Wednesday, February 17, 2016

It's Been A Wild, Wacky Winter

ONI values for six strong El Niño events
compared to the current El Niño (red).

The development of El Niño in the fall and winter was much anticipated, and for the most part it has lived up to expectations in development and strength. It has been generally warmer than normal across the eastern two thirds of the nation, and snowfall has been below normal except in the mid-Atlantic and southeast, where it has been above normal. While the Pacific Northwest has received plenty of rain and snow, southern California is still waiting for drought-denting rain that the El Niño pattern was supposed to favor. December was warm everywhere except in the west, and January was warm as well, with volatile weather the middle of the month. February has been a roller coaster ride so far in the eastern half of the country.

In the past three weeks we've seen blizzard warnings issued four times, in the northern Plains, the mid Atlantic coast, southern New England, and a second time in eastern New England. This past week we've seen snow and sleet in the southeast, snow and freezing rain in New England, and severe thunderstorms and tornadoes from the Gulf Coast through Florida. Last weekend a surge of Arctic air spilled into the northeastern U.S. producing record cold weather from Michigan south to Virginia and across the Northeast.
Record lows for Sunday morning, February 14, 2016.
Credit: AerisWeather 

As quickly as the cold came, it retreated back north, but no without creating a mess. Warm air surged in aloft but the cold air hugged close to the surface, eventually resulting in freezing rain across much of New England. That brought down trees and power lines leaving thousands without power on Monday. The warm reached far north into Maine with highs nearing records in the upper 40s. On the cold side of this system, heavy snow fell in Ontario, Canada, with a record 51.2 cm (20.2 inches) of snow on Tuesday, February 16.

Maximum temperatures for 12 hour period ending 7:00 p.m. EST February 16, 2015

The warm air and strong winds decimated the snow cover. The snow depth on Bangor, ME went from 11 inches on Tuesday morning to zero this morning. The warm air also resulted in ice breakup on some rivers and ice jams, in turn, brought the threat of flooding. Meanwhile, in the southern U.S. more than 14,000 people were without power after severe storms and tornadoes tore through the Gulf Coast states and the southeast on Tuesday.

The last two days have brought unseasonable heat to the southwestern United States from southern California through Arizona and New Mexico. Los Angeles set a record high of 90°F on Tuesday (downtown) and other records were set across southern California. Record high were set across New Mexico and Arizona Wednesday, with Phoenix reaching a record high of 90°F, the earliest 90°F has occurred. Tuscon reached a record 91°F, and was the nation's highest temperature on Wednesday. The exceptionally warm, dry weather, brisk winds, and low humidity have combined to produce extreme fire danger over a portion of the southwest  and Plains on Thursday.

Fire weather outlook for Thursday, February 18, 2016.

Unseasonably mild air will shift in to the central U.S, by the end of this week, bringing an early taste of spring with highs expected to reach the 60's as far north as Iowa and Illinois.

Maximum temperature forecast for Friday, February 19, 2016

There's a little less than half of February remaining, and we'll see where the roller coaster takes us in the next two weeks. It's unlikely that were done with winter just yet.

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