the lake keeps the area snowy and cloudy, it also protects the area from most outbreaks of severe cold coming from the northern Plains of the U.S. and Canada. While temperatures remain below freezing most of the time, periods of below zero temperatures are not as frequent as areas with the same latitude as Utica, such as Wisconsin, Iowa, and South Dakota.

Spring comes slowly to Utica. Days can still be chilly even well into April. Temperatures during the daytime run from the 40's to the 60's from late March through April with nights in the 20's & 30's.

While temperatures at or above 70 degrees can occur anytime after mid-March, they are not common until May. The growing season doesn't begin until the second week in May. Some areas, especially north, wait usually until the second half of May. Sunshine gradually increases from March through May. Rain is common and generally light to moderate. Several days of clouds and rain in a row are typical in March & April.

General rainfall gives way to more scattered showers and thunderstorms in May. Thunderstorms become more frequent as the spring goes on and humidity gradually increases.

Summers in the Utica area are among the most enjoyable in the U.S. June through August is the sunniest time of the year with an average of 60 to 70 percent of possible sunshine. Daytime temperatures are comfortable & mostly in the 70's and 80's with overnight lows in the 50's to low 60's.

Temperatures do get close to and exceed 90 at times but such heat waves usually last just a few days. Just like in winter, the Great Lakes help to modify the air coming from the Ohio Valley and the Midwest, keeping the area from reaching the 90's more often. Utica averages 22 days at or above 85 and only 5 days at or above 90. Temperatures above 95 are extremely rare. Utica has only hit or exceeded 95 degrees five times in the last 40 years (1966, 1974, 1983, 1987, 2002) and it has been 50 years since the last 100 degree day.

Humidity levels are moderate and many days are nice for outdoor activities. Oppressive levels of humidity do occur from time to time. Rainfall is hit and miss and comes mainly from scattered thunderstorms. Thunderstorms do sometimes turn severe but nowhere near as often as areas in the Plains and Ohio Valley.

The few storms that turn severe produce minor wind or hail damage. Tornadoes are rare and do not occur every year; most that do form are weak and dissipate quickly. Devastating thunderstorms have occurred but for the most part are extremely rare.

Autumn is another beautiful season in the Utica area. Mild sunny days and clear, cool nights are common from September through mid-October, making for some of the best fall foliage in the U.S. General rainfall begins to occur at this time but usually does not last longer than one to three days.

Daytime temperatures range from the 60's and 70's to overnight lows in the 30's and 40's through mid-October. Growing season usually ends in early October for Utica and most of the area, sometimes in late September, especially to the north. Fall is also the "fog season". The Utica area and most of the valleys start off with fog in the morning. This is especially common south of Utica. Most fog usually dissipates before midday.

Towards late October and November temperatures cool quickly, cloudy days become common with rainfall increasing in amounts and duration. Rainfall is frequent in November and comes down as snow at times. While snowfall and snow on the ground doesn't become consistent until after November, the month can sometimes bring big snowstorms and/or heavy lake effect snow.

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