Next spring (second week of May), I'm looking to explore upstate New York before my sister's graduation from Syracuse - I live in California, and have never been to New York outside the city, so I've been exploring various travel options. Everything I've seen has made Buffalo much more attractive of an option, price-wise, to the point that I think it might well be worth the extra ~hour out of the way (from what I can tell from Google Maps) compared to the Rochester airport, or the Syracuse airport (obviously much more convenient; also crazy expensive from the west coast, plus I'd rather get the excuse to explore more anyway.)

I can handle the extra drive time, but as I've never been to that area, I figured I would ask to make sure, weather-wise, whether that plan would be foolish. My mom, who has visited my sister there before, says when she was there in mid-April, there was still snow everywhere. So I suppose my two questions would be:

  1. If I were thinking of driving from Buffalo to Letchworth National Park, then to Syracuse by way of passing through Watkins Glen, then back to Buffalo (obviously not in a day - I'd have over a week for this trip), how likely is it that I would encounter weather hazards (i.e. snow) in early May?

  2. If the answer to #1 isn't "highly unlikely", and I were in a budget rental car, how well maintained would those roads be / how well equipped would a budget rental be to handle said hazards?

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    I'm a lifelong WNY'er. In April you may still see big snowbanks in a few shaded areas ,especially if that's where a snowplow has been piling up the snow all season but the vast majority of it will be melted. But all the roads will be clear. Also thought that I'd mention that Ithaca might be a good place to add for a visit if you have the time. It has some nature areas similar to the places you mentioned already. It's one lake over from Watkins (in the Finger lakes) and not too far of a drive from there.
    – Sean
    Dec 30, 2016 at 18:58
  • Rochester resident here - May's solidly in Spring territory here. Enjoy Letchworth, it's beautiful!
    – ceejayoz
    Dec 30, 2016 at 21:48

3 Answers 3


For question #1, highly unlikely. Contrary to the way it may seem from watching Weather Channel, Buffalo is not above the Arctic Circle nor is it in Siberia. The average daily highs for April in Watkins Glen, Syracuse and Buffalo are all in the 50's. More than warm enough to melt off any snows that lingered into early April.

For question #2, if there does happen to be snow, I wouldn't worry about the roads. Having grown up in Maine and spending 4 years in college in upstate NY, I have found that the areas that get the most snow (like the Buffalo area) tend to do the best job of maintaining safe road conditions in the winter. Over the years, they have learned to manage those conditions better. I now live in NJ and I'm embarrassed at what passes for snow maintenance. I'd feel safer in an economy rental in NY than 4 wheel drive in NJ.

  • @pnuts, The Arctic Circle and SIberia references were partially in jest, and I guess I could have just said "get a lot of snow". But worth noting that there are other weather conditions in those areas that would affect road maintenance, primarily ridiculously cold weather, a condition that Buffalo, etc., doesn't suffer from.
    – cdkMoose
    Dec 30, 2016 at 16:25
  • Actually, I believe ridiculously cold weather gets less snow, as the air can hold less moisture to become snow, but the excessive cold impacts road surface materials and the ability of different salts to melt snow.
    – cdkMoose
    Dec 30, 2016 at 16:39
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    The premise of the question is that the Buffalo area gets a lot of snow (which it does) and should OP be concerned. Over the years, areas that get a lot of snow have learned how to manage it better, IMHO. I'll edit to make it clearer.
    – cdkMoose
    Dec 30, 2016 at 16:46
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    There are two efficient strategies for dealing with snow and road transport. One is to leave snow permanently on the road for months on end, modify vehicles with snow tires / chains, and use appropriate driving techniques. The other is to get the snow off the road as fast as possible. Clearly, if the daytime temperatures are 50F, the first option isn't going to work!
    – alephzero
    Dec 30, 2016 at 17:35
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    @cdkMoose, it snows less in ridiculously cold weather everywhere except downwind of a big, unfrozen lake (e.g. Erie), where warming from the lake allows the air to pick up mosture regardless but the cold over land causes it to be dumped out as snow more quickly. The worst lake-effect snow days are windy and very cold. By May there is about no chance there'll be much of that, though.
    – user38879
    Dec 30, 2016 at 19:30

Early spring weather in May should be beautiful, perfect for visiting the area.

BTW, Letchworth is a NY State Park, not national. Excellent though, as is Watkins Glen, also a NY State Park.

Additional suggestions -

If you are in Buffalo, Niagara Falls is just a little over half an hour away and is very much worth a visit. It has many fabulous viewpoints on both the American and Canadian sides and the border crossing into Canada usually goes pretty smoothly and quickly. Goat Island is excellent. Aside from parking, the best stuff is free.

Also worth a stop is Chimney Bluffs State Park in Wolcott, between Rochester and Syracuse.

Buttermilk Falls State Park in Ithaca and Taughannock Falls State Park north of Ithaca are also worth visiting.

As people have said, don't worry about the weather. Not that you will have snow in May, but just for the record, my sister and brother in law lived near Rochester for years and the kids never missed a day of school due to snow.

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    Thanks! I didn't mention Niagara, figured that was assumed - I'm flying into Buffalo and staying in Niagara for a couple days :). The other state parks you mentioned were not previously on my radar, though - now they are. Thanks!
    – neminem
    Jan 3, 2017 at 19:38
  1. Yes, it's Upstate, but you can't expect to snow in early May. Don't worry about weather conditions while driving around.
  2. Roads are usually ok in that area, if you stick on 400 and 20A roads to Letchworth and then 390 and 90 roads to Syracuse.

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