Feb 23, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Record warmth envelops Mid-Atlantic during uneasy, snowless winter

Temperature differences between winter 2023 and 1991-2020 average, select cities
Data: NOAA data via NCIS; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

Temperatures will sizzle toward record territory for many in the Mid-Atlantic on Thursday. Baltimore and Washington, D.C., could reach 80°F.

The big picture: The freakishly mild winter in the East has led to a sense of unease. This is February, when Nor'easters normally churn the Atlantic and strong winds toss a messy wintry mix at the I-95 corridor, dumping heavy snow for millions.

  • Instead, the only thing that has been heavy in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington this season is rain.
  • To punctuate the point, a February tornado with 115 mph winds touched down in central New Jersey on Tuesday, which is almost unheard of.

Our thought bubble: The snowless winter has meant sleds are going unused, kids snow boots are being outgrown while sitting idle, and people whose income depends on winter sports are growing increasingly worried.

  • Regions where winter sports are part of the rhythm this time of year, such as pond hockey in Canada and northern New England, are grappling with losing pieces of their cultural identity.

Between the lines: In D.C., there is a distinct sense of anxiety around this weather, where people recognize that this is not how winter should be.

  • Elevator conversations around town quickly veer from ordinary weather-related small talk to some version of, "This should not be happening right now."

Zoom in: New York City had its latest measurable snowfall on record — on Feb. 1.

  • In D.C., tulips are blooming. Washington is headed for its third or fourth-warmest meteorological winter on record, which ends in just a few days.
  • Boston is likely to record its warmest or second-warmest winter on record.
  • At the same time, places that would not normally be seeing heavy snow, like the hills of Los Angeles, are bracing for blizzard conditions.

Context: The warmth is in step with long-term trends. Winter is the fastest-warming season in most of the Lower 48 states.

  • In Washington, for example, the average winter temperature has increased by 3.2°F since 1970, according to the research nonprofit Climate Central.
  • The number of winter days with above-average temperatures has increased by 11 during the same period.
  • Cold snaps can and do still occur (just look at the West right now), but they are becoming less intense and shorter in duration across much of the country.

Reality check: The freakishly mild weather this winter in the East contrasts sharply with cold and snow in the West, as a La Niña weather pattern combines with other factors to contort the jet stream in that area’s favor.

  • Other parts of the globe are unusually cold right now, too, but overall, warmer-than-average conditions are winning out. '
  • NOAA already predicts that 2023 will almost certainly be one of the top 10 warmest years on record, with a greater than 50% chance of landing in the top 5.
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