Our Weird, Wacky Winter: What’s Going On?




2015 was America's coldest and warmest recorded winter.

2015 was America’s coldest and warmest recorded winter.

For America, 2015 was the coldest and the warmest winter on record.

Many Midwest and Northeast cities experienced one of the coldest Februaries ever recorded. Boston set a seasonal snowfall record with 108.6 inches. Syracuse, New York and Bangor, Maine had the coldest month since record-keeping began. Harrisburg, Williamsport, and Erie, Pennsylvania also experienced a record cold February as did Youngstown and Cleveland, Ohio. For some locations it was not just a record low for the month but the coldest temperatures in decades. In the eastern U.S. record lows were set for Baltimore, Atlanta, and Miami, among other cities.

What or Who was responsible for the record-breaking cold winter? Some might want to issue arrest warrants and start rounding up the usual suspects: Jack Frost, Old Man Winter, and Boreas (mythological god of the North Wind).

But hold on to those arrest warrants: The National Weather Center blames the severe cold on a current of frigid air from the polar vortex, with a burst of Siberian icy air added to it.

Simultaneously with the extremely cold winter was the warmest winter worldwide and the sixth warmest on record for the USA, which according to federal records, had “a bit-cooler-than-normal February, but slightly warmer-than-normal winter.” The National Climatic Data Center reports that over 4,000 records were set for warm temperatures and only 236 for cold temperatures. Warm weather records were set in Seattle, San Jose, Las Vegas, Reno and Salt Lake City to name a few localities. Temperatures on the north slope of Alaska were reported 40 degrees above average. Ski areas across the West struggled to stay open because of the shortage of snow.

What caused the warm temperatures? Some scientists say one reason for the record-setting warm winter is the developing El Nino, a climate pattern often observed in December that occurs when warm sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific influence global weather. Climate scientists blame the jet stream, high-altitude westerly winds. Generally, weather experts agree that no single event is responsible. However, here we might correctly blame the usual suspect: global warming. Scientist Kevin Trenberth says that the extreme weather pattern  “is consistent with the idea that global warming is happening”.



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