Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Whither winter? Warm for now, but El Nino remains wild card

The world is warming ... but not this much.

We'll be surprised if November doesn't come in as the warmest November on record worldwide in the official federal database. It already is No. 1 on the satellite list.

Likewise, we expect December to finish at or near the top, and 2015 is a lock to become the warmest year on record in the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), which dates to 1880.

In Philadelphia, December temperatures are running 6-plus degrees above normal, and come Sunday, they are forecast to jump over the normal for the date – 45 – by 20 degrees, or more.

And it's not as though it suddenly warmed up: This comes after a November with an average temperature that was 5.6 degrees above normal.

Yes, the world is warming, but climate experts always are cautioning about reading too much into what is going on overhead at the moment.

With good reason.

The planetary warming so far has been incremental. Some acceleration is expected, but again, so far, this has been a slow process.

Last year, the NCDC's annually averaged temperature came in at 1.33 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th Century average. The 21st Century average has been 1.11 degrees above the 20th Century's.

Year-to-year changes have been small; the planet's surface remains about 75 percent water-covered, and ocean temperatures change far more ponderously than those of land.

So it follows that if it has been that warm around here and elsewhere in the United States, it must have been at least almost as chilly elsewhere. And it has been.

According to the excellent data maintained by David Robinson and his staff at the Rutgers University Global Snow Lab, November was No. 7 for area snow-coverage extent in the Northern Hemisphere in 50 years of satellite coverage.

Through Wednesday, Alaska, most of Canada, and a large chunk of Eurasia were blanketed in white.

As for temperatures, while we get ready for record warmth, temperatures in Barrow, in the northern tip of Alaska, were running 9.4 degrees below normal this month as of Wednesday.

In Bethel, on the southwest coast, they were 9.9 degrees below normal, and Thursday morning it was 6 below and snowing.

Thus far, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic haven't had the dreaded Polar Vortex. But it's up there spinning away, said Paul Pastelok, the long-range specialist at AccuWeather.

That tight circulation has pretty well locked up the cold and prevented it from slipping our way.

AccuWeather's and other outlooks had called for a warm December throughout the region and in much of the nation, and Pastelok sees that lapping into January.

However, the wild card remains the potential impacts of the tremendous warming of surface waters in the tropical Pacific, where El Nino will be a persistent force this season and rank among the elite of the century.

The last three of similar magnitude coincided with three of the more peculiar winters on record – the only snowless one, 1972-73; one with a certifiable, paralyzing blizzard, 1982-83, and the stormy, but snow-deprived winter of 1997-98.

Unfortunately for the long-range outlooks, that's obviously a minimal sample size.

In the meantime, until we have our turn partaking in some of the cold air that will chill the Northern Hemisphere this winter, enjoy those low heating bills.