RIP Winter 2017… but beware of March tricks

Published 9:03 am Monday, February 27, 2017

It’s late February — only two days until March, the most unpredictable of the months.
Thus far, winter 2017 has been missing. No major snows to enjoy or complain about. Cold? Not much compared to the brutal subzero 2013-14 polar vortex.
Oh, what days we’ve had to savor in February — 70 degree temperatures, sunshine, warm showers, blooming daffodils and forsythia. But, stranger still is some people have already mowed their lawns.
Amid one of the warmest winters on record in Northeast Tennessee, nature seemingly has been put on fast-forward. Daffodils and hyacinths popped up early this month, followed by tulips, and the blooming of forsythias. Bradford pears are budding as are other ornamental trees. Mornings are often greeted by birds singing. With only days left of the December-through-February period known as meteorological winter, the average temperature for the season is a mild 48.8 degrees in Northeast Tennessee. However, all month long the temperature has been far above average with 16 days of temperatures in the 60s and 70s.
According to Climate Central there have been 3,146 record highs set for the month-to-date compared to only 27 record lows, ensuring February will go down as the 27th month in a row with more highs than lows. The astonishing 116-to-1 ratio of highs to lows would easily set a record for the most lopsided monthly ratio in history. There have also been 248 monthly record highs and no monthly record lows.
In the Southeast, locations are seeing spring arrive up to four weeks early, according to the U.S. National Phenology Network spring leaf index.
This is the time of the year, though, when record highs are a nice thing. That means, you can get out without wearing a jacket most afternoons, except in avoidance of rain.
Forecasters said El Nino, the warming of the Pacific Ocean near the equator, is partly to blame. The weather phenomenon is pushing the jet stream northward, bottling up the cold arctic air that often flows down into the U.S. from Canada.
And, even as the event itself slowly fades, that heat charges into the atmosphere, keeping it warm through spring and probably even into summer. A La Niña, if it happens, can lead to drier and warmer conditions across the southern United States according to the U.S. Weather Service.
Northeast Tennessee historically averages its last frost in early May. It seems like every year fall is later and spring is earlier. It’s the bouncing back and forth that gets trouble started, eventually for allergy sufferers.
The other thing. Record-shattering temperatures in the 60s and 70s allow many people to trade coats and scarves for shorts and T-shirts and go jogging and golfing. But, it often comes with a price as germs and viruses are passed around, lending to flu epidemics.
However, we might warn you that winter is not over yet. March has been known to have a few weather tricks up her sleeve. We have had some of our largest snows in March. However, snow is a blip on the long-term forecast. The latest Climate Prediction Center forecast shows that spring is likely to be warmer than normal and that could keep warm weather records falling.
But, just in case, keep the snow shovel handy, and don’t put away the heavy coat, just yet.

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