With average temperatures hanging in the 40’s, this winter has been milder than those in years past. Since the fluke October snowstorm, we haven’t seen more than a flurry of flakes. So what’s caused the unseasonably warm winter we’ve seen so far?
“It’s the juxtaposition of the weather system and the jet stream, which has stayed to our north in Canada,” says Charlie Foley, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service.
Foley said whether or not global warming is to blame is an “open question.”
He said these more short-term effects are typically attributed to La Niña, which refers to an oceanic phenomenon in which Pacific equatorial temperatures are colder than usual. It’s the counterpart to El Niño, in which waters temps are warmer. The results of La Niña are cooler temps in the Northwest, and warmer temps in the Northeast.
Foley said it’s fair to say that November and December were milder and had less precipitation than years in recent history.
“We’re on track to possibly have the top five mildest winters,” he said.
According to the AccuWeather Degree Days calculation, the season to date has been substantially warmer than last year.
Degree Days measure energy consumption and indicate how many degrees above 65 the average daily temperature was. Negative numbers indicate the temperature was about 65 degrees.
For the season so far, the Degree Day total was roughly 1,847 this weekend. Last year’s season to date was 2,195, and the average is 2,271.
David Picozzi, director of the Department of Public Works, is loving the weather but he’s hesitant to talk too much about it.
Observing how a couple of bad snowstorms can clean out his snow removal budget, he said yesterday he doesn’t “want to jinx things.”
“I’m enjoying it right now, but I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop,” he said.
Picozzi is considering starting some of the ballfield work that he had scheduled for this spring if the warm weather continues. At the moment, he said, crews are picking up Christmas trees and that work will soon start on the annual cleanout of brooks and waterways.
If the snow does hit, however, the city is prepared. Between private contractors and the city, there are about 80 pieces of equipment ready to plow and sand the roads.
“Every week you get by is a nice week, although it might not be so good for the local economy,” he said.
Ironically, however, Salk’s Hardware and Marine has been selling snow blowers although the early rush has slowed down.
“I sold a bunch early because nobody could get them last year,” Jeff Salk, president of the company reported yesterday. Between the Warwick and East Greenwich store, Salk estimates he sold 30 units. Predictably, Salk finds he has plenty of shovels and salt, items that fly out of the store once it starts snowing. And he has snow roof rakes, which were in short supply last winter.
“It seemed like every week we had a snow storm,” Salk said of last January.
“It can still happen,” he added.
Janice Constantine, a travel agent from Global Excellence, said the warm weather hasn’t discouraged snowbirds from taking flight.
“People travel right after Christmas,” she said. “They think about their income tax return. They’re going to travel.”
Last year on this date, 49 out of 50 states had snow in them. This year, AccuWeather says only 22 percent of the U.S. is covered with snow, which is the lowest percentage since 2004.
Foley said a system moving in Wednesday night could cause a cold front and potential snowfall. As of press time yesterday, Foley anticipated snow flurries last night, but wasn’t sure if the overnight storm on Wednesday would bring raindrops or snowflakes.
Whatever the outcome, Foley believes more seasonable temperatures and precipitation are on their way. Whether or not they’ll stick around is anyone’s guess, he said.