Jennifer Rukavina is the Chief Meteorologist for WPSD Local 6 in Paducah, KY where climate and weather are always making an impact.
Warm season lovers are rejoicing with an outlook for a much warmer than average rest of February. “Historically warm” may end up being the case for much of the country’s mid-section.
A weak La Niña-influenced weather pattern has left us with near normal precipitation, but the much warmer than average temperatures have been somewhat of a surprise.
Weak La Niñas typically bring slightly cooler than average temperatures to the Paducah area for the winter months of December-February. There is one big exception to this and it was the winter of 2011-2012. The 2012 calendar year started off very warm leading it to be the warmest year on record and second driest. Highs reached into the 80s during the month of March and drought settled in during the early summer months.
Similar to the winter of 2011-2012, this winter has been under the influence of a weakening La Niña episode. The current outlook is for La Niña to continue to weaken and go Neutral.
Another global steering pattern is known as the Arctic Oscillation (AO). It determines if cold air is able to drain south into the north central United States.
When the AO is in a negative phase, cold air is funneled southward. Alternatively, a positive phase keeps an active jet stream further to our north. This was a large contributor to the record warmth of 2012. We are seeing similar signs of a positive signal setting up at least into the beginning of March and the start of spring.
Why compare the two? It may give us a hint to what is expected for the spring and summer months here in the Mid-South. Our region is already prone to extreme periods of heat and drought and when they occur it leads to devastating results.
Brush fires, water loss, and worsening insects/pests are just a few of the associated problems. We should always be ready for heat and drought, but expect a higher risk of the occurrence this warm season. As a normal part of combating fire risk, Land Between the Lakes has already planned several prescribed burns to eliminate dry brush fuel.
It won’t take much for us to achieve record status wrapping up this winter (Dec-Feb). December ran 0.6°F above average, January soared 7.8°F above average, and so far February is sitting at 5.9°F above average. If winter were to end today, we would finish in fifth for warmest, still shy of the all-time record warm winter of 1949-1950.
The outlook for the rest of February remains well above average. The graphic above shows an “average” winter season compared to the past, along with where we are today.
In the short term, a much warmer start to spring will be great for getting outdoors and for the local recreational economy. On the down side, an erratic weather pattern could bring a late frost or freeze after many of our area crops emerge if they are planted too early during the enticing warmth. Mosquitoes, ticks and fleas will emerge much sooner and will reproduce more in a longer warm season.
Long-term impacts are more focused on extreme heat and drought. If warm, dry conditions persist long enough, it contributes to a positive feedback mechanism, where dry conditions propagate even drier conditions. This usually is a result of a dominant area of high pressure blocking rain-producing weather systems. This is when crop loss, water shortages and wildfire risks increase rapidly.
This originally appeared on Rukavina’s Extreme Weather and Climate Blog.