This Year, It's Winter That's in Hibernation

Marine Col. Ray Celeste jogs shirtless on his lunch break in Lady Bird Johnson Park on the Potomac River.
Marine Col. Ray Celeste jogs shirtless on his lunch break in Lady Bird Johnson Park on the Potomac River. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
By D'Vera Cohn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Scenes from what is normally the coldest month of the year in Washington: Daffodil foliage is bursting from the ground. Hibernating bats are waking up to hunt for insects. And an outdoor lunch on a park bench in a T-shirt is perfectly comfortable.

What's going on here? This month apparently will be one of the 10 warmest Januaries on record at two area airports and the warmest at Dulles International. Yesterday's high at Reagan National Airport was 64 on a day when it usually is in the low 40s. January also is likely to tie the record for the least snow, with only a trace of it in a month that usually gets six or seven inches.

Standing outside the Alexandria courthouse yesterday in a sleeveless black blouse, Sonia Romero said her colleagues chided her for going outside without a jacket.

"What do I need one for in this weather?" she said, laughing. "This is great. You don't even have to ask what I think about this weather -- just look at me.

"But seriously, I think we're getting close to the end of the world," continued Romero, 58. "We had a long fall and an abbreviated winter, and spring is just around the corner. It's weird."

The explanation for the mild January, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Guyer, is a high-pressure system parked over the Atlantic Ocean. When a cold front tries to come through, the high pressure instead pushes it farther north.

Guyer said this is likely to be the warmest January on the books at Dulles Airport, where records have been kept since 1962. It looks to be among the top 10 at National and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall airports, whose records go back to the late 1800s.

"Notable, definitely," he said.

The warm weather and lack of snow have helped birds and other creatures find food and encouraged some to come out early. Someone called the Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale to report that praying mantises were hatching, and manager Michael McDonnell said he saw a pair of bats flying around last week, catching insects at night. Normally, they are hibernating at this time of year.

"It's busting out all over," he said, "and it's only January."

The National Weather Service chose yesterday to unveil a new five-category scale for measuring huge snowstorms in the Northeast, which includes Washington, that is similar to ones it uses for hurricanes and tornadoes. The rating on the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale will be based on the size of the area and number of people affected by the storm and how much snow it drops. Categories will range from "notable" to "extreme." In between are "significant," "major" and "crippling."

On the forecast side, rain is quite possible today, but no snow is predicted for at least the next week.

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