Where is winter? You may be wondering that today as a warmer-than-average pattern continues across much of the eastern part of the United States.
This weekend, a surge of very mild air will threaten to bring new records to parts of the Ohio Valley and into southern New England. The map below shows some of the records that could fall on Sunday, likely the mildest day. Notice, however, the cold air across Maine, which could sneak south Sunday and spoil the warmth for some of you.
While the weather is unusual, there are very few years when the weather isn’t newsworthy in some way. There are snowy winters, mild ones, hot summers, wet summers, rainy springs and dry ones. This fall, the weather was milder than average, and it’s continuing into the start of meteorological winter, which runs December 1 to February 29.
The variability of the weather is normal in New England, but there’s a reason for the weather we’re experiencing this season, and it’s not just El Nino.
Much of the pattern we are observing is likely being driven by the strong El Nino, but that isn’t the only factor. The upper level wind pattern across the arctic isn’t conducive to letting the cold air come south (Arctic Oscillation), and the pressure patterns in the Atlantic aren’t in a position to favor storm development (North Atlantic Oscillation).
There are few things to keep in mind about being so mild and snowless this time of year.
First, as we saw last winter, a milder-than-average and below-average month during December doesn’t mean we won’t see a lot of snow later in the winter. Many forecasters, including me, have been saying that, if we are going to see much cold and snow, it would likely come later in the season, not earlier.
The other side of the equation is just because we had so much snow after a quiet first six weeks of winter last year doesn’t mean that we will see anything remotely like that this winter. No past winter is exactly like the upcoming one, so it’s pointless to say this year is like any other.
But if we study some of the past years, when things like El Nino and other cyclic factors have been similar, one of the winters that stands out is 1982-1983. Notice how mild December 1982 was in many areas:
That year brought a warm December to the Northeast with below-average snowfall. This pattern continued through the first half of January, a few weeks of snow lasted into the middle of February, and that was basically the end of winter. On the chart below, the green line indicates how the snowfall accumulated that year. The blue line is last season’s craziness, and the brown curve is average.
The pattern tries to become more active in the final days of 2015 and early next year. However, I still believe there are more factors pushing us toward a winter that ends up milder than average with snowfall near or below average.