By SCOTT SHEWFELT, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - Forecasters are backing off earlier predictions that this year's winter would be colder than 2006, and chances are now good that in Maryland, average winter temperatures will be warmer than last year.
"In Maryland, average temperatures may be three degrees warmer than normal," said meteorologist David Unger of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center.
This would mean an average winter temperature of close to 37 degrees, compared to last year's 36.6, the 11th warmest in state history.
Maryland recorded its fourth-warmest December, and more than halfway through January it is 13 degrees above average, said Kathryn Vreeland a climatologist at the Northeast Regional Climate Center.
"It's pretty wacky weather actually," said Vreeland. But that craziness is not confined to the Northeast, she said, considering it snowed in Malibu, Calif., on Thursday.
"If global warming had any influence, it wouldn't be the sole reason," said Vreeland. "It's too hard to quantify the effects."
In November, NOAA released its national winter forecast, projecting a slightly warmer winter than the 30-year average, but cooler than last year's average of 35.66 degrees.
"The numbers are no longer a toss up," said Unger. "I feel comfortable that it will be the same for the country as last year."
Forecasters don't generally revise winter predictions in December because, "what happens in December doesn't relate well to the rest of the winter," said Unger.
Long-range winter forecasts are difficult to make because the "signal" of El Nino, a warming in Pacific Ocean waters that can influence worldwide weather, does not become reliable until late January, said Unger.
The mild winter experienced by Maryland so far, is largely due to jet stream oscillation caused by El Nino, which pushed cold Arctic air away from most of the Northeast, said Vreeland.
The weather systems that brought devastating snow storms to the West, most notably Colorado, were actually responsible for the warmer winter weather here. When there is a big snowfall in one area, odds are that area will continue to be hit hard, said Mike Halpert, head of forecast operations for NOAA.
There is nothing to indicate major snow storms will hit Maryland in the next few weeks. A cold period is beginning, which will bring a more northern winter pattern, at least until the end of the month, but relatively mild temperatures will return by February, said Halpert.
"I would be on the outlook for freezing rain," said Mike Kearney, professor of Coastal Environments and Geomorphology at the University of Maryland.
Snow is expected in parts of Maryland this weekend, but just because there are no major snow warnings in the monthly forecasts, Vreeland cautioned, does not mean an absence of snow or heavy rains.