What the hell happened to winter?

According to the calendar today is February 3rd, 2006 yet when I stepped outside this morning it felt and looked more like late March or mid April. There isn’t a speck of snow anywhere outside of downtown Detroit at the Winter Blast celebration that is part of the Super Bowl party scene and that snow is only there because they hauled in several snow making machines to make it. Normally the end of January and pretty much the whole month of February is the most miserable part of winter here in Michigan, but most days lately you could get away with a light jacket when venturing outdoors. The really weird part was that back in November/Early December it was looking a lot like what it should be like right now. It’s as if winter came a couple of months early and only lasted for a month and a half (the warming trend kicked in right around Christmas).

What the hell is going on? The folks over at Niches are sharing what they’ve learned:

Depending on what happens in February, it seems to me that this could be close to being the year without a winter. Mike at RealClimate has an interesting and fairly non-technical post up about this, treating ecological ramifications. The comments even feature one proponent of global warming!

At NOAA I found the following information.

First, we have a La Nina! Expected to be 3-6 months duration, it results in winter temperatures colder than average in the western US, and drier than average in the southeast US. If it lasts into the hurricane season it encourages the formation of hurricanes.

Second, also at NOAA, we have these absolutely precious temperature anomaly plots by the month. (A temperature anomaly plot just takes the difference between the monthly average for 2006, as here, and the average for a set of years (in this case 1970-2006), and color codes it as indicated.)

Since January is on everyone’s minds, here it is:

I admit that, given how miserable this time of year usually is, I’m not entirely unhappy about the mild weather, but it also worries me. You can’t help but have that nagging little voice in the back of your head repeating “global warming” over and over again. More from Mike at RealClimate:

Sadly, it appears that global warming may soon add Phil to the ranks of the unemployed. With the warming of 4-8ºC (7-14ºF) predicted over North America by the end of this century if we continue to increase greenhouse gas concentrations at current rates, the answer will become simple. Spring will come early every year. While this may seem like a pleasant outcome of climate change, it could in fact lead to serious problems for plants, animals, and entire ecosystems. Living things have adapted to the timing of the seasons over many thousands of years. Here, we are changing the timing of the seasons on timescales of decades. Plants and animals just don’t adapt well to changes on such short timescales.

January temperatures this year were 3-9ºC (5-16 ºF) warmer than the late 20th century average over most of the U.S.

The widespread pattern of this warmth is what was so unusual. Usually when one part of the U.S., say the east coast, is experiencing unusually warm weather, other regions, say the Rocky Mountain states, are experiencing unusually cold weather. This has to do with the natural wiggles of the jet stream from one month to the next. However, the pattern we’re seeing so far this year, where essentially the entire U.S. is anomalously warm, only occurs when the jet stream has retreated far north from its usual position. As we have noted before (see here and here), there is no way to ascribe any single anomalous weather event, or even an anomalous season, to global warming and climate change. But what we can say is that the temperature pattern we’ve seen this January is similar to the kind of pattern that models predict as being normal in just a few decades time given some anthropogenic forcing scenarios. Global warming is likely to “load the dice”, making the kind of January temperatures that might seem remarkable by past experience increasingly probable, and hence increasingly more frequent.


11 thoughts on “What the hell happened to winter?

  1. while i tend to agree that it is mildly unsettling that it is unseasonably warm here right now, i disagree that plants, animals and ecosystems can`t adapt to decade short climate changes. i guarantee that this spring if we don`t see snow and it stays warm we won`t lose trees or grass or rabbits or squirrils. i have to say that the squirrils seem quite happy to chase each other from tree to tree in celebration of the warm weather.
    regarding the superbowl……if you remember the last one you had was only half full considering the -25 degree weather and the giant snow storm.
    i think the no-snow deal is great. we are still maintaining the precipitation levels though. it`s raining right now. that means the root systems of the grass and trees will be healthy and the berries will appear early for the birds. mind you, europe is getting our winter. but the same holds for thier environment. sales of parkas and long-johns will go up.

  2. Not to fret. Winter’s on its way. Supposed to get to 62 today in my corner of SE PA, but below normal temps are forecast for next week.

  3. Its been unseasonably warm here in Northern Illinois as well but today we had winter for awhile.. heavy rain turned to heavy snow and then it stopped.. my daughter that works with me lives west and a bit south of us and she said they had heavy snow by her.  Suppose to get cold and snow more later.. we need WINTER – everyone is sick with all the bugabo’s that usually die off from the hard freeze – I’m fighting some upper respiratory thing I can’t get rid of going on week 4 now.. and I am seldom sick !!  I’d rather see nice white snow outside this time of year vs. the dull dirty look we have until REAL spring gets here.  I drive a big meal old Ford 250 4×4 with a diesel so I don’t worry about getting around town if we have a foot or two of snow !  If it was cold it’d freeze all the dog poo in the yard and make it easier to clean up than this off and on rain that turns everything to mush as well cool grin

    hey.. site seems to be working fine today finally.

  4. Forget the comment above about the site working properly finally…  even though this posted I still got the NO DataBase error message again..

  5. Its beutiful In windsor, usually like you said its terrible weather, last week i was outside in a light sweater and pants and realized, weve only gotten a week of snow this whole winter, GLOBAL WARMING!!!

  6. Where I’m at in the Bay Area, it’s mild year-round. I am certainly no fan of cold weather, but I am definitely a little concerned about all the warm weather that has been rampant this winter. I’m a believer in the theory of global warming, and I think that this weather is sadly a trend that is here to stay (no matter how pleasant it may be to wear shorts in February).

  7. while i tend to agree that it is mildly unsettling that it is unseasonably warm here right now, i disagree that plants, animals and ecosystems can`t adapt to decade short climate changes.

    Problem isn’t the change of climate but speed of it, normally all big changes have taken thousands of years… but even if just moderate warming scenario happens it’s extremely big and fast change comparable to things like eruption of supervolcano (Toba nearly terminated human specie ~70 000 years ago) or cosmic impacts.


  8. Some species may die out or lose habitats, while others may flourish, and gain habitats.  It’ll change the landscape, to speak, but won’t wipe it all out.  You don’t save the earth.  The earth will survive.  We may not.

  9. Double dipping, but I have to admit that with natural gas prices jacked up, I’m glad for the warm winter.  Now we just need some rain. 

    The gas co sent a letter stating that my average billing was going from $39 to $72 a month.  After one month, it dropped to $52, but it still sucks.

  10. The warmest winter I’ve spent of the last 8 in Maryland.
    Today was the coldest since the new year, around 40F+

    The wind and the shade it might dip to 35F+

    All of our precip has been on fairer days blowing up
    from the gulf across Georgia and yeilding lots of moisture.. alas no cold or snow. My lawn is green
    right now. WTF?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.