The end of our meteorological winter (December to February) is less than two weeks away. Where has it gone or, more aptly, where was it?
Washington is on track to post its third-warmest winter on record. February has been especially mild and is on track to be the second-warmest on record (after only 1976).
The big question is whether a historically warm winter can still deliver a little bit of wintry weather in early spring. Or will springlike weather just become further entrenched?
In short, the odds are slightly tilted toward more mild weather, but we cannot count out cold weather and even the possibility of snow.
What the past tells us
The chart below displays the 10 warmest winters on record and then what followed in March and April:
Of the Marches following the top 10 warmest years on record before this year, 60 percent were warmer than normal and 40 percent were colder than normal. But if you look closer, you’ll notice that since the 1990s, warm Marches have followed all of our warm winters. In other words, in recent years, a warm winter has meant a warm March.
From the standpoint of snow, since the 1990s, warm winters have also portended little or no March snow. However, warm winters in older times were followed by somewhat snowier conditions (average March snowfall is 1.3 inches).
The Aprils following warm winters have also been warm in recent decades, but colder Aprils were more common before the 1950s.
What do warm Februarys, by themselves, mean?
Since this February is likely to rank near the warmest on record, I also examined what kind of weather followed warm Februarys of the past. The 10 warmest February cases since 1950 were most frequently followed by warm and slightly wet March weather.
El Niño curveball
One possible wild card for this spring is an unusually rapid return toward El Niño conditions in the tropical Pacific. The arrival of El Niño (which did not occur in the recent warm March cases mentioned above) could favor cooler weather. We hope to have more confidence on this possibility in the next one to two weeks as we finalize our March outlook.
The bottom line is that we should never say never in weather, and anything could happen in March. But recent history suggests that our springlike weather may be, by and large, here to stay. (Sorry snow lovers!)