We live in southern New England and though white Christmases are a rare treat, even rarer is what we had this year. After the boys were done ripping open their gifts and the adults were done sipping coffee and mimosas, we headed outside. But we went out without the usual rigamarole of wrestling mittens, hats, and boots on. This year it was 68 degrees out.
This fall (and now winter) has been unbelievable. Back in October I kept telling myself, this must be the last beach day. I would pause on the wooden boardwalk as I headed back to the parking lot, taking a deep breath to savor the last sips of summer. I’d think to myself, soak it up, the last warm day to run around at the beach with the sand in our toes. The last breeze that doesn’t chill our spines and force us further into our jackets and scarves. In November, on a random 70-degree day, we met friends at the beach for lunch and lay on the sand, remarking how this was most definitely the last blast. “I don’t think we’ll even see 60 degrees again until April,” I sighed.
But here we are. We’ve had two days in a row of near-70 degree weather. It is so amazing, yet also somewhat disconcerting. What is going on? Is it global warming? Should we be feeling guilty about enjoying this strange pattern?
Here’s what you should know:
- El Niño years generally mean less snow and warmer temperatures in the northeast and this is being called a “Super” El Niño. El Niño occurs when temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean are higher than normal. This happens with variable frequency but usually once every 3-5 years. It lasts 9-12 months and peaks in January or February. This year’s El Niño is the strongest on record so it stands to reason that a great deal of this unseasonable warmth can be attributed to it.
- The strong arctic oscillation is trapping cold air to the north. When the cold stream of winds that run above Alaska and Canada are in a strong rotation, they remain stuck in the arctic region. Remember all the fuss last winter about that mysterious polar vortex blanketing New England? That’s what happens when the arctic oscillation is weak, allowing the cold winds to move further south. A strong oscillation means warm air for us here in New England.
- The role of climate change in this specific weather pattern is uncertain. Climate change is definitely happening and globally, average temperatures are predicted to climb 20 times faster over the next century than they ever have before. But climate change on its own cannot explain average December temperatures in New York City that are 14 degrees higher than normal. Instead, scientists are considering the greater role climate change may play in its effects on En Niño and the arctic oscillation, which are the primary players in this bizarre pattern.
Last winter, we were hit with the opposite of extreme weather and were blanketed with over 8 feet of snow in just one month. Already we are seeing snow in the extended forecast so, enjoy this relatively mild weather while you can. Although the winter is predicted to be a mild one overall, this particular warmth is a rare treat that won’t last long. Savor this.