Is climate change to blame for the record warmth this Christmas?

This week, with 60-degree or warmer weather for Christmas Eve lasting into Christmas Day, you may feel a little guilty if you’re enjoying it.

You may also be asking yourself if this unseasonal warmth is climate change in action.

When the weather gets weird, we often have strong reactions to what’s happening out there. It may seem logical that if, somehow, humans hadn’t spewed trillions of metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the past century, we’d have a cold, snowy December as has often been the case in the past. Right?

 

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Wrong. This Isn’t Climate Change.
There have been many snowless Decembers before. Climate change isn’t responsible for this warm December. This year, it’s connected to a strong El Nino and the polar vortex, which is whirling around the top of the planet so fast that the cold air can’t get out and escape south.

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Yes, that pesky polar vortex, which had so much media hype in the previous two winters for bringing unusual cold, is now partly to blame for the unusual warmth. A strong polar vortex lessens the opportunity for arctic air here in New England.

 

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El Nino, which is warmer than average in the equatorial area off Peru, is adding a lot of heat to the atmosphere. It’s peaking right now, and it’s also going to spike the global temperature this year. 2015 will be warmer than any year on record, by quite a bit.

Here’s more accurate way to think about how anthropogenic climate change is playing a role in our weather: Without humans, perhaps the temperatures forecast this week would be slightly cooler. Perhaps.

Over the coming decades, climate models predict fall-like weather extending later and spring-like weather arriving earlier. But there’s a lot more research needed into individual weather events and climate change.


A Lot of Warmth for a Lot of People

Nearly three-quarters of the US population will experience temperatures over 60 degrees on Thursday. Records will fall from Florida to Maine, and the Currier and Ives image of a white Christmas will be just that—an image, not the reality.

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While we still have over a week until New Year’s Eve, the likelihood of this being the warmest December on record for much of the East and certainly here in New England is extraordinarily high.

Typically, record warm months are broken in tenths of a degree. Not only will we break the record, but we may shatter it by 2 degrees or more.

In the chart below, notice that the spread between the warmest Decembers on record is quite small. Right now, our mean temperature is 46 degrees, and while this will fall a bit, it’s unlikely to come close the 2006, which currently ranks as the warmest December on record.

 

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Is This Good or Bad?

For some people and industries, this December has been a bad month. Retailers like some cold, snowy weather to get folks buying winter gear. Ski areas have even had trouble making snow, but some of the slopes are open in the Northern areas.

With heating costs so much less than last year, this month’s warmth is only adding to our savings over the previous winter.

Future El Nino events may be stronger and the typical oscillations we observe may be altered by a changing climate, but you can go ahead and enjoy this warm week. Keep the window open while you are sleeping and maybe even play a round of golf because this isn’t climate change.

The weather is going to turn colder in January, and that’s for sure.

 
I’d love to hear from you on Twitter: @growingwisdom.

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